Saturday, July 10, 2010

Let the Little Children Come to Me

It is hard to believe this day has finally arrived. Today eight year old M finally received her First Holy Communion. She wore a beautiful white dress, pretty white shoes, a delicate headband, and a smile. And beside her was her brother, six year old D, in his handsome suit and a huge smile. Amazingly enough he too received his First Holy Communion! A doubly joyful day for the Kennedy Family!

The story of our First Holy Communion preparation begins way back when M was 5 or 6. All catechesis in our house was done with this day in mind. And at the time I thought she would receive when she was 7. But our nomadic life left us out of the loop, so to speak. In London, we had a parish we loved, but I figured she was too young so I never asked, though I thought she was ready. I wanted to do it "the right way". Then we moved to Scotland where the process was a little different. The children have their First Confession at about age 7 (though many were 8) and then First Holy Communion the following year. So, we attended First Reconciliation Class (which I taught) at our parish and she went to confession for the first time in June of 2009.

Then, life changed a bit and we began attending Sunday Mass at the Cathedral in Aberdeen. It was actually closer than our other church and had an 8am Mass, which seemed like the best time for the whole family. At this point we stepped up the catechesis for First Holy Communion at home. Again, I knew she was ready to begin receiving, but I was reluctant to push the process. I never even spoke to our priest about it. My mistake.

We worked on a Eucharist Notebook and began thinking about when, and how. We weren't connected to a parish catechesis program, so we were on our own. When it became obvious that we would be moving home this year we began to think about having her receive for the first time back home in California. That way my family could be there and we could have a "proper celebration". But moving day kept moving. Soon it was June and we still didn't have a move date. It began to dawn on us that we would be lucky to be in our house by September. We just couldn't make her wait that long.

Logistics aside, we also began to realize that M would be much more comfortable beginning this new journey in her life here, in St Mary's Cathedral. M has never been a big fan of change and new things, so keeping as many factors constant as possible seemed like the best plan for her.

So, the decision was made! But, we had to wait again. Everything hinged on our conversation with the Pastor of the Cathedral, Father Christopher....who was out of town.

After a week of asking Blessed Imelda's Intercession, and after a bit of phone tag, we finally connected. Jim had been taking one kid to Mass each day for a couple of weeks (this was a once a week habit before, but had begun to be daily). On Thursday he "happened" to take both M and D to Mass and Father Chris "happened" to be saying Mass that day. After Mass, Jim approached Father who said that certainly M should receive as soon as possible. But, he thought D was also ready.
Father Chris said Mass and Father Juniper came to say congratulations. 

We were both surprised even though we agreed! However, we never would have asked that D receive at age 6. But, who can argue with a priest!?  

And here we are, three days later, the day both M and D received Jesus in the form of Bread and Wine for the first time.

During Mass I tried my best to remain in the present moment (and to not write this post in my head, or worry about the coughs and runny noses). This is not easy for my wandering mind, but, through the grace of God, I have been able to do it at least four times in my married life: during our wedding, during each of the kid's baptisms, and during today's First Holy Communion Mass. And like each of those times I held back tears as the Sacrament was being administered.

Each Sacrament holds so much power that I am in awe in the presence of that moment. I was in awe of the moment that I joined my life to Jim's in a permanent, inseparable way. I was in awe each time a child was washed clean and filled with the very Life of God. And I was in awe this morning as those same babies stood in front of me and said Amen, receiving Jesus into their very own bodies. Two little tabernacles walking back to their pew.
Father let each of the kids pick out something from the little store. They chose books and he wrote a note in each one. 

I know you can't go back in time and re-do things, and I know God makes beauty out of everything, even our own mistakes, but I couldn't help reflecting about the difference between the way M and D came to this day.

Ever since my professional catechist days I have been interested in the movement of the Church regarding the proper age for First Holy Communion. One of my heroes as been Pope St. Pius X. He was the one who changed everything for children. He helped make today possible.

Pope Pius X declared that children should not be made to wait until 11, 12, sometimes even 14, to receive First Holy Communion as was the custom of the day (think St. Bernadette). He said children should be admitted to the sacrament by age 7, the approximate time most children reach the "age of reason". This morning, as we were anticipating our big day, I remembered a story I once read about Pope St Pius X. I don't know where it came from, but I had it copied in a document on my computer.

When Pope Pius X became Pope, one of his first thoughts was not only to feed little children with bread, but also to feed their souls with the Body and Blood of Jesus, their Lord and God, under the appearance of bread, in Holy Communion. Many in the Church objected to this, but he loved children and he loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament so much that he wanted them to frequently embrace each other in Holy Communion, as a child embraces its beloved mother. He wanted children to be allowed to receive Jesus as soon as they knew enough catechism to understand that our dear Lord and God comes to them in Holy Communion.
One day an English lady had her four year old son with her at a private visit with Pope Pius X. The Pope stooped down to the little boy and asked him:
"How old are you?"
"I am four," said the boy.
Then the Holy Father continued: "Whom do you receive in Holy Communion?"
"Jesus Christ," answered the little fellow.
"And who is Jesus Christ?" inquired the Pope.
"Jesus Christ is God," was the boy's immediate answer.
The Pope was delighted and turned to the mother and said: "Bring your boy to me tomorrow and I will give him his first Communion myself."
Though D is not as young as the little boy in the story, he is a bit younger than most children are when they first begin receiving the Eucharist. But Father saw in D a readiness, and perhaps a need, for the graces of this Sacrament and so he pastored him. It was the intent of Pope Pius X that the decision of when a child should begin to receive was to be between the parents and a priest that is familiar with the child's spiritual life. How sad it is that this relationship between priest and child is so difficult to find?
After Mass our friends Mark and Katarina and their daughter Bernadette (not in picture) joined us at Starbucks for a little celebration.

In retrospect, if we had been more connected to our pastors over the past four years M may have begun receiving Communion a while ago. But, perhaps God had it in mind all along that she would receive with her brother, here in Aberdeen. Certainly the fact that we made it today through coughs, stuffy noses, and eye infections is a miracle in itself!

Congratulations M and D! Our prayer for you is that each time you receive Christ in this incredible Sacrament that you will know that it is Him, that you will grow in your love for Him, and that you will be more like Him each day.


  1. Precious! Many blessings on the big day! They look so pure and truly happy.

    I particularly loved the part about Father writing a personal note in each book.

    Beautiful family!

  2. Thank you Patty! They couldn't be happier. They both wore their First Communion clothes to Mass this morning for "Second Communion"!

  3. REad my newest post...I tagged you. :)

  4. What an inspiration. Your children are beautiful. I am just starting to blog and want tp put life issues and the love that God has for us??? Anway children stories also. I hope you don't mind if I copy the story of the Pope and paste it in my blog, what a holy man.

    God bless,

    Kathleen Florida