This spring Rascal will be receiving his First Holy Communion. Happy, happy thought! So I thought I’d share with you some ideas and resources that help prepare our children’s minds, hearts, and souls for the most blessed event of their childhood: their first Holy Communion.
Preparing the Mind
It has always seemed to me that the first step in preparing children for their first Holy Communion is to help them know our Lord. After all, how can they love Our Lord if they do not know Him? In order for our children to have even the slightest sense of Who they are receiving in Holy Communion, they need to know the Gospel stories. And they need to know them as well as possible. It is through reading, discussing, and narrating these stories that our children begin to grasp Our Lord’s unconditional love and mercy for them.
As we read the Gospel stories with our children, we should make them personal. Christ came not just for the Israelites of His day. He came not just for humanity in general. But He lived, suffered, and died specifically for you and your children. Our children need to know this. Knowledge of Christ’s love for them is the beginning of our children’s love for Our Lord and their personal relationship with Him. For as St. John wrote:
We love, because he first loved us. -1 John 14:19
So we begin with simple Gospel stories. During this year, Rascal and I have been reading about the life of Christ in Seton’s Reading Comprehension for Young Catholics 3.
Each story is about 2-3 pages and written in a way that is easy for young children to understand. For each story, there are 1-2 beautiful paintings that help children imagine the scene while giving them a sense of reverence. Since the paintings are usually works by the great masters, each picture has a lot to look at. Rascal loves to look at the pictures in detail. Easy multiple choice questions follow, which he ususally answers orally. We talk about the story and then Rascal narrates it back to me while I write down his narration. Later in the day, he copies out the short narration. In this way, we combine reading, writing, and most importantly, learning about the life of Christ and His love for us.
In addition to knowing about the life of Christ, our aspiring first communicants need to know some basic teachings of the church.
If you are short on time, The New Saint Joseph First Communion Catechism is a straightforward catechism that is both solid and age-appropriate.
However, this lovely little book My First Holy Communion is my first choice for a First Communion catechism.
The lessons are short and sweetly illustrated. There are easy questions at the end of each lesson which help to ensure that the child understands what was taught. If you don’t use this book as a preparation for First Communion, I highly recommend giving it to your child as a gift.
Whatever you use, it is very important that your children understand, to the best of their ability, that Christ is really and truly present in the Holy Eucharist. They need to know that once the host is consecrated, it is no longer a piece of bread or a symbol, but truly the body and blood of Christ.
By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is brought about. Under the consecrated species of bread and wine, Christ himself, living and glorious, is present in a true, real, and substantial manner: his Body and his Blood, with his soul and his divinity. – CCC 1413
For your children, the strongest proof of this is your own heroic efforts to attend Mass. The sacrifices you make to go to Mass, your reverence in church, and your devotion to the Blessed Sacrament are a living witness to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Preparing the Heart
As we teach our children about the life of Christ and the teachings of the church, we also want to inspire a love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Our Lord Himself used parables to teach. In a similar manner, we can use stories to inspire our children to greater love for the Holy Eucharist. Catholic Heritage Curricula’s Preparing to Receive Jesus is a wonderful resource that is full of stories that prepare a child’s heart for Confession and his/her First Communion.
As a general rule, I try to avoid crafty projects that are too time consuming and are just “fluff”. The Preparing to Receive Jesus Packet packet, however, has many meaningful hands-on activities that encourage real devotion. While your child works on these, you can have discussions about what he/she is making. This is what makes hands-on activities worthwhile.
Try to inspire in your children a yearning for the coming of Christ. Advent is a great time to focus on this, as they are already longing for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. After Christmas, turn this focus to a yearning for the coming of Christ in your child’s first Holy Communion. The story of Blessed Imelda Lambertini, Patroness of First Communicants, is an example of what that yearning might feel like. Then, teach your children to pray a Spiritual Communion each day to help them grow in their love for the Eucharist and their longing to receive Our Lord.
Preparing the Soul
Lent is also a very special time of spiritual growth. Together, contemplate the Way of the Cross to help him begin to realize how much Our Lord suffered for him.
Many saints write that contemplating the Passion of Our Lord does wonders for the soul:
There is no practice more profitable for the entire sanctification of the soul than the frequent meditation of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. – St. Bonaventure
I have drawn more wisdom from the Cross at the feet of Jesus Crucified than from any learned treatise ever written – St. Thomas Aquinas
Children are capable of contemplating Christ’s Passion as long as we respect their attention span and use a little creativity. One family I know lights fourteen candles at the beginning of the Stations of the Cross. After each station is contemplated, the child blows out one candle. At the end of the last station, the room is left in total darkness. What a vivid experience of the Passion of Christ!
Each Lent, we make a baked crown of thorns. Not only is it a visual reminder of how Our Lord suffered for love of us, but it also provides our children with a very strong motivation to make sacrifices for Him. Each time a child makes a sacrifice, he/she pulls out or breaks off one of the thorns. I am always impressed at how anxious even the littlest kids are to remove those thorns.
Fr. Jacques Philippe wrote that “holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit.” We don’t attain holiness or our children’s holiness by our own efforts, but through the grace and promptings of the Holy Spirit. To hear these promptings, we need to listen for the “still, small voice of God” (1 Kings 19:12) and teach our children to do the same.
Hence the need to nurture our children’s prayer lives. Bring your children on short visits to the Blessed Sacrament and Adoration and ask the Holy Spirit to fill their souls with love for the Holy Eucharist. Encourage them to spend a few minutes of quiet time in prayer, perhaps at bedtime or early in the morning. Remind your kids that prayer is not just asking God for “stuff” that they want. More importantly, prayer is listening for the voice of God, being attentive to inspirations from the Holy Spirit, and asking God’s grace to act on them.
Once your child has recieved his/her first Confession, bring your child to confession at least once a month. You can use this free confession booklet to help them make a holy confession. Remind your children that the beauiful white dresses or the handsome suits they wear for their first Holy Communion are meant to be a reflection of the purity of their souls. St. Joseph must have cleaned the stable to prepare for the birth of Our Lord. In a similar way, we want to make our souls pure and free from the stain of sin. Bringing our children to confession shortly before their First Communion is one of the best ways to prepare their souls to welcome Our Lord.
Finally, keeping in mind that holiness is the work of the Holy Spirit, let’s ask Him to guide us as we prepare our children to receive their First Holy Communion. We do not need to act on every good idea that comes our way. Rather, let’s be realistic about what we can do, follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and leave the rest to the grace and mercy of God.
May God bless you and your families as you prepare your children for this beautiful encounter with Our Lord, their First Holy Communion!