Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Communion

We had 105 kids make their first communion in our parish today. The priest talked about communion being a family meal and Jesus coming into their hearts. That is all good and important stuff to learn. But their is another side that gets pretty much ignored. The bit about communion being a sacrifice. I can get why. These kids are grade 2 and they looked very cute all dressed up. For you to explain the Eucharist as sacrifice you would need to make them understand sin. I mean if we don't get that we are sinners then why are we making sacrifices in the first place? But we don't just need to see ourselves as sinners but as big sinners. We need a sacrifice that is bigger than any human sacrifice could be. Can we tell 8 year-old kids that their sin is that bad? Do we really believe our sin is that bad? We do and we don't.

I know as a child I understood sin and atonement. I did bad things and I was punished and that made things right. But then I became a teenager and my sins got worse. There was a point where there was no punishment my parents could give that was bad enough to make up for the things I did. That was when the atoning sacrifice of Jesus became real to me. Of course, as a protestant, I did not connect it with the Lord's Supper at all. But if I had it might have been powerful for me to understand that my real sins needed a real sacrifice offered for me at mass by the priest. Not just an abstract atonement many years ago for the sins of the world but Jesus' body and blood presented today for my sins.

But how old do you have to be to get that? For me it would have been early teens. No way I understood my sins that well when I was 8. We understand that. Our parish does not recommend kids go to first confession until grade 4. So they know in grade 2 they are not ready to seriously contemplate their sin and the way it effects their relationship with God. So they teach them about the mass as a holy family meal but largely skip the idea of the mass as sacrifice. I remember a talk by Bishop Sample saying that if you don't understand the mass as sacrifice you don't understand the mass at all. Is that really true? Should we simply not have kids at communion until they can understand their personal need for atonement before God?

I wonder how many ever get it. How many ever see their sins being atoned for by Jesus body and blood being presented to God on the altar by the priest as a sacrifice during the mass? I don't have any statistics but my gut feeling is many don't. We need to teach it better. Part of that is actual catechism instruction and part of it is liturgical practice as well. What we believe happens in a Sunday morning mass is radically different from what protestant believe happens in a Sunday morning service. We need to explain that and we need to change the way we do things to reflect that as well. I am not sure we do either well.

1 comment:

  1. Randy, sounds like you have a great idea for a class to teach at your parish!