It’s that time of year again when the boys and girls of primary 4 are preparing for and making their First Holy Communion. Writing some years ago an Irish Times writer wrote; “To some families it’s a holy sacrament, to others it’s an excuse for a party, and to many it’s an exercise in hypocrisy and mass delusion.”
The quote, I believe, could also be applied to Baptism and Confirmation.
The month of May is the time of year, in many parishes, when children traditionally make their First Holy Communion or to phrase it more accurately when they receive Jesus, really and truly present in the Eucharist for the first time.
One of the prayers which I use asks that they; “may return frequently to receive Jesus the bread of life.”
I fear in many cases a long time will pass before the children receive the Eucharist again.
That said it is heartening to see some of the children back at Mass in their first communion clothes on the Sunday after their first communion.
In our modern culture many people are no longer capable of understanding the rites of the church.
The church as an institution is frequently only seen in caricature and simplistic visions as seen in films, televisions programmes and newspapers articles.
Another issue is that all too often the sacraments are unrelated to any kind of regular church practice.
Going to church for many has become cultural events, like birth, death and marriage, with little or no religious significance.
For the Catholic the Eucharist and the Mass is at the very heart of our faith.
It is our belief in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist that marks Catholics out as different from the other Christian churches.
In classical Protestant theology and practice the Word of God is central; Eucharist might or might not follow.
For the Roman Catholic Church, the Eucharist is given the priority and the Word of God is ultimately in support of the Eucharist.
In very over simplification, it might be said that Catholics form Church around the Eucharist, with the Word of God as a necessary prelude; whereas Protestants form Church around the Word, while seeing the Eucharist as flowing out from the Word in different ways.
For the Catholic Church the Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life.
The truth, about the Eucharist is a far cry from what is experienced in everyday life.
When people come to church for the so-called “cultural events” most present themselves to receive Holy Communion.
Many see it as the thing to do – namely come to receive Communion.
In the Word of God this weekend we find Peter giving the wonderfully dynamic metaphor of the “living stones” that make up the church.
The church is made up of human beings, it is not static like the temple which was fixed in a particular place and yet it is significant.
Christians have a unique identity – they are followers of Jesus who is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”.
When we, as adults or as children for the first time, come to receive Jesus in Holy Communion we come as the living stones that make up the church.
Our coming gives us our unique identity – so in reality the challenge begins when we leave the church.
We are challenged to live out our identity each and every day by the way we live our lives.