First Communion

12:30 PM

I have very clear memories of my First Communion. I was ten years old and it took place during the Maundy Thursday at the Lutheran Church in town. I remember the dress I wore--it had a dropped waist and tiered skirt and was covered in cabbage roses. (Hey--it was 1987. If you think back that far, you may have had one JUST LIKE IT.) The whole family went to church. It was a BIG DEAL.

Preparation involved extra classes and the ability to recite the books of the Old and New Testaments. To this day, I cannot tell you why I needed to be able to tell you all the books of the Bible in order to participate in Communion, but there you go.

What I don't remember is what I actually thought of Communion once I was able to receive it. Which is funny because I clearly remember what it felt like to be excluded from The Table. And it isn't just me--my sister has very similar memories. And a much better story which I'm going to tell because it really is that important.

When I was in the second grade...my sister was probably three years old...my mother was hospitalized on Christmas Eve with toxic shock syndrome. My mother was the organist for the Roman Catholic service at the Air Force Base where we lived. Christmas Eve is not the best time to be without an organist, so a friend of hers substituted during midnight mass, and my father helped by bringing his trumpet. And, of course, my sister and me.

During Communion, Dad was playing and no one was really watching my sister. She took the opportunity to go up to the priest (a friend of the family) as he was handing out the Body of Christ and ask him for "one of those Bread Things," which, of course, she could not have because a) she was not Catholic and b) she was only three, and, therefore, uninitiated into the ways of Holy Communion. But, being three, she didn't understand why everyone else got to have one except for her. So she continued to pull, and cry, and plead, "But Father Jim, I want one of those Bread Things--Give me one of those Bread Things!" The priest is laughing and has tears coming out of his eyes as my father goes up to grab my sister and haul her back behind the organ...still wailing for one of those Bread Things.

As an adult, I understand that the idea of First Communion was very important to my mother. It was familiar to her. It was what she knew. But, as an adult, I have trouble with a theology or a liturgy that denies participation based on age or expertise or comprehension. If we are all the Children of God, we should all have a place at the table, regardless of how old or experienced or smart we are. So I decided that C would get to have Communion when she was ready. And that I would know she was ready when she could recognize exclusion.

What I didn't expect is how early children know that something is going on without them. I was thinking maybe when she was two or so. When she would be able to verbalize wanting one of those Bread Things. But last week at church I watched her during Communion, and I watched the wheels turn in her head and the look that said "Everyone is getting something here but me." And so even though she's only 13 months old, she's ready.

Yesterday was my daughter's First Communion. She didn't have a special dress, and she can't recite the books of the Bible. She will have no memory of her First Communion. But she will have no memory of being excluded from the table.

She may not remember her First Communion. But I will.

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