Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Sacramental Life

As MrsDarwin mentioned, the last few weeks have been packed with events in the Darwin household, and several of those events have been sacramental. Eleanor, our eldest, had her confirmation the weekend before last, and Jack, received his first communion... well, it's a bit of a story.

Originally the Confirmation was set to be the week before the First Communion, meaning that my family (traveling out from the West Coast) could only make one. They'd decided to come for Jack's First Communion, since my brother is Jack's godfather. But we got mixed up in communicating the already confusing scheduling and had the family schedule to fly out for the Confirmation weekend rather than the First Communion weekend.

A brief panic ensued when we realized this, since everyone had already bought plane tickets. Then we went and secured permission from out pastor to allow Jack to quietly receive his first communion a week early, thus allowing family to be present for both events (but resulting in a packed, whirlwind weekend with lots of events and a house full of good company, not just my family but also old friends who were visiting for Eleanor's confirmation as the husband was her confirmation sponsor.) The mass at which Eleanor and the other eighth graders were confirmed by the bishop was at 1:30 on Saturday. Then we went home briefly, collected those for whom there had not been room at the packed confirmation mass, and returned for the 4:30 vigil mass for Jack to make his first communion.

It was as I was sitting in the pew before that vigil mass, trying to put aside the worries related to getting eighteen people to the mass in creditable condition and feeding nearly thirty refreshments back at the house afterwards and to focus instead on the sacrifice of the mass in which we were about to participate, that I wondered if we were somehow shortchanging both children. Often a first communion is built up into an royalty-for-a-day kind of event, with the boys in their suits and the girls in their white dresses and veils. Family heirlooms are bestowed on the children. Presents are given. Parties are thrown. The importance of the sacrament itself is underlined by all the trappings of Big Event which are arrayed around it.

The fact that we were focused on housing and feeding and transporting so many people had made it impossible to provide the kind of overwhelming "this is your day" focus which sometimes comes with parish celebrations of first communions or confirmations. Jack was sitting next to me, solemn in his suit, but earlier in the day he'd been just one of the kids tearing around while we got Eleanor ready for confirmation. And Eleanor -- changed out of her pretty confirmation dress into a blouse, slacks and cowboy boots ensemble of the sort that she prefers -- was it fair that as soon as her confirmation was over we were rushing to get ready for the next event, or would she feel that her confirmation had been forgotten in the bustle? In a sense it was a relief to be able to bring Jack up for his reception of the Holy Eucharist without that pageantry of several dozen children dressed up for their big day, but was it a bit shabby that this was happening so quietly that Jack would be receiving his first communion from someone who didn't even know it was his first time?

But then, perhaps it's the trappings of Big Event which sometimes obscure the nature of the sacrament. What, after all, is First Communion other than receiving communion for the first time. The suits and white dresses, the procession, the children lectoring and bringing up the gifts -- none of these are actually what is being celebrated. Rather, these are intended to underscore the importance of what is happening: these boys and girls are receiving the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist for the first time.

It's good that we surround that first reception with such pomp. It's an important thing. Too often, these days, receiving communion is treated as just something everyone does when they go to mass, not something which requires serious thought or preparation.

Both approaches have their rationales, their advantages, but in this case, after all the hurry and the fuss, the mass and the reception of the sacrament itself would be exactly as it would be the next Sunday, and the one after, and the one after that. Sacraments and the graces they bestow are not found only in the big events which serve as milestones in our lives, but in the quiet participation every week, or every day, in the life of the Church.

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