Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

The first of many

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the May 18, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Like so many Catholic communities at this time of year, our parish recently celebrated the completion of Christian Initiation with many of our children in the sacraments of Confirmation/Eucharist. It was obvious that the Spirit received in fullness at their Baptism united them in Confirmation to a living community of faith.

As our children came forward with their parents and sponsors for their “first” Communion I could not help but be struck by the sense of awe and wonder on their faces. Indeed, they were conscious of receiving the Eucharist for the first time and were meeting the Risen Lord in this most special sacrament. But they also manifested a sense of finally belonging to the Church, no longer needing to pass through the Communion line to receive merely a blessing. The excitement of joining fully in the sharing of the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation was obvious in their bright eyes and happy faces. What had begun in their Baptism was now complete in the Eucharist. They now are responsible members of the Church.

Times like these evoke fond memories for us adults of that day when we made our First Communion. What, indeed, are our memories? Veils and flowers? A tie that choked painfully? Receiving Jesus! Fear of making a mistake? When asked this same question, today’s children seem to have different responses. Receiving Jesus, of course, remains at the top of the list, but so, too, are phrases like “belonging,” “sharing with the community” and “commitment to help others.” This is not just a matter of children who are well-versed in contemporary catechetical jargon. Their preparation has preserved the rich awareness of meeting Jesus, but it also has deepened their awareness of the significance of the Eucharist.

For a good number of us – especially “cradle” Catholics – First Communion was very much a private affair, even if we celebrated it as a class or group. Our vocabulary betrayed our points of emphasis: I made my First Communion. I received Jesus for myself, for the grace he gave me. Unfortunately, if this is our limited understanding of the Eucharist, then our behavior follows suit: Going to Mass becomes merely a means of getting my Communion for the day or for the week. Whether or not I participate in the Mass is relegated to mere personal preference. When we left Mass – and in those days we thought, though incorrectly, that we only had to stay until the priest made his Communion – it was largely to go about my private life.

Perhaps this mentality also has led to a certain smorgasbord attitude regarding Sunday Mass and Eucharist which has developed in the Church in recent times: merely getting Mass in somewhere (if at all), shopping around for Mass or going where I feel comfortable. In all these forms, Eucharist is perceived as a private encounter between Jesus and me.

Eucharist essentially is identified with presence, community and covenant. The Last Supper which Jesus celebrated with his disciples – and which, as we have learned from childhood, is the institutional reference point for the Mass – was not an event performed by Jesus for the private benefit of his 12 best followers. Rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition of a grateful praise-meal (Passover), it was a celebration of a covenant as a special people who were united by God in the building of Kingdom. Sharing in the Eucharist without active participation and support of the work of the faith community where one lives and networks in other aspects of daily life is at least partially hypocritical.

When there are grave reasons that move us from one parish community to another, therefore, it is a matter which requires careful attention and consideration. The move requires not just a private, comfortable change in place for Mass, but an explicit and lasting commitment to another portion of God’s people. Likewise, hopping from one altar to another – or not going to Mass unless it’s convenient – is one’s public testimony to an immature understanding of Eucharist. Is God going to strike us with a lightening bolt for such behavior? No. Will we be thrown out of the Church? No. But do we suffer spiritually? Yes!

The thought strikes me that the many celebrations of Confirmation/First Eucharist we so thoroughly enjoy in our parishes these days is a special grace for the entire parish community. They give us an opportunity to renew our First Eucharist, as it were, and to learn a significant lesson in spirituality from our children. These celebrations are certainly an occasion to be challenged in our understanding of the Mass and our reception of Eucharist. If all we celebrate with these children is their “first” Communion, then all we are doing now as adults at Sunday Mass is receive Communion for the (fill in the blank)-nth time. Eucharist has everything to do with encounter with a living Lord whose Holy Spirit continues to unite us as a people, engaging us in the work of his Church, his community of faith. In the innocence and radical awe before the Eucharist witnessed by our children – and in their eagerness to embrace, belong and share – all of us are reminded anew that we privatize the Eucharist or neglect its moral consequences only to our own spiritual decline.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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