“The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? And the Bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the Body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, for we all partake of one bread.” 1 Corinthians 10:16‐17
The Sacrament of the Eucharist, or The Blessed Sacrament, or Holy Communion, is one of the three sacraments of “initiation” which bind us to Christ and to his Church. In this country, children who have been baptized as infants are admitted to Holy Communion for the first time once they reach the age of reason (seven years old), but only after a year of catechetical instruction which includes the reception of the Sacrament of Penance/Reconciliation (ie. Confession). This year of learning and preparation is designed to make them ready for that special moment when, for the first time in their lives, they will receive at Mass the Body and Blood of Jesus, who is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, in his Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, hidden under the forms of bread and wine. As parish priests and catechists, we take this responsibility of teaching our children very seriously, and we expect the children’s parents/guardians to do so as well, by participating regularly and fully in the preparation sessions.
The Church teaches that:
- At the Offertory of the Mass, bread and wine are brought to the Altar.
- During the Eucharistic Prayer, the priest consecrates them by speaking these words, acting in the person of Christ, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you; This is the chalice of my Blood, which will be poured out for you.”
- After these solemn words of consecration, the bread is no longer bread, the wine no longer wine – while the appearances (“accidents”) of bread and wine remain, they have become the Body and Blood of Christ.
- This constitutes the miracle of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, by which Christ’s passion, death and resurrection are re-presented on our Altars at every Mass.
- Holy Communion is when the faithful who are (a) in communion with the Catholic Church, (b) in a state of grace, (c) have fasted beforehand for at least one hour, and (c) are able to receive the sacrament, approach the Altar to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
When do children make their First Holy Communion?
A child is usually old enough to understand and believe this doctrine of the Eucharist at about the age of seven, if not before. Normally, the children who receive their First Holy Communion are in Year 3 of primary school. The course begins in September and finishes when the children make their First Holy Communion in May and have a special “Sending Forth” Mass and celebration party together afterwards. After that, they come together a couple of times more as a group to play a special part in the Crowning of Our Lady and in the Corpus Christi Procession in the Parish.
“For holy communion to be administered to children, it is required that they have sufficient knowledge and be accurately prepared, so that according to their capacity they understand what the mystery of Christ means, and are able to receive the Body of the Lord with faith and devotion.” The Code of Canon Law, Can. 913(1)
Before First Holy Communion: First Confession
In the course of preparation for First Holy Communion the children also make their First Confession. We often say Confession when we refer to the Sacrament of Penance, or of Reconciliation. We are obliged to go to Mass on Sundays, so if we are going to receive Holy Communion regularly, we also need to be regular in our practice of Confession, to keep our souls clean from serious sin and to be properly disposed to the reception of Holy Communion. In First Confession, the children are helped a great deal by the catechist, and by the priest, so that the experience is made easy and natural for them. It seems unlikely that they will have committed many serious sins by the age of seven! But they certainly know the difference between right and wrong; so they understand what sin is, and the need to say sorry to God and to each other for whatever bad things they might have done, as well as the need to thank him for all the good things they have been able to achieve through his help.
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”
What do we do in Confession?
We reconcile ourselves to God and to his Church by an honest and thorough confession of our sins to the priest, and by saying sorry to God in an Act of Contrition. This shows that we repent of the sins we have committed and have a firm purpose/resolve to do better in the future.
The priest then gives us some advice on how to do better and how to grow in holiness.
The priest then gives us the assurance of Christ’s forgiveness through the formula of Absolution: “I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
He then gives us a small penance (usually some short prayers to say), as an act of reparation, or “satisfaction,” to make up for our sins in some small way.
First Holy Communion and First Confession are, as the names suggest, just the first times that children (or adults) receive these sacraments. It is hoped that they will continue, throughout their lives as practicing Catholics, to receive these important Sacraments, to attend Mass often (at least on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation), and to lead good Christian lives of personal prayer and devotion as well. The catechetical preparation they receive for these Sacraments is designed to help them to do this. When they receive the Sacrament of Confirmation during adolescence, they will receive a more “adult” formation in the Faith, to strengthen them as Catholics on the threshold of adulthood.
The First Holy Communion programme usually commences in June. Usually, children need to be entering the school Year 3 the September after the June.