My parish was packed at 11 am yesterday (Saturday), far more so than at the usual 11 am Sunday Mass. And noisy! Everyone there seemed to be deep in chit-chat.
Not that I didn't understand. I wasn't silent the whole time waiting for Mass either; I was even standing, as were many others. I wanted our relatives and guests to be able to find our pew; I had to ask someone a question; I naturally greeted our guests when they arrived.
But there was just something in the atmosphere: instead of hushed, only-necessary communication, there was full-voiced, animated conversation. And I could understand that people were excited and happy to see one another. Yet, it seemed that the point was being lost.
The day before, when I was buying a First Communion card for my daughter, the cashier asked me what "Communion" was. My mind raced; how do you explain that in just a few words? I started to say, "Well, every week Catholics..." and then he interrupted. "Yeah, yeah, I know. It's something they do when they're...what, thirteen?" I replied, "No, that's Confirmation. But with Communion, we remember what Jesus did at the Last Supper..." But he didn't want to hear it. He seemed to think he was knew all about it. He, like so many others, seemed to think it was simply a milestone in Catholic culture.
When the procession began, people craned to see the little people, all in white, hands folded, file in. They were the reason we had gathered, it was their big day, and yet, the total focus upon them was awry. Darling as they admittedly looked—especially
in those gorgeous dresses and veils—their attire, the trappings, the party, the photos, even the kids themselves are not the main point. Jesus is.
We should be excited to witness these children's first experience of receiving the Eucharist. And they, even more, should be excited about it. But not because they get to wear fancy clothes and get lots of attention and gifts, not because it merely shows they've reached a certain age. But because receiving the Eucharist is receiving the Lord of the Universe; having Communion means being in union with Him.
The excitement of First Communion should center on a hunger to be close to Jesus. A hunger that has been whetted by watching others receive, and longing to be one of them. This excitement should be rooted in an understanding of what—of Whom—we are receiving and with Whom we are communing.
More than a few sacristies display the exhortation: "Priest of God, celebrate the Mass as if it were your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass." Yesterday, with the phrase "First Communion" in the air, I was thinking how helpful it would be take up that same attitude toward the Eucharist.
What if we seasoned communicants could recall, or call up, a hunger, an appreciation, for something that we now take for granted, for Someone we've forgotten to acknowledge, distracted by His disguise? How wonderful to approach the altar with the eagerness of a First Communicant, longing for the Lord.
And what about seeing this Communion as one's last Communion? Wouldn't that clear away the mental cobwebs? Wouldn't that help one to enter into prayer more deeply, strive more ardently to meet Him? If I recognize each Communion as possibly my last, then I will make a good Last Communion ... because one of them will be my last.
Approaching Communion as if it were one's only Communion would of course heighten one's efforts to make the most of it. I've heard it said that if we opened ourselves to all the graces He has available to us in Communion, we would only need to receive Him once to be perfected. (Of course, a perfected person would continue to receive Him, out of love.)
Even those beautiful Communion dresses can be an aid to our making the most of this incredible sacrament. The white garment is a symbol of the soul, which must be purified before approaching the Lord. This is why the newly baptized are given a white garment, symbolizing their souls' being washed clean of sin.
Just as no parent would bring a child to her First Communion in a soiled dress, none of us should saunter up to receive Holiness Himself with a soiled soul. We should go as carefully through life, in keeping our souls pure, as a little girl protecting her pretty white dress on her big day.
We never know when our Really Big Day will come. Fortunately, we have a terrific dry cleaner (aka, the confessional), which we can use for big or little spots. And in the meantime we can prepare by receiving our Lord often, and with the same attitude as if it were our First Communion, our Last Communion, our only Communion.
P.S. For more on understanding the gift of the Eucharist, see my very first blog post, "Crazy Love"