Over the course of three Saturday mornings this spring, nearly 250 second graders at Saint Patrick’s Parish in Yorktown Heights, NY, will be making their First Communion. A niece of mine is one of these blessed children and I was privileged to witness this special moment in her spiritual life. We Catholics make a big fuss over First Communions and this one was no exception. Four priests celebrated the Mass and hundreds of family members and friends crowded the sanctuary. Wedged among my own extended family, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit move through the church and through me during the Mass.
First, a confession: I am partial to traditional church architecture. I like my churches shaped like a cross, with one center aisle. I like them vertical so that our prayers can rise to the heavens. Instead, St. Patrick’s is a barn-like church-in-the-round built in 1984. When I entered the church, I felt distracted. Irritated. I also was tired from my two-hour drive to get there. So I prayed that God would enable me to keep my focus where it belonged: on this First Communion Mass.
Virtually the only natural light coming into the sanctuary was from a long skylight extending from the back of the church to the altar. Because it was midmorning, the sun was bright and shining directly and exclusively onto the center aisle as the children processed in. The girls were decked out in white veils and poofy white dresses, the boys in dark suits with white boutonnières. The sunlight felt to me like the Holy Spirit, lighting the path of their lives.
During his homily, the pastor,
Driving back to New Jersey after the Mass and reception, I asked our 10-year-old son what he remembers about his own First Communion three years ago (left). He shook his head and said he didn’t remember it at all. “But I remember the after-party,” he said.
This remark made me smile for a couple of reasons. First, it told me he understood that his mom and dad had made a big deal of the day. He remembered the two ten-pound pizzas we bought at his request for his party. Second and more important was his reference to the party at our home as the “after-party.” This tells me he understands that the real party happened earlier, at the blessed banquet in which he participated for the first time. God bless every child who experiences a foretaste of heaven for the first time this Easter season.