Most Catholic children receive their First Communion when they’re seven or eight years of age because this is considered the age of reason. This means that most children are usually in second class in school when they make their First Communion.
While there is often much excitement among children at the thought of making their First Communion, many are not completely aware of the significance of the occasion. As with Confirmation there is more to the event than new clothing, a party and a chance to meet with family and friends.
In order for to receive communion the recipient should be without sin and in a state of grace. Traditionally, therefore young Catholic children will make their first confession, i.e. the Sacrament of Reconciliation some weeks before receiving their First Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Baptism must also have been received before receiving the First Communion.
Preparing your Child for the Sacrament of the Eucharist
Ideally the best preparation for the Eucharist is taking your child to Mass regularly and helping your child understand what it is all about. If there is a children’s Mass you can take your child to that and encourage him or her to participate. Many parishes now run a preparatory programme for children preparing for First Communion. This programme is called “Do This in Memory”. This usually takes place once a month at a particular Mass where the children preparing for First Communion are invited to sit together and the priest explains the readings to the children. Leaflets giving information and hints to parents on how to prepare their children are also available at these Masses.
Many children now receive First Communion at a regular mass in their parish and preparation is parish rather than school based. Others are prepared both at school and in the parish. It is important that what is being taught at school and at home are in harmony. As a parent it is worthwhile asking to see the school’s Communion programme and finding out how you can help your child. Very often schools will invite you along to one or more meetings before the First Communion day. Though the basic Catholic belief in the Eucharist hasn’t changed over the years, how it is explained to children today may well be very different from the way it was explained to you or your parents, so attending such a meeting can be very informative and supportive in helping you prepare your child.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation
The Sacrament of Reconciliation was formerly known as the Sacrament of Penance and is also still commonly referred to as a child’s First Confession. The emphasis in preparing children for this sacrament is based on asking the children to reflect on times when they did not live as Jesus asked them. The children may, for example, draw a picture of a time when they did not show love for others. This picture is sometimes used by the child as a prompt to talk to the priest while they are receiving the sacrament. Confessional boxes are no longer used, the child and priest sit to one side of the church.
In the sacrament of reconciliation the children receive the grace of forgiveness and repentance. In order to receive their First Communion, children must first receive the grace of forgiveness and repentance and therefore most children will undertake the Sacrament of Penance sometime in the weeks prior to their First Holy Communion.
The word ‘communion’ means to be united with. Catholics believe that in holy communion they are united in a special way with Jesus Christ, that they are sharing in the body and blood of Christ the Saviour. Holy Communion, and the whole service (Mass) is also known as Eucharist, from a Greek word meaning thanksgiving.