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September 9, 2004
Greetings and welcome to Faith Formation Update, a free monthly e-newsletter for catechetical leaders with a focus on parish catechesis beyond textbooks and classrooms. I'm Judith Dunlap. In each issue I offer a brief starter and my "Every Family" column. My co-worker and fellow religious educator Joan McKamey offers video resources and ideas in her "Seen and Heard" column. Our co-worker Chuck Blankenship suggests other faith formation resources for adults from St. Anthony Messenger Press in his column, "Sowing Sampler." Finally, we encourage YOU to share views and program ideas about this month's topic on our online bulletin board, "Faith Formation Forum." Blessings on your work!
—Judith Dunlap

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Preparing for First Sacraments: First Communion
Most Catholics have clear memories of their First Communion and, probably tucked away somewhere, a photograph of themselves on that day. Our family album has four generations of such pictures, certainly a testimony that my family, like so many other Catholic families, considered First Eucharist to be a major event. With a little planning, this family/church celebration can be a teachable moment, not only for second-graders and their parents but also for the whole parish.
Remember, First Communion, along with Baptism and Confirmation, is a sacrament of initiation. Therefore, using the baptismal catechumenate as an inspirational model is more than appropriate. As often as you can, include the community in the preparation and celebration.
Sometime this fall introduce the first communicants to the parish. This can be done by asking the children and their catechists to stand up for a blessing at each Mass on a particular weekend. In order to emphasize the fact that parents and parishioners have a responsibility in catechizing the youngsters, ask the parents, and then the congregation, to stand up for a blessing as well.
Celebrate the sacrament at regular Sunday liturgies. Let youngsters sit in the front pews with their families. If you keep the number of recipients to a dozen (or so) at each Mass, there is room for parishioners to witness the happy event. First Communion can be celebrated throughout the Easter season. Just make sure you have at least one Mass each weekend (well-publicized) with no special celebrations. That way, parishioners have a choice.
Plan a reception after each Mass, or host one large reception at the end of the Easter season. Invite youngsters to wear their First Communion clothes so that parishioners can congratulate them individually and make them feel special. In my book, Practical Catechesis, I suggest other ways of helping our first communicants feel special. (Click here to find other ideas.)
At one of the parishes where I worked, I came to know a woman who brought her grandchild to Mass each weekend. The child had been baptized, but her newly single mom no longer attended church. After witnessing one of the First Communion celebrations, the child asked if she could be part of a group. The next year, with her mother’s permission, grandma began bringing the youngster to religious education classes. Her mom came to her First Communion Mass and to Mass every Sunday afterward. She joined the parish and is still active today. As I said in the first paragraph, First Communion can certainly be a teachable moment.
The Parent as Catechist
Like all of you, I spend much time each year persuading parents to accept their essential role as the primary person responsible for the faith life of their children. I kept wondering why this was such a difficult concept for parents to accept, and then I read (many years ago) Dolores Curran’s article, “Who Me? Teach My Child Religion?”
Ms. Curran talks about the fact that until fairly recently parents weren’t expected to teach their children religion. We sent our children to church for that. “The unspoken conclusion was that the church taught religion because the parent couldn’t.” Parents got the subtle message and didn’t even try. She goes on to talk about how teaching children religion is just a basic part of every day life, using the example of how we teach our children about cleanliness. (Click here to read from Ms. Curran’s article reprinted in the book, Keeping Kids Catholic, Servant Publications.)
Share this insight at a parents’ meeting. Ask them to come up with examples of how they teach their children faith and values throughout the week. You might ask them to reflect and discuss the following questions, taken from the book, Keeping Kids Catholic.
  • What obstacles do parents face when trying to introduce their children to the faith?
  • How can we grow in confidence in teaching our kids religion?
  • Who has the greater responsibility in keeping kids Catholic—the Church or parents? Why?
