It was First Communion Sunday -- and I confess that each year, this fills me with both joy and, yes, some dread. The joy is obvious; why the dread?
In years' past, the other priests I've worked with in my prior parishes and I have agreed the First Communion Mass can often be a "zoo Mass": a lot of irreverence and disruption, due entirely to the adults who are scrambling for seats, angling for a better view, snapping constant photos, and yakking loudly whenever possible. It's not edifying.
This year was the best ever -- and while I am a bit jaded, that's not the main reason. The people of this parish, with the encouragement and good work of my predecessor, have a strong sense of reverence. The church is normally very quiet before and after Mass (I am probably the worst offender, greeting people in the vestibule). For the First Communion Mass, there was some commotion in the back as folks gathered for the group picture beforehand, and some chatting in church before Mass, but far less than I've seen. It helped that someone started the Rosary, as usual, about 20 minutes before.
Have I mentioned the outstanding altar servers we have? We have a crew of high school boys who love to serve; and whenever we have a "high Mass" (which now is every 9 am Sunday Mass), we have a crew of six to eight who don cassock and surplice, white gloves, and take care of the incense, the torches for the consecration and for communion. We have a battery-operated clicker that triggers the tower bells during the consecration, so that everyone in the village can know the miracle has happened!
Well, we had our regularly scheduled "high Mass" at 9, and then another crew (one carry-over) for the 11.
Then there's the special way we distribute Holy Communion to the first communicants. We set up three kneelers, and the child comes up with his parents. Everyone kneels down, and I give the child, then his parents, the Body and Blood at once, by intinction; which means, on the tongue.
This has many advantages:
> The child comes up with his parents; that's easier and very appropriate.
> The child doesn't have to make two stops; again, easier.
> There's far less problem about what communion tastes like: sometimes the children don't like the dryness of the host, or the taste of the Precious Blood. This solves both problems.
> The child is settled; sometimes, when they receive standing, they don't stay still.
> This teaches the age-old practice of both kneeling and receiving on the tongue. (We only do it this way the first time.)
> It's all very calm and peaceful for the children.
The Mass went about 80 minutes or so -- the church was packed so communion took awhile -- and then we had individual pictures with the 30 or so children. After that, one of the families invited me over, so I joined them for a very nice party. (Another family invited me, but it was later, and I had a conflict. Yet another family invited me, but it was in passing, and I didn't write it down, so I couldn't remember, I'm sorry!)
Later that afternoon, we had our boys' program, the Knights of Saint Remy -- attendance much reduced due to First Communion. I gave a talk on the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence), comparing them to parts of the armor a knight might wear. Fortitude was the breastplate that wraps all around, temperance the mouth-guard, justice the sword, and prudence the helmet. After that -- at the end of a very busy weekend that had me in Cincinnati Friday afternoon, for the deacon ordination on Saturday morning, then back to Russia for Mass, then the high school prom (they invite the priest to come! I've never had that anywhere else), then all I just described -- I was pretty tired! But a great weekend; I love being a priest!
Update, April 28
Here are pictures!
The children entering...
Here's one to warm Father Z
's heart (you have to look closely to see why):
Don't we have a beautiful church? My venerable predecessor did all this.
By the way, we would have had more torches, but we had the "High Mass Crew" at two Masses straight, and a lot of our high school boys had been out at the prom the night before.
Here's the kneeling-intinction method I described. Everything worked like clockwork. It helps (a lot) to have well motivated, well trained altar servers.
These boys are brothers, not twins but they made their First Communion together.
And here you see me in my biretta'ed splendor...