By Fran Lavelle
The Easter Vigil and the entire Easter season is full of experiences which express the depth and beauty of the Sacraments of Initiation. Many parishes celebrate full initiation of Catholics at the Easter Vigil. Many parishes will celebrate confirmation for their high school students. Most parishes will celebrate First Holy Communion, while others based on the demographics of the parish will not witness these sacraments this year.
What is important for all of us to remember, no matter how small or large or parish or how active we will be sacramentally this Easter season, we are all members of the Body of Christ and as such we all celebrate and benefit from the building up of the church.
I was thinking about First Holy Communion the other day. While seeing the young ones in their suits and dresses is a moment of great pride for parents, grandparents and even doting aunties, it is not just fodder for Facebook, it is for these young people the beginning of their most intimate relationship with Jesus.
If we treat the day like another milestone or photo op (thank you Instagram) and not as the personal, intimate encounter with Jesus that it actually is then we have missed the point entirely. In our increasingly hyper responsive social media driven world we are losing sight of the present moment because we are trying to capture it with our cell phone cameras. Parents, grandparents and other family members are to be living examples of what it looks like to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. If we are not, where do we expect our young people to gain that insight? I am not talking about acting like ‘Piety Patty’ or ‘Holy Harry,’ I am talking about our ordinary ever day response to the invitation to become that which we have received.
A spiritual director once challenged me in asking if I believed that I was becoming that which I receive in the Eucharist. The way I see it, I’ve been receiving the Body of Christ since 1971. In the past 45 years, have my thoughts, actions and words become more Christ like? If not, I need to re-examine the disposition of my heart in my reception of Jesus in the Eucharist. First Holy Communion day is special, but every Eucharist in every liturgy is special.
Perhaps we need to do a better job in explaining the role of the assembly. Proper catechesis of the assembly is perhaps the ultimate prerequisite to understanding our sacramental lives as Christians. Without understanding the importance of the body, its role and its members, than we are not full, active and conscious participants in our faith. If we believe that the gathering of persons is the church, then at the end of Mass the “church” leaves the building.
Yes, the CHURCH leaves the building. By our presence and participation we are enriched, if you will, with the sustenance of both Word and Eucharist, to be the Body of Christ in the world. Gathering the assembly edifies and nourishes the Body of Christ so that we can become that which we received in the Eucharist, namely, Christ for one another. As Christ in the world we take on the work of Jesus.
We are called to discipleship in effectively living out the directives articulated by Jesus in the Gospels. As members of the Body of Christ the coming and going, the gathering and dismissal, taking and receiving are all one continuous movement. Liturgy, however, is not often perceived that way nor do we teach the faithful that Mass is organic in as much as the Body of Christ is organic. We are leaven, we are sowers, we are proclaimers of the Word, we are doers, and all of that activity comes from being essential members of and participants in the Body of Christ.
When you gather to celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation this Easter season, especially First Holy Communion, ask yourself what you can do as a member of the assembly to demonstrate what it means to become that which we have received. St. Augustine challenges us beautifully, “Behold what you are; become what you receive.” God’s blessings this Easter Season!
(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)