  • Finally, consider quoting Ms. Curran’s concluding remarks from the above-mentioned article:
    Let’s begin by understanding that our ancestors, far less talented and educated than most of us, accepted the challenge just as they accepted that of teaching their children plowing and cooking. They didn’t make a big thing out of it. It was an integral part of their lives. They didn’t go into nervous spasms at the thought of teaching their children religion. They merely put aside the pea shelling and whittling, and began teaching. Are we willing to admit that we, living in this country in this age with all our resources, cannot do what they did?
    Video Update on First Eucharist
    When I was a child, my family gathered for holiday meals at my grandfather’s home. I was one of the older cousins and longed for the day when I would no longer have to eat with the little kids at the children’s table. But I do have to admit to one perk in eating with the kids: We were first in line for the food.
    Our Church family could seem cruel, by comparison, making its young members wait until the age of reason to be fed at the Lord’s table. There is a big difference though, in the kind of food we share at the Eucharist. Young children who are baptized already share in the life of Christ. We want their experience of Jesus in the Eucharist to be as meaningful as possible, so we prepare them through instruction and experiences that will help them understand this great gift they are receiving and celebrating.
    Just as I longed to join the adults at the grown-ups’ table, children’s anticipation and longing for the Eucharist grow as they near their First Eucharist day. They know it’s special—and not just because of the special clothes, party and gifts that often accompany a First Eucharist celebration. They know that receiving Christ in the Eucharist is an extraordinary way to grow closer to Jesus. They also know that their status within the community changes upon their reception of the Eucharist for the first time. They become more completely initiated into the life of the Church. They get to eat at the grown-ups’ table.
    We help them whet their appetites for both this personal closeness with Jesus and connection with the community when we show them how important these relationships are in our own lives. Our modeling helps make First Eucharist much more than an event that becomes a treasured memory. If the adults in a child’s life truly celebrate Eucharist, then that child’s First Eucharist is more likely to be just the first in a lifetime of meaningful encounters with the Body of Christ.
    Pope John Paul II has declared October 2004 through October 2005 as the “Year of the Eucharist.” What better time to take a fresh look at First Eucharist preparation in your parish? An important element in any children’s sacramental preparation process is the parent formation. The video program First Communion: Taking Your Place at the Table was designed with parent meetings in mind. This four-segment program (story, witness, teaching and music video) offers parents a basic foundation as they help their children approach the eucharistic table for the first time. Click here (RealMedia | Windows Media) to see a video clip from the teaching segment of this program. A special feature of this video is that parents and children can view the story segment, “Welcome to the Table,” separately or together.
    Those looking for a more comprehensive approach to parent formation on Eucharist will find the companion videos Eucharist: Celebrating Christ Present and A Walk Through the Mass especially helpful. The program planner Experience Christ Present helps catechetical leaders use segments from the three Catholic Update Videos mentioned above in a variety of approaches to parent and catechist formation on Eucharist.
    Opportunities for Personal Growth
    Often when parents bring their children forward for Sacraments of Initiation, we find that they are in a particularly receptive frame of mind regarding their own catechesis. In my own parish, when my wife and I brought our youngest daughter forward for her preparation for First Eucharist, we were surprised to find, along with the usual handouts and worksheets and schedules, a copy of a delightful little book about the Eucharist by Father Gerard Weber, The Eucharist: A View From the Pew. Little reference was made to the book, other than to draw our attention to the gift. But that little book turned out to spark some lively discussion in our family in the subsequent weeks. Father Weber’s descriptions of the meaning and rhythms of the Mass helped the whole family—even our teenage son—come to a better appreciation of what it means to participate in the Mass, rather than just “go” to Mass.
    As Catholics, we’re often reminded of the beautiful gift of the Real Presence we celebrate in the Eucharist. Servant author David Pearson has compiled a marvelous collection of interviews with nine men and women—ordinary Catholics—who describe how their lives have been changed by the practice of regular eucharistic adoration. No Wonder They Call It the Real Presence can help you remember what a truly special gift the Eucharist is to the Church. And for those who want to enhance their experience of eucharistic adoration, Servant author Paul Thigpen has compiled another helpful little book, Jesus, We Adore You: Prayers Before the Blessed Sacrament.
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