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.