The Eucharist/First Holy Communion
The Eucharist, also called the Mass or the Lord’s Supper, is the source and summit of the Christian life. Jesus instituted this sacrament on Holy Thursday evening when he took bread and wine and pronounced them his body and blood and instructed the Apostles to continue to ‘do this in memory of me’.
The Eucharist is a ‘memorial’ of Jesus’ death on the Cross and his Resurrection on the third day. This means, in every celebration of the Eucharist, Jesus’ saving sacrifice continues through history and is made present to us. In this way, God constantly renews his pledge to share with us eternal life.
At the beginning of the Eucharist we first prepare to receive Holy Communion by repenting of our through the Penitential Rite, or we do this through the Sacrament of Penance if we are aware of serious sins. We then allow God to prepare our hearts by listening attentively to the Scripture readings that are proclaimed and then explained in the Homily. Through the Scriptures we hear what God is asking of us today and we become participants in the story of faith. After the Homily we then recite together a summary of our Catholic Faith – the Creed – and place our needs and the needs of the world before God through the ‘universal prayer’ or ‘general intercessions’.
The high-point of the celebration is the Eucharistic Prayer, during which the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ body and blood and his saving sacrifice on the Cross is made present. This prayer then leads to the Communion Rite, during which baptised Catholics may receive Holy Communion, which means truly receiving Jesus himself – his body and blood – under the appearance of bread and wine. And so, in the Eucharist the Christian community does not simply remember a past event but is nourished and transformed by grace in the present moment.
Jesus is totally present in Holy Communion, regardless of whether we receive communion under the appearance of bread alone (called ‘the host’), the appearance of wine alone (in the chalice), or both.
As a fruit of Holy Communion, we leave the celebration of the Eucharist eager to grow in Christian discipleship, particularly by sharing our faith with others and helping the poor and disadvantaged through practical action and almsgiving.
Since the very first days of the Church Christians have gathered together for the Eucharist on Sunday, the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, to give thanks to God. ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving. Through this gathering together at ‘the altar’ or the ‘Table of the Lord’ to give thanks to God, the Church is made a true community: Christ’s body. This is symbolised by this sacrament taking the form of a shared meal. By participating in ‘Holy Communion’ we become a ‘communion of holy people; of saints’. Holy Communion, then, is the greatest expression of a person belonging to the Christian Church: of a deep relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep relationship with the other members of the Church.
When and where?
Full participation in the Eucharist occurs through reception of Holy Communion. This is the highpoint and conclusion of Christian initiation, though in many places in Australia First Holy Communion is actually celebrated before Confirmation.
Children who are baptised, around 7 years of age or in year 3 at school, and who have undertaken a period of preparation may celebrate their First Holy Communion. As a general rule, children are asked to participate in the sacrament of Penance (their ‘first reconciliation’) prior to celebrating their First Holy Communion.
The local parish is where children celebrate First Holy Communion, because the parish is their local community of faith.
Sometimes children who are not Catholic but who are enrolled in a Catholic school experience a strong desire to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. In this case, parents should contact the local priest to discuss the situation.
Who prepares the children for First Holy Communion?
It is primarily the duty of parents to prepare children to celebrate this sacrament, together with the assistance of the parish and Catholic school community. The key goal of preparation is empowering the child to express a simple but sincere faith in Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist and a desire to receive him in this sacrament.
As part of preparation, the child should be given prayerful and practical support in order to understand the origin and meaning of this sacrament, celebrate it with proper devotion, and participate confidently in the liturgical rite itself. It is therefore important for families to be active members of the local community, particularly by regularly participating in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, prior to the celebration of First Holy Communion.
What do the children wear?
Each local parish has its own traditions and guidelines regarding dress. In many cases there may be traditional cultural customs that are important to families. Most importantly, the children should be neat and tidy and their dress should reflect the significance of this special occasion.
How do the children receive Holy Communion?
Catholics are free to receive Holy Communion on their outstretched hands or directly on the tongue, after making a bow of the head. The choice is up to the individual child in consultation with his/her parents. (Please note specific guidelines may apply during the COVID-19 Pandemic).
Most importantly, those presenting for Holy Communion should clearly respond ‘Amen’ to the minister who says ‘The Body of Christ’ or ‘The Blood of Christ’ while presenting the host or chalice. This amen is important: through it the recipient assents to the faith of the Church.
On receiving Holy Communion, the sacrament must be reverently consumed immediately and not carried away to the seat.
What happens if my child is coeliac?
If your child suffers from allergies, please speak to the priest or sacramental coordinator. The bread used at Mass must be made from wheat (and the wine made from grapes), however gluten reduced hosts are available, which are acceptable to the vast majority of people who live with coeliac disease.