Grams was raised in the Southern Baptist Church. As an adult, I converted to Catholicism because that's what Grandad practices and I reasoned that I can serve God where ever he put me. Since I know many who read my blog are not Catholic, I'm going to give you a little bit of background on the Catholic sacrament of First Holy Communion and the rites and traditions that surround it.
In our diocese, children must complete at least two years of religious education (formerly known as CCD) by attending weekly classes. It's traditional to make your First Holy Communion in the second grade, so that makes the kids about 7-8 years old.
There are numerous horror stories where overzealous priests and/or bishops quiz kids about their Catechism or ask them to recite prayers aloud during Mass. As you might imagine, these stories usually include kids who freeze up and can't answer said questions or recite a even single Hail Mary. Most modern priests have long since abandoned this practice and, if they do question the communicants or make them recite prayers, they do it before the Mass in one of the religious-education classes.
Mass usually begins with a procession down the main aisle of the church. The procession is led by a "cross-bearer" who carries a large crucifix, followed by altar servers, the lector, Eucharistic lay ministers, and the priest. On First Communion Sunday, the First Communicants join this procession, following right behind the alter servers. It's a very serious and stately procession. The religious education teachers have carefully instructed their students to walk with their hands folded prayerfully. When the procession begins, the congregation stands and the choir sings. Moms, Dads and Grandparents lean into the aisle and snap photos of their little angels walking in the procession.
The Communicants then sit together, right up at the front of the church, with their families and loved ones right behind them. When it's time for communion, these First Communicants go first. Again, many photos are snapped; although some churches prohibit photography during the actual Communion.
Grams and Grandad attend a very small rural church. In fact, it's so small that most years we only have one or two kids making their first communion. This year's class was huge. There were five First Communicants.
To say that our priest is "old school" would be an understatement of epic proportions. He's a very pious, serious and old-fashioned priest who has been elevated to the honorary position of Monsignor. Most people his age would be retired, but given the shortage of priests, he's been moved to our small parish which is as close to retirement as you can get. He still celebrates Mass every day for our tiny little parish. And while I appreciate his service, I have noticed that the "old school" part of him can't quite give up many of the old ways.
This morning's Mass and First Communion went very well right up until the end. It was clear that the CCD teachers, parents and students had all done their jobs admirably. The kids were well behaved and well prepared.
After Communion, while the Eucharistic Ministers where clearing the altar, I noticed that one of the First Communicants got up and went to the back of the church, presumably to the bathroom. Before the young man returned, Monsignor got up from his seat, came down off of the altar, and stood right in front of the kids. For a moment I thought he was going to shake hands with the First Communicants and congratulate them. But, alas, the "old school" part of him felt the need for one more lesson about the importance of attending church regularly. It went something like this.
He started by saying in his loud and stately voice, "What and have we already lost one of our children?" The congregation chuckled.
He continued "Well children, now that you've received Jesus through Holy Communion, it's your responsibility to attend church every Sunday or Saturday night. But, since you're only 7 years old, it's your parents' responsibility to make sure you get to church every Sunday. Because if someone saw a child your age walking down the street alone you could get picked up." (At this point the voice in my head went "Huh?")
He continued by asking "Do you know your multiplication yet?" A little voice responded "I know some."
Monsignor quizzed "Whats 24 x 7?" I couldn't hear the response but, obviously, it was something that included "No, that's too hard." or some variation of that.
Monsignor decided to take a different tack. "How many hours in a week?" Again some inaudible response from one of the little people that indicated that the answer was above their education and ability.
As Monsignor continued, the "missing" child came out of the bathroom and realized he might be missing something important. This led him to dash full speed down the center aisle only to skid to a stop and slip, not so quietly, into the front row of seats. (I, along with several other parishioners, stifled a giggle.)
Undaunted by the interruption, Monsignor decided to answer his own question. "There are 168 hours in a week and Jesus only asks for one of those hours." (Again, the voice in my head with the "Huh?" and I thought to myself "that's not exactly what he means.")
Clearly these kids were not getting the point to Monsignor's satisfaction. He decided an illustration was in order. "If you had 168 pieces of candy and your friend asked for one, would you give it to him?" A little voice answered clearly and firmly "No!"
At this point Monsignor abandoned the question and answer part of the program and made his point that these children have reached the "age of accountability" and must now attend church to satisfy their Sunday obligation and, until they're big enough to get there on their own, it's their parents responsibility to get them there. He then returned to the altar, gave his final blessing and followed the recession out of the church.
We left the church with everyone talking about the refreshing honesty of children. Even the stoic and serious Monsignor was smiling with a twinkle in his eye as we filed out and shook his hand.