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

Once again for the first time

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the May 21, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Like many other parishes throughout our diocese at this time of year, our parish recently was blessed by the celebration of the completion of Christian Initiation with many of our young children. As these children came forward first for Confirmation and then for First Communion, I could not help but be struck by the sense of awe and wonder on their faces. Indeed, they were conscious particularly 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 community, no longer needing to pass through the Communion line, receiving 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 time 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,” “commitment to help others,” and so forth. This is not just a matter of children who are well-versed in contemporary jargon. Their preparation has preserved the rich awareness of meeting Jesus, but it also has deepened their awareness of the significance of the Eucharist. Happily, appropriate behavior will reflect their awareness.

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 is merely a means of getting my Communion for the day or for the week. Whether or not I participate in the singing or responses at Mass is my personal affair. When I leave Mass – and in those days we thought, though incorrectly, we only had to stay until Communion – it is largely to go about my private life.

Perhaps this mentality also has led to a certain smorgasbord mentality regarding Sunday Mass and Eucharist which has developed in the Church in modern times: merely getting Mass in somewhere (if that), 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. The heck with the person next to me, or the parish, or the entire community of faith. In recent years. the popes have offered the Church some excellent teachings on the significance of the Eucharist and its connection with the parish or community of faith.

Reflecting the vision of the Second Vatican Council, which takes us back to our spiritual roots, these writings have not denied the real presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, but they have offered important correctives to an over-privatization of Mass and the Eucharist.

Eucharist is identified essentially with 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 delight of his 12 best followers. Rooted in the ancient Jewish tradition of thanksgiving 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. Do we suffer spiritually? Yes.

The thought strikes me that the many celebrations of First Communion we so thoroughly enjoy in our parishes these days is a special grace for the entire Catholic 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 who continues to unite us as a people who are engaged in the work of his Church, his community of faith. In their innocence and radical awe before the Eucharist – and in their eagerness to 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 the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)

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