Catholic Rite of Passage

June 26, 1966


This was the day of my First Communion in the Catholic Church.

I remember many of the faces, but very few names. I recognize twin sisters Jean and Joan, along with a Dawn and Mary Jo. The rest draw a blank, but this was 50 years ago and I didn’t stay in touch with this group after high school.

Can you guess where I am in this photo?

“Of all seven sacraments, the Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, is the most central and important to Catholicism. Holy Communion is offered at every Mass, and in fact, the ritual of the Mass is largely taken up with preparing the hosts (wafers made of wheat and water, or gluten-free) and wine to become the body and blood of Christ and the congregation to receive the body of Christ. Transubstantiation is the act of changing the substances of bread and wine into the substances of the Body and Blood of Christ.”

I still have the small white purse and candle I used on that day. The dress, shoes, veil and white gloves are long gone, as is my naivety.

The priest standing in the back of this tribe was Father Wisniewski. I’m not sure I spelled his name correctly, but it’s close. Pronounced Wis-NOO-ski. My mother didn’t like him very much. He was extremely gruff and mom told me he would do things like not marry a couple unless they gave a contribution to the church or he would not serve communion to adult men who were not wearing ties. You have to remember, this was 1966. Today, you can go into any church and there aren’t many suited men with ties or dresses with matching hats. We’re a much more relaxed Christian community. Father Wisniewski would probably gasp for breath if he walked into my Protestant church today and witness our attire. Some of us would be heathens for attending church in jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes.

“Traditions of celebration surrounding First Communion usually include large family gatherings and parties to celebrate the event. The first communicant wears special clothing. The clothing is often white to symbolize purity, but not in all cultures. Girls often wear fancy dresses and a veil attached to a wreath of flowers or hair ornament. In other communities, girls commonly wear dresses passed down to them from sisters or mothers, or even simply their school uniforms plus the veil and/or wreath. Boys may wear a suit, or tuxedo, or their Sunday best, or national dress.”

I didn’t have a large party, although I remember being ill that morning and losing my breakfast before heading off to church. It was nerves. For one reason or another, I was nervous about receiving First Communion. It’s not like I had to sing or recite a prayer. Perhaps it was the nun’s presence. She was the one who poked and yelled at me one Sunday during Catechism, when I wasn’t kneeling correctly (I was sinfully half sitting on the pew seat). The nun and Father Wisniewski both scared me, so I tried to behave and stay out of their way.

“Holy Communion is in the form of consecrated unleavened hosts made from wheat flour and water, just like the unleavened bread used by Jesus at the Last Supper. The host is flat and the size of a quarter or half-dollar. Latin Catholics may receive the host on their tongue or in their hand if the local bishop and the national conference of bishops permit.”

Currently, 77% of Catholics receive communion in their hands every time they attend church. They believe that the consecrated bread and wine are actually the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. In Protestant churches, they may serve communion every Sunday or once a month. On the last Sunday of every month, Mission Church serves grape juice and bread cubes in remembrance of the Last Supper and to intimately unite with Christ. Mom would probably tell me, “That’s not really communion,” since it’s not consecrated by the Catholic Church, but I still consider it a meaningful part of a Christian’s faith.

“The word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” Why that word? It has its origin in Jesus’ giving thanks at the Last Supper. In our own time, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says the sacrament is called Eucharist, because it is an action of thanksgiving to God. The Greek word eucharistein and eulogein recall the Jewish blessings that proclaim — especially during a meal — God’s works: creation, redemption and sanctification.”

Even though I’ve chosen to step away from Catholicism and call a non-denominational church my home, I’m still very thankful to two parents who made faith a priority for their children. I was also baptized and confirmed in the Catholic church, so there is a piece of me that still feels a connection to the religion of my youth. Services have changed since 1966, as did the acceptable dress, and the seriousness and stoicity I felt back then. Pope Francis has been a surprising and welcome force behind an evolving church and its community. I was utterly surprised a couple of years ago, attending mass with mom, when the congregation turned both hands skyward and lifted them to shoulder height. What? You’re allowed to do that now?

The nun who yelled at me for kneeling improperly would have had a heart attack.


27 responses to Catholic Rite of Passage

  1. Phil Ryan says:

    After the hours of sitting through Mass, stations of the cross and benediction as a kid. After the frustrations of being called in to kneel and run through the rosary with the family on sunny May evenings. After years of wondering what to admit to at confession I went and married a divorcee and turned the church against me. If only I could have earned their wrath sooner. I’d have happily sacrificed my communion breakfast and adding Francis to my name at confirmation (what can I say, I was thirty years ahead of his holiness). I like the idea of a quiet church to sit and contemplate being close to God but all the preaching, division and lack of basic decent human traits in so many of the clergy… Oops sorry to go on. Erm… Nice post Mary 🙂

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Don’t forget the smelly incense we had to endure for certain masses. Stinky!

      I totally understand Phil. Churches and denominations can put Christianity on its ear and give it a bad name solely because of being imperfect and messy humans. And because of their own “rules.” I had issues for many years with the Catholic Church due to the sex scandal, but I’ve finally let that go. Plus, I do like Pope Francis and I don’t believe he would allow that to happen again. I still believe the church has a long way to go in regard to divorcees and considering the induction of women into the priesthood. I don’t believe that either would be a sin against God.

      • Phil Ryan says:

        After my First Communion I was dragged to Mass every first Friday of the month for what seemed like the rest of my childhood but in reality was about nine months which means I’m guaranteed a place in Heaven apparently. Did you suffer similarly for your faith, Mary? (obviously the contract is terminated if you commit a bad sin, murder, marriage at a registry office to a non catholic divorcee, that kind of thing)

      • bikerchick57 says:

        I joke to people now that it didn’t matter if, as a family, we were on vacation in the middle of Baptist country. We had to find the nearest Catholic church on Sunday because you dare not miss. I did end up marrying a non-Catholic divorcee without the benefit of annulment, but I still take communion on the rare occasion when I attend. So, does that make me a sinner? (Don’t answer that.)

