The Sacrament of First Holy Communion

The Sacrament of First Holy Communion
"The mode of Christ's presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as "the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all sacraments tend." In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained." "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church: paragraph 1374
- St. Francis de Sales instructions:
"When you have received Him, stir up your heart to do Him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His Presence."

Catholic First Communion:

As can and should be gathered form the definition of the Eucharist from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and from the words of St. Francis de Sales receiving the Eucharist is beyond important or just a basic part of being Catholic.  Receiving is one of the reasons to BE Catholic.  The teaching of the Church consistently and steadfastly is that of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Communion Host and Wine.
At the Last Supper Jesus, "Said this is my Body, Take and eat in remembrance of me" and signified the bread in his hands.  Then he said, indicating the chalice of wine that he held,  "This is my Blood.  Do this in remembrance of me."
He did not mean these things as symbols by which to remember him.  He meant to eat and drink in this manner as he was giving us a physical presence of himself to be consumed.  The Catholic Church calls this, the belief that the presence of the Lord remains in the host and wine for a short time after the priest's blessing, is called 'transubstantiation'.  And it is the primary reason for receiving the Eucharist, commonly referred to as Communion.
From the earliest days of Christianity the gatherings were to reenact the Last Supper.  Out of fear of persecution the new Christians would conceal bread and wine beneath their cloaks and would gather in some private location where they would break bread and drink wine in remembrance as Jesus asked.  These were the first rituals of what the Catholic Church calls Mass. The Catholic Church practices the Eucharistic ritual of Mass every day. 
The Catholic Church holds fast the belief that only those who are members of the 'one true Church' can receive the sacrament of the Eucharist so those who are not of the Catholic faith cannot receive the Sacrament of Communion during any Mass.  Likewise, Catholics should not accept communion service in other religions because of the sacrificial belief that supports the Church.
Communion may only be received once a day but it can be received every day.   Many Protestant faiths also practice weekly Communion.  Others only practice Communion service once a month or at special times such as Christmas or Easter.  Even though reception may be less that does not diminish the importance of receiving this special gift whenever, wherever one can according to their particular belief.
The word 'Eucharist' comes from the Greek term meaning 'thanks'.  Therefore every time any Christian receives Communion they are giving thanks for the sacrifices Jesus Christ made in his life, death and resurrection.

When is one old enough to receive Communion?
For most members of the Catholic Church, 1st Communion is received at or around the age of seven.  It was determined by Bishops, clergy, teachers and other leaders of the faith that by the age of seven a child has learned reason enough to be able to understand the importance of receiving the Sacrament of Communion. 
There may be extenuating circumstances when children receive
First Holy Communion at different ages.  These are determined at individual ages and the circumstances.  In rare cases some children simply are not ready to take this vital step in enacting their faith.  If that is the case, they are allowed to wait until they believe they are ready to enact their faith by receiving First Holy Communion.
Adults who join the Church may receive 1st Communion through a program called Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) in which the particulars of the Church are studied on an adult level before one joins the church.  In RCIA most receive their initiation and First Communion during the Easter period.
For most Protestant Christians the Rite of Holy Communion is coupled with Confirmation, and sometimes Baptism, at a later age.  The Catholic Church takes Baptism, Forgiveness of Sins, Communion and Confirmation at various stages throughout a child's age.  An adult may be Baptized, make their First Communion and be Confirmed all in one year.

First Holy Communion Preparation.
One must first learn the fundamentals of the Catholic Faith.  For instance, there are several divisions of the Mass besides the Eucharistic Preparation.  There are the beginning prayers, the Offertory, a Bible study in the form of Bible readings and the Priest's sermon.  After the Eucharist (Communion), there are the closing prayers and a final Blessing.  A child is expected to at least be able to identify these separate instances at Mass.
A child must learn certain prayers; The Our Father, The Hail Mary, the Apostles Creed and the Prayer of Penance.  They must also learn the Ten Commandments and the Seven Sacraments…at least be able to identify them if not to recite them in the proper order.
While this appears to be an exhausting curriculum, many Catholic children are enrolled in pre-schools and kindergarten classes where learning the vital practices of their faith begin as early as age four.  By the age of seven most can (and will) recite their prayers or the Sacraments or the Commandments with little trouble at all.  Parents are asked to take an active part in this learning preparation.  In many Catholic homes prayer stories or those pertaining to Communion, the Sacraments and Ten Commandments take precedent over traditional bedtime stories.
RCIA classes are generally conducted on Sunday mornings but that may vary according to the parish priests wishes.  Classes generally begin in the fall and will end at the Easter Vigil Services on Holy Saturday.  There are several sub-programs within the larger program and  initiates will generally attend the first part of the Mass and then when Eucharist preparation begins will retire to study for an hour or two and will return for the closing prayers of a later Mass. 
Children who receive First Holy Communion in the spring are expected to receive the Sacrament of Penance several months before the First Communion date.  Again, the practice is different for adults participating in RCIA.  No one will receive their First Communion before they receive their first Sacrament of Reconciliation.

What is the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Reconciliation is the sacrament of New Law instituted by Christ in which sins committed after Baptism may be forgiven through a priest's absolution. In Penance we acknowledge our wrongdoing and atone for our sins.
In the New Testament according to Mark (2:5-11) Jesus said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." "And there were some of the scribes sitting there, and thinking in their hearts: Why doth this man speak thus? he blasphemeth. Who can forgive sins but God only?" But Jesus seeing their thoughts, said to them: "Which is easier to say to the sick of the palsy: Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, take up thy bed and walk? But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say to thee: Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house"

At another time Jesus told all of the  Apostles: "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven" (Matthew 18:18).

