First Communion & Our Primary Schools

Let me tell you a story, it’s a sad story, so please don’t laugh…

There was this little school where all the children got on well. All the boys & girls were well prepped and worked towards getting ready for their First Holy Communion.

The day arrived and the class assembled in church, going over their moves when the teacher noticed that little Mary was missing.  Mary never missed a day so the teacher got worried and she phoned Mary’s family.

“No problem,” they said “we got held up at the hairdressers so we’re going to skip the church and go straight to the hotel”.

I believe that First Communion in this country has gone in the wrong direction.   I first heard the above as an urban legend, but it has an air of possibility about it.  And that, for me, is sad.  First Communions and Confirmations are happening all over the country at the moment, and the commentary isn’t far behind.  Last year I remember Matt Cooper interviewing the owner of a Limo business who put in a policy that he wouldn’t accept First Communion bookings.  Why was the policy even needed in the first place?

A little context, First Communion is what is termed a ‘Sacrament of initiation’.  There are three of them: Baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist (Communion).  The idea is that a child on having taken part in all three sacraments will be a full member of the Catholic Church.  Very early in the Church’s history the three were separated out.

Funnily enough, in the modern world, they are not always separated.  A convert to Catholicism will receive all three in one go (in a rite called RCIA), and in the Orthodox church, all three also happen in one go.

Due to the Church having such an integral role historically in our primary schools we have a situation where the school is the place where children learn about, and are prepared for, the sacraments of Communion and Confirmation.  The sacraments have become rites of passage where the emphasis has moved towards the finery and the money spent rather than on the sacrament itself.

I’m against this.  Yes, make a big deal out of a sacrament if you want, but since when should 8 year old girls be worried about a dress costing €200 or more?  Since when should they have fake tan?  Since when is the contest in school later about how much money in gifts they got?

I think that I may agree with Ruairi Quinn on something.  <did I just say that?>

Like him, I think that it would be a good idea to take some of the preparation for communion out of the school.  Instruction in Religion could still happen in school, but move the responsibility for the sacramental preparation to the parish.

This has started in some places.  In my own parish children and their families attend a series of masses in preparation for their own Communion.  A group of parents meet on a regular basis to plan and prepare.  The links in the community are strengthened and those who choose to be part of the Church deepen their understanding.

Make communion something that a family, that a child has to opt into in their own time and you will very quickly find out the ones who actually want to be involved for what it is – part of the journey in the Christian Faith.

Things can’t change fast enough for me.  One of my daughters will receive her First Communion next year, and I would far prefer her to wear a pretty dress and not worry about the hype than be dressed in a miniature wedding dress and comparing hair-dos.

Lets put away the farce of Fake Tans and the Limos.  Let First Communion be for those who want to take part. Do away with the crap that has built up around it.