In Your Midst


July 2003

The children began filing into the chapel with their parents about eleven a.m. And though they had nearly an hour to wait-with singing and posing for the photographer their only diversions-they were surprisingly quiet, too nervous to do more than whisper.

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For parishioners leaving the ten o’clock Mass through the chapel, it didn’t take more than a glance to figure out why. With the girls sitting quietly in their white dresses and veils and the boys fidgeting a little in brand-new suits and sport coats and shiny black shoes, it could mean only one thing: First Communion!

On Sunday May 11, twenty-two children celebrated their First Communion at the Noon Mass with their parents, grandparents, siblings, and the assembled congregation. The celebration marked the culmination of months of preparation with their parents and teachers, and a big step toward adulthood for a group of unusually (well, temporarily at least!) attentive children.

As they prepared over the course of the year, the children learned about the Sacraments, focusing first on the meaning behind their own baptisms some seven or eight years earlier. In our family, that meant pulling out the photo album to see the pictures of tiny baby Albert being ‘dunked,’ with 2-year-old Ted in the background sound asleep on Dad’s shoulder. We found Albert’s Baptismal candle-a gift from a family friend from the Carmelite Monastery in my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio-and he delightedly traced the silver script of his name at the candle’s base. And we told him about the big party Grandma and Grandpa gave for him the day he was baptized.

Photo by Ilya Mashenskiy

From Baptism, the children and their teachers moved on to an exploration of right, wrong, and reconciliation, laying the groundwork for their First Reconciliation last winter. Then the class began studying the Eucharist in earnest. They spent months at the task, laboriously reading aloud from their workbooks and carefully printing in the answers to the questions about food, families, and celebrations. They watched the Communion line at church each Sunday with growing impatience, not quite sure (at least in our family’s case) if they’d really be brave enough to walk forward when the time came. And they peppered their teachers with questions about what the whole thing would be like, what the host would taste like, and whether First Communion would make them feel any different.

Preparations concluded with a family retreat the day before the celebration. We parents gathered- as we had every month or so all year-to talk one last time about our hopes and thoughts for this milestone in our children’s lives. In the next room, the kids practiced lining up, saying ‘Amen’ at the right time, and not grimacing at the taste of the wine. Then they joined us for a short ceremony at which they were presented with plates they had designed and drawn themselves.

And then it was Sunday morning. Albert bounced around all morning, too excited to sit still, until we arrived at St. James, when he became too nervous to do more than simply sit. The children left the chapel after having their picture taken to line up outside the Cathedral and then process in at the beginning of Mass. They listened carefully as Father Ryan addressed them each by name in his homily, reminding them again how much God loved each of them. They stood around the altar holding candles and repeating their baptismal promises (loudly, as they had been instructed). And then the great moment finally arrived, and they solemnly lined up behind their teachers to receive their First Communion.

First Communion will live on in our family for many years to come, even after the big family brunch is forgotten and going to Communion becomes old hat. A Jewish friend who joined us at St. James for the ceremony presented Albert with a gift certificate for a tree. Albert proudly selected a tiny Japanese maple, and it is flourishing this summer, a bright spot of color against our back fence. We have all been taking turns watering it. It will take a little effort to keep our new tree thriving, but then it has taken some effort to get this far. And now we’ll see what’s next.

Mary Bourguignon is a volunteer in the Children’s Religious Education program.

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