The saying is “April showers bring May flowers,” yet the start of May in Levittown saw nothing but rain and mist. If this keeps up, May showers will bring May mushrooms. May also has been the traditional month for our Catholic 7-year-olds to receive communion for the first time. Following the church ceremony, families like to have a party and alas, the cold drizzly weather kept many from enjoying their backyards this spring. We can only hope that things will dry out by the time graduation parties are in full swing.
Unless you grew up Catholic, you might not know the excitement a first communion brings. If you look out your window at the neighbors who are headed off for church, you see boys dressed in suits and girls in white dresses. Countless photos are taken in front of flowering shrubs, and parking spots on the block are in short supply as all sorts of relatives arrive for the day.
So what is this all about? Each Sunday when Catholics come to church, they have the opportunity to receive communion, a tradition that goes back to the night before Jesus died when he took bread and said, “Take this and eat: this is my body.” When parents bring their very little children to church, the young ones look on as their parents receive communion. Sometimes the kids say out loud what they are thinking: “I want one!” But until they are old enough to understand the belief that the host is really the way Jesus is present in this food, they are not yet able to receive communion.
When they are old enough to understand, and after two years of participation in a religious formation program, they can join the rest of the community in receiving communion each week. “First” communion is just that—the first time they are fed with communion. This, of course, is followed by second communion, third communion, etc. as the children now join their parents in receiving communion each week.
Years ago, it was prescribed what children had to wear for their first communion. It often involved white suits for the boys and white dresses with veils for the girls. These days, it is up to each family to decide what special outfit to wear and many parents and grandparents recall their own first communion day and want to recreate something of that experience as they dress their children for the day. Why dress up? It’s like any other first experience. For example, parents take care to dress their children for their first day of school in a new school outfit.
Yet, communion is ultimately not about what a child wears, but how a child grows in faith. The saying, “you are what you eat” holds true here. Parents are concerned about feeding their children a healthy diet each day. Spiritually, Catholics feed on a weekly diet of the Divine. I know for myself, each time I receive communion, I have to seriously consider how I care for others and how loving I am. Ultimately, this is why parents receive communion each week and why they are so thrilled to bring their children to the Eucharistic table.
More care. More love. Just what the world needs these days.