  2. Dan Antion says:

    “sinfully half sitting on the pew seat” – Oh you heathen! Good post. I’m glad you’ve found a place to gather/worship. I do think it’s important.

    I was raised in a evangelical Methodist church, but tried to be a good Roman Catholic twice. Once for my ex-wife (married in RC church) and once so our family (wife & daughter) could attend church together. We left that church and yanked daughter out of school after issues of petty crap by priest and nun-principal of school.

    In all the time was part of the RC church, the hardest part for me was stopping singing after one verse. I was taught that God loved hearing us sing.

    I remember my daughter’s First Communion. It was so sweet to see them all.

    Are you wearing glasses in the photo?

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Yes, I am wearing glasses. Also, remember what I recently said about my stature and I think you can pick me out.

      Even though our Pastor gives excellent sermons, I always look forward to the worship music at the beginning. We have a group that likes to rock it out on occasion and I usually like their musical selections. I’ve been at churches that sing dirges or songs with really high notes and it drives me crazy. I want to sing along!

      It’s too bad that leaders and/or members of churches drive people away. Aren’t they supposed to welcome everyone with open arms and be nice? You know, like Jesus nice?

      • Dan Antion says:

        I thought that was the message, too. In my experience, it always comes down to the individual. Some understand why they’re there and some don’t seem to get it. The first time I was in a Catholic church, I got caught saying the end of The Lord’s Prayer and starting the 2nd verse of the first hymn. I think I was mentally labeled “Protestant Among Us” pretty quickly.

      • bikerchick57 says:

        Part of the reason it’s stressful (for me) when I take mom to church is because of her somewhat loud questions when it’s quiet in church. “Who’s talking now? What’s she saying? What are they doing?” Mom doesn’t comprehend what she’s doing, but it’s still embarrassing. I’ve had to say “Shhhhhhh!” to her on more than one occasion. So, compared to that, a chuckle might be okay.

  3. Oh, those were the days. I’m a few years ahead of you but have similar memories of First Communion, but I don’t still have the gloves. We could probably have several days of posts if we called up nun stories. I do have several of those. 🙂

  4. I remember many things from that day but more from the first confession. I said that Jesus suffered under ponshuss pollute and my mother oculd hear the priest laughing his arse off. Also, I made up sins because I really could not think of anything I had done…. My mom had to get it out of me (he was a tad concerned) and we splained that. I was not confirmed due to Father Mushell (sp?) and when I mention this is my Laguna friends they groan. It was the Mother’s Day sermon where he said that babies that were not baptized went to hell. Well, I looked at my mom, thought about my nieces and nephews who were not being raised Catholic, and said, in slightly different words than I will use here, “You believe that crap?” I left, never confirmed, and at the time also told my mom I did not believe in God. She was sad about that, but left my faith up to me, only talking about her own deep faith, which was smart as I found my way to Buddhism then found my way back to God.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Ponsuss Pollute…hahaha! That’s pretty funny and I’m sure the priest enjoyed a good laugh over it. As for non-baptized babies going to hell, I think the church has relaxed on that a bit. But I’m sure your priest wasn’t the only one who believed it at the time and scared people away with the fire and brimstone. Or, as you call it, sh*t. I think I’m safe either way since I was baptized as a baby in the Catholic church and as an adult in my current church. At least that’s what I’m hoping for! 😉

  5. loisajay says:

    Oh, the memories. I still have my little white purse, veil and Baltimore Catechism. Remember the Communion rail? I miss the old church–I don’t do ‘change’ well. I bowed out after the sex scandals, also. It was one of our priests telling it like ‘nothing happened. Everything is OK.’ Then all the hand holding while saying The Lord’s Prayer. What if I want to pray by myself? Yes, we should talk sometime. Maybe Saturday while Dan is having a beer… 🙂 Great post, Mary.

  6. leendadll says:

    have you seen pre-packaged communion?

    i’m not religious (probably been inside a church less than 10 times in my life, and that includes attending weddings) and totally oblivious to anything other than the catholic up/down stuff. why would the arm raising have been such a horror? why was it used when you attended?

    • bikerchick57 says:

      When I attended Catholic Church, we stood, kneeled or sat. There was no hand or arm raising in a gesture of praising or receiving God. So, you can imagine my wide eyes the first time I went to a Protestant church and the members were raising hands, waving flags, and carrying on during worship music. Where I am now, it’s not as prevalent (most people keep their hands at their sides), but I do that myself when the urge strikes. It took me a while because it was all so strange at first.

      • leendadll says:

        Lol…that’s my image of a black Baptist church (based on a funeral i attended). In my memory, Protestant church is just a boring 1 hr lecture on some bible topic… no participation at all.

  7. M-R says:

    Erhmmm … right end, second row ? It’s not a fair question, you know, M-J ! 🙂
    Dunno why I even read this post: it’s a reminder of my schooldays.

      • M-R says:

        Now I can see … Or – I can see clearly now that the (rain) puzzlement has gone. 😀

  8. Joanne Sisco says:

    Yay! I guessed right! … the tall girl in the front on the far left 🙂

    I can’t remember the last time I had communion, but I do remember my last Catholic mass … in St Peter’s in Rome 2 years ago. I didn’t understand a word – much like the Latin masses of my youth – but it was very peaceful.

    I may have lost my religion, but I can appreciate the wonderful sense of calm that a church somehow manages to deliver.

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