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First Holy Communion, the beginning of a lifelong journey with Christ

Franciscan Father Chris Posch, then the pastor of St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, gives First Holy Communion to a girl from St. Francis International School during a 2017 Mass. (Catholic Standard file photo by Jaclyn Lippelmann)

First Holy Communion is a special time in the life of every parish, because it symbolizes its future growth. The youngsters who receive the Eucharist for the first time are living icons of that scriptural reference Jesus pronounced “Let the little children come to me!” [Mark 10:14 & Matthew 19:14] Their youthful energy and piety inspires everyone who witnesses those happy moments.

Some folks, however, may mistake First Holy Communion as the apex in our sacramental relationship with Christ. In fact, that relationship should only deepen with each future reception of the Eucharist. The elderly lady in a wheelchair who receives the Eucharist at her great-grandson’s First Holy Communion should have an even deeper spiritual experience of her union with the Lord than her cherished young great-grandson on his special day. First Holy Communion is a beginning of a lifelong journey with Christ. We all rejoice to see our little ones begin that journey for the first time.

I was very fortunate to share in two different First Holy Communion events recently. Msgr. Bart Smith invited me to preside at the First Holy Communion Mass at St. Bernadette’s Parish in Silver Spring, and Father Gary Studniewski allowed me to participate in a joyful celebration with the First Holy Communion class at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Washington, where those youngsters were central in bringing the school community together to conclude its centennial anniversary. Both events were completely filled with happiness and holy innocence.

First Holy Communion ceremonies should inspire all those in attendance to recall that personal moment in their own lives as well as the countless subsequent invitations that the Lord has offered to receive Him in the Eucharist since that first encounter. It should be a reminder and an encouragement to continue our union with the Lord Jesus. Although our first reception of the Eucharist usually occurs in our childhood, it should never remain just a juvenile activity. The Eucharist is an encounter with the Risen Lord that must grow more intense as we age and mature.

Our nation is literally on a special Eucharistic journey to intensify and to increase our understanding and appreciation of this wondrous gift. If we believe that our childhood experience of First Holy Communion remains a stagnant moment of faith, then there is little wonder that too many Catholics have forgotten or never grew into a more mature and faith-driven grasp of the meaning, reality and purpose of Christ’s gift of Himself in the sacrament. If we believe that our First Holy Communion revealed all that we should know and appreciate about this wondrous gift, then we are missing the treasure of our ongoing encounter with the Eucharistic Lord. The first reception should be only a first that leads to an ever-deepening love of Christ who comes to nourish us and transform us evermore into the people He wants us to be as His table companions.

(Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, writes his “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)