The Catholic Church refers to Penance as being a sacrament because it is an outward sign that comprises the actions of the penitent by presenting himself to a priest and showing sorrow for the sins he has committed.  The grace a priest extends to the penitent in the form of absolution involves the deliverance from the guilt of sin and, in the case of mortal sin, from eternal punishment.  Only a duly ordained priest who has been given requisite jurisdiction with the 'power of the keys' may forgive sin.

While one might ask, "How can a child of seven commit sin?" This is a way of determining if a child knows right from wrong.  Questions asked are such as: "Have you disobeyed your parents?"; "Have you ever told a lie?"; "Did you ever take anything that didn't belong to you?"   Dishonoring parents, lying and stealing are offenses against the Ten Commandments and it important that a child understands everyone should be free of sin when they receive the Holy Eucharist.  Penance given to young children might be as simple as reciting the Hail Mary three times before they leave the church.  One should always say or do their penance as quickly as possible.
According to The Council of Trent (1551):  As a means of regaining grace and justice, penance was at all times necessary for those who had defiled their souls with any mortal sin. . . . Before the coming of Christ, penance was not a sacrament, nor is it since His coming a sacrament for those who are not baptized. But the Lord then principally instituted the Sacrament of Penance, when, being raised from the dead, he breathed upon His disciples saying: 'Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained' (John 20:22-23). By which action so signal and words so clear the consent of all the Fathers has ever understood that the power of forgiving and retaining sins was communicated to the Apostles and to their lawful successors, for the reconciling of the faithful who have fallen after Baptism. (Sess. XIV, c. i)

Communion Symbols (Symbols of the Eucharist)

There are two major symbols related to the Eucharist.
            1.  Wine--also known as the 'fruit of the vines' used to symbolize the blood of Christ.
            2. Bread--also know as 'the Host' used to symbolize the body of Christ.
No matter how many attend Mass both Bread and Wine (the Body and the Blood) are carried in a single plate and chalice to represent the unity of the attending members and the unity of the Church.
The Communion Chalice is a bowl shaped drinking vessel in reference to the cup used in the Last Supper.  The word 'chalice' comes from the Latin word 'calix' meaning 'cup'.  The chalice is a symbol of Holy Communion and of the forgiveness of sin granted by the blood Christ shed on the cross.
The Lord's Supper is symbolized by a chalice of wine with the host rising above the cup.
The Communion Chalice used during the Eucharist contains Wine mixed with water.  The priest holds the cup up before the congregation and recites the words of consecration.  "This is my body which will be given for you."  "This is my blood which will be given for you."
This is the moment when members of the Catholic faith believe the host and the wine actually become Christ's body and blood.
This is the most important ritual within the Catholic faith.  The Communion Chalice is one of the most richly decorated objects within the church treasury.  A Communion Chalice is generally made of gold and/or silver and encrusted with semi precious stones or scenes relating to the Eucharist.

Matthew refers to the Chalice in his Gospel (Matt. 26:27):" Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the(n) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

Other First Communion symbols may include the traditional dress of white (girls in white dresses with veils and boys in white shirts and pants) to symbolize the purity of receiving First Communion.
While there are no official First Holy Communion songs, those that are sung generally honor Mary the mother of Christ.  The First Holy Communion for children and adults generally takes place in the spring.  For RCIA on Holy Saturday: for children generally in the days after Easter through the month of May.  As May is traditionally considered 'Mary's month', First Communion also often includes references to Mary the Most Holy Mother.  Rosaries or Miraculous Medals are traditional gifts for the First Communicate of any age.
Catholic's have celebrated the month of May as Mary's month since the Church granted the pagan festival of May Day a Christian meaning by associating it with the Blessed Virgin.  The new life of spring represents the new life of Jesus that Mary bore.
Traditional songs  sung at this time of receiving First Holy Communion and remembering Mary are Ave Maria,  Hail Holy Queen (Enthroned Above), Immaculate Mary,  On this Day Oh Beautiful Mother.

Traditional Communion Prayer otherwise known as the Anima Christi of St. Ignatius Loyola

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.

Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within Thy wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee.

From the malignant enemy, defend me.
In the hour of my death, call me.
And bid me come to Thee.
That with Thy saints I may praise Thee.
Forever and ever. Amen.


Communion Cross---RCIA Cross
To either side of the cross the symbols of grapes and wheat signify the bread and wine to be consecrated to become Jesus' Body and Blood.  The Chi Ro at the top is an early Christian symbol consisting of the first two letter word for Christ in Greek.   The Chi Ro was the symbol the Emperor Constantine place don his shield before he went into battle against pagan enemies in 312.  The Cross in the middle of the medal  signifies the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The image of the Chalice and Host signify the Body and Blood of Christ.  The fish at the bottom refers to Jesus declaration to make the disciples 'fishers of men'  (Mark 1:17).
Ears of wheat and cluster of grapes are often used as ornaments on altars or the Description: [Eucharistic symbols]priests' vestments.  They are the emblems of the Blessed Sacrament, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the appearance of bread and wine.


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