First Communion is such an exciting and spiritually important day in the life of a young Catholic. Your child will receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the first time. Because it is such a wonderful day, Catholic families celebrate together when it happens. So many traditions have grown out of this practice. The children wear special clothes, girls wear beautiful white dresses, and the boys dress in suits. Parents throw parties, and they spend days getting ready to feed their family and friends.
Sometimes the logistics for First Communion celebrations overshadow the most important piece in the celebration: The growth in faith and discipleship that your child experiences. No matter how great your priest and parish is with their education programs, parents are the most important teachers every child has. Here are some ideas for you to help your child prepare for First Communion.
1. Teach by Example
No matter what you try to tell your kids, children learn most from your actions. It doesn’t matter how much you talk about being a good Catholic if you don’t live it. You child will see what you do and emulate it. The most important component of preparing your child for First Communion is living as a faithful Catholic yourself.
How do you do it? Start by attending Mass with your whole family at least every Sunday. If your parish offers daily Mass, consider going to one or more during the week, too. The Mass is the most basic level of devotion for the Catholic. You hear the Holy Scriptures, you pray together with God’s people, and you receive the Eucharist to sustain you in your faith.
When you attend Mass, participate in the liturgy. While the priest leads the liturgy and consecrates the Eucharist, the congregation also has an important role. The rubrics of your missal call for the people to respond by speaking or singing. If you sit silently through the Mass, as if it were a painful burden, your child will learn to do the same thing. If you participate with joy and gusto, your child will learn to do the same and may grow to enjoy the Mass.
Help your child to memorize the parts of the Mass that repeat every Sunday, so they can participate, too. The Mass is designed with non-readers in mind, so children can easily learn to participate even before they become strong readers.
Before children receive First Communion, they receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. You should do the same, repeatedly. Go to confession regularly with the whole family. Show your child the examination of conscience that you use to prepare. Not only will you receive the forgiveness of sins, but you will also teach your child to do the same.
2. Pray for Your Child
Prayer for your child should be a lifelong commitment. In the days and months leading up to taking First Communion, pray especially for your child’s preparation for the sacrament. Ask for intersessions from not just a saint with whom you have devotion, but also to one with whom your child is connected.
Pray also to a saint who is especially connected to the Eucharist. While every saint is devoted to the sacrament, some are particularly famous. Choose one as a patron and guide for your child’s preparation for communion.
3. Teach Your Child at Home
When most children are learning to read, parents will read them books so they can practice. You might talk about the letters and the sound each letter makes. Learning to read takes work at home and at school. Learning about the faith is no different. If you want your child to understand how important communion is for Catholics, you need to emphasize it at home, too.
Most parishes have a series of classes they require before a child’s First Communion. A priest might teach it, the director of religious education, or maybe a volunteer. Before your child attends the first class, talk with the instructor about the curriculum. Ask for resources that you can use at home to reinforce what they are teaching in class. If they don’t have anything, you can find some wonderful books that guide parents through raising their children in the Catholic faith.
4. Look for Teachable Moments
A teachable moment is an experience where your child might be more open to learning about something. It can be a question your child asks you, an event you attend, or something that happens to you. If you pay attention, you’ll find the perfect moment to have a short, casual talk about the meaning of communion.
One of the most likely times for this is at Mass. Most children are full of questions, and they’ll ask them as soon as they can. If your child asks something in Mass, embrace it as a teachable moment. Quietly whisper your best answer. If you don’t know, say so, and then bring your child to the priest to ask the question. Everyone appreciates that kind of honesty, and your child is no different. Plus, asking the priest models how adults get answers to the questions they have.
5. Emphasize the Sacrament on the Day
Most Catholic parents have a party to help emphasize the importance of communion and the joy the whole family has as your child takes this sacrament of initiation for the first time. You’ll find the right clothes, invite family members, and make lots of food. The party is a great way to show how important communion truly is.
As you prepare, keep in mind that the party can also distract from the main event, the sacrament. The gifts, the food, the clothes, and everything else can become so important for the child, and for you, that the Eucharist becomes an afterthought. In each stage of preparation, think about ways you can turn the attention of the party back to the Mass. If your family members give First Communion gifts on the day, encourage them to find something that points to the Eucharist rather than giving money.
The sacraments of initiation are important milestones for a Catholic child. They mark each child’s growth in faith and devotion in the church. You, the parent, are the most important guide your child has for the faith. With a little work and some preparation, you can have fun preparing your child for First Communion, and you will help to build a foundation of faith that will last a lifetime.
What are you currently doing to prepare your child for his or her Sacraments?
(image source: By Mathisfield – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33775822)