Home Columnists Fr Paddy: First Communion – Sacrament or Pantomime?

Fr Paddy: First Communion – Sacrament or Pantomime?

Current debate and reflection regarding school patronage is both necessary and relevant. Recent Census statistics however regarding the vast majority of citizens subscribing to faith membership needs serious analysis.

What exactly does it mean to be a member of a faith community at this time in our present culture.

Are Sacraments for the vast majority of people Rites of passage, occasions for family and friends to celebrate, things that simply we do?

What happens after These rituals? After the big baptism bash when is the next time the infant is brought back to Church?

After Confirmation how many will return the following Sunday. A recent statistic less than 3%

During the past few weeks, First Holy Communion, has been celebrated in every parish in this country.

Communion Day, is a big event in the life of every child and indeed family. I am always uplifted by children’s great openness and indeed enthusiasm to their faith and Good News Story.

I find it inspirational when I consider the great sacrifices and generosity given by parents to their children who are preparing for First Holy Communion.

I also salute the fantastic preparation regarding Faith Formation in our Catholic Primary Schools.

However, when it comes to how best can we authentically celebrate the sacrament of First Holy Communion and indeed all sacraments in the Catholic Church I have many questions.

I was appalled to discover a recent survey concerning how one in every eight families, borrow in excess of €1,200 to finance the ‘Big Day’, that is First Holy Communion.

In these very lean times more and more families rely on money lenders who often charge up to 70% interest on such unnecessary loans.

When the focus on First Communion becomes just an adult, nostalgic and secular one, First Communion becomes a ‘Big Day Out’.

A day when over-indulgence on the material, compensates often for the poverty and want of many adults, projected onto ostentatious dresses and extravagant parties.

Disadvantaged

Often the most disadvantaged in our community place themselves at the mercy of money lenders to finance the fairy tale hour of Communion for children, that ends up in a mighty hangover for adults.

Do parents in Second Class Catholic Schools really have a choice if they wish their child to celebrate First Communion?

Despite the reality of fewer numbers in the pews, well over 98% of children in Second Class continue to receive Holy Communion. I imagine less than 5% return the following Sunday to receive second communion.

How real is this? I sense a palpable sense of total disengagement from many parents who subscribe to their child “Getting” sacraments because they happen to be in 2nd or 6th class in a catholic primary school.

Often during these rituals an active policing takes place, trying to maintain a sense of dignity that any place of worship deserves. Simply too many feel compelled to go through this ritual as opposed to actively embrace a faith filled choice and option.

One way I suggest to break the ‘Big Day Out’ mentality is to place a much greater emphasis on the role of parish in celebrating our sacraments.

There is often a clear disconnect between sacrament and faith community. For example, Baptisms are rarely celebrated in the context of the Sunday Mass. Why can’t parishes offer three Sunday Masses in the month of May, with a child friendly focus, inviting children to receive First Holy Communion.

Parents, simply could enrol their child for whatever Mass they wish to attend. This perhaps, gives parents the choice to opt in or out and lessens the focus on the ‘Big Day’ to a more faith filled occasion.

Positive

One of the very positive aspects to modern Ireland, I find, is the call to authenticity and freedom of choice.

It is clear to me that First Communion and indeed many of the sacraments, need a fundamental review regarding our attitudes to them.

If the ‘Big Day’ is so big, why do so many families not bring back their children for their second, third, fourth etc. Holy Communion.

I’m not making judgements, nor am I in any way disregarding the inspirational sacrifices made by parents and heroic work by primary school teachers.

If we don’t ‘get real’, the time will come when First Communion will be a thing of the past or at best a pantomime.

SEE ALSO – Fr Paddy: Identify your doubt, find your mantra, take action

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Fr Paddy is a curate in the hugely vibrant Portlaoise Parish. From Carlow town, he was educated in Carlow CBS and studied Business and Politics in Trinity College Dublin before training to be a priest in Carlow College. He is the youngest priest in the Kildare & Leighlin diocese and writes for a number of media outlets. He has almost 14,000 followers on Twitter.