Preparing our parish children to celebrate the sacrament of First Eucharist is a multi-faceted process which is designed to provide all participants with a positive and meaningful faith experience, one that leads them to respond more fully to God’s invitation to a loving relationship. This process began in the Fall with an orientation meeting for parents. While our sacramental preparation parent meetings were occasions for communicating essential information about our parish program, they were, more importantly, opportunities for community building, prayer, evangelization, and adult formation. During these meetings, our pastor, Fr. Bernie Pietrzak and Assoc. Dir. of Children’s Faith Formation, Mrs. Sue Jett, provided parents opportunities to reflect on the importance of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist in their own lives and become more involved in their children’s preparation for the sacraments.
To recognize this important moment in the faith life of our First Eucharist families, the Rite of Candidacy for First Eucharist Candidates was celebrated within our Sunday liturgies. Parents were called forth to the baptismal font to bless their children using the Sign of the Cross from the baptismal waters, signifying their renewed commitment to their children’s further initiation into the sacramental life of the Church through fuller participation in the Eucharist. Following this liturgical ritual, immediate preparation for the sacrament of First Eucharist began with preparation for and first celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Because the Church asks that second-grade children’s first celebration of Reconciliation is to precede the celebration of First Holy Communion, a family model of First Reconciliation was offered to provide our young children an opportunity to celebrate God’s faithful love within the context of family life.
Catechesis in preparation for First Eucharist was an especially graced time through which children, their families, and our community were invited into a deeper experience of faith. Our second-grade children received formal sacramental preparation for First Eucharist from our many volunteers who serve as parish catechists in our GIFT Faith Formation program as well as from our staff at Saint Anne Parish School. There also were several families who participated in home study rather than using the traditional classroom model for their children’s preparation needs. Parents were provided a magazine-style resource to help them reflect on and share their own experiences as they explored each of the lessons with their child. This process allowed parents to share in their child’s preparation at home and was ideal to not only to nurturing their child’s understanding of the themes presented in the classroom , but as parents helped their child make natural life and faith connections their faith was revitalized as well!
Our First Eucharist retreat was also an important part of our preparation. It offered children and parents a meaningful opportunity to interact with one another and with other parish families. Participants went on a “Sanctuary Scavenger Hunt”, reflected on the Eucharistic presence of the Good Shepherd found in the Gospel of John, created banners for their family pew, and practiced receiving unconsecrated bread and wine. The activities included in this retreat were designed to affirm the importance of this time of preparation for the sacrament and help children and parents learn and grow in their understanding and appreciation for the gift of Eucharist.
The final step in preparing for First Eucharist is the rehearsal for the celebration of the Mass. Children are required to bring their “Mass booklets” with them to their rehearsal. These booklets were distributed to each child at a “Teaching Mass” which was led by Fr. Tom Bishop at the beginning of their preparation. They are a child’s resource for learning how to pray the Mass. Families were encouraged to have children bring this with them to Mass each week to reinforce what they have learned in their classroom setting (and at home through parent resources) about celebrating the sacrament. Rehearsal is essential to the practical logistics of the liturgical celebration as well as to providing children the opportunity to synthesize their catechetical work of preparation.