Today, Sunday 14th June was the day designated in the parish of Ss Luke and Teresa for our young children to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time. As you know, this great celebration has been temporarily postponed until it is safe for communities to gather for any celebration, but one thing for sure, is that because of COVID-19 the year 2020 will be easy to remember, perhaps added to which summer holidays commenced in spring! I know that most of our children would rather have been in school with their friends while at the same time relishing a break from parental eyes, but the experience of such a powerful learning curve will be of immense benefit throughout their lives.
Spiritually the occasion of the reception of Holy Communion can sometimes take second place to the more material goodies on offer; for the girls becoming the focus of family celebration, a further step away from childhood and towards adulthood, and for the boys having to have their hair combed constantly, and perhaps having to wear a suit, or something equally uncomfortable. Nowadays such celebrations are remarkable because they a taking on a truly international flavour, with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins travelling from European countries, and sometimes beyond, which highlights the importance of the occasion, both culturally and spiritually, …. truly a day to remember. But, I wonder what God’s children do understand or remember about such an important day in their lives, the lives of their family and of the church!
I’m confident that most grown-ups remember the day of their First Holy Communion as I do mine, as it’s those personal memories which whisks the mind back all those years; in my case 72 years. To remind us what Holy Communion is, and to refresh my memory, I begin with a quote, this one from St Thomas Aquinas, and I guarantee that I had never heard of him when I was seven! It’s taken from The Office of Readings for today’s feast, and the sub heading reads: ‘How precious and wonderful is this banquet!’ It begins:
‘The only begotten Son of God, wishing to enable us to share in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that by becoming man he might make men gods. Moreover, he turned the whole of our nature, which he assumed, to our salvation. For he offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation; and he shed his blood for our ransom and our cleansing, so that we might be redeemed from wretched captivity and cleansed from all sins. Now in order that we might always keep the memory of this great act of love, he left his body as food and his blood as drink, to be received by the faithful under the appearances of bread and wine. How precious and wonderful is this banquet.’
Those five sentences sum up the raison d’etre for Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection and ascension. As a seven year old child I would have understood the gist of what St Thomas was saying, and had no problem in believing what he was saying, but I doubt I was thinking those wonderful thoughts on the day of my first Holy Communion.
So what thoughts were bouncing around in my head? Foremost in my mind was that I was being challenged by having to wear a white suit! The year? 1948. The place? St Josephs’ Convent, Crackley Hall, Kenilworth under the care of the Sisters of Mercy. Why was I wearing white? Because my mother decided I was to wear white, not only that, but she had made the suit herself as she was a wonderful seamstress. That skill came in very handy as clothing was still rationed, and cloth was the more practical option. Mother made the suit; I wore the suit!
As the good Nuns (and I mean that, because they doted on the small number of boys under their care because we were so adorable) had been instructing us in the sacraments (including confession, and I can’t remember anything at all about confession) we made our First Holy Communion at school. It was on a school day, which meant we had to be at school by 7.00 am to join the sisters at Mass. During the conventual Mass, we received Holy Communion from the host only and after Mass we and our parents had breakfast in the refectory. At this juncture I add another noteworthy snippet of life in the church pre Vatican II: [1962-1965]… to receive Holy Communion the following day, one had to fast from both food and drink from Midnight the previous evening which for a child meant that one could neither eat nor drink until Mass had finished. Fasting wasn’t a problem as it was something that children in Catholic families everywhere became used to; one simply followed the culture and imitated one’s parents. Since the 1960’s the Church requires participants to refrain from food or drink for one hour only before the reception of Holy Communion.
I remember well, that our First Holy Communion breakfast consisted of a boiled egg, but I cannot remember whether or not we were given toasted soldiers to dip into the yolk. The embarrassing part came after breakfast when the customary photograph was taken. I have a couple of copies of the group photo in my possession and it most certainly was not taken by someone of the calibre of Lord Litchfield. There were six or seven of us: two boys and the rest girls. Children were not enamoured in having to face a camera, and some still aren’t, and that was fairly obvious when our group photo was developed. It was taken by one of the parents which probably explains why the average facial expression included a screwed-up face and a perfect squint. Thankfully no one was caught on camera nose-picking which was a blessing but nevertheless, the photo was not perfect, it was blemished!
Although all the communicants were squeezed into the frame and all were recognisable, light must have got into the camera, as one end of the photo was white. Cameras and the quality of film available after the war were not always of the highest quality, and sometimes a whole reel of film produced not a single frame with an image on it. It is this photograph that reminds me of what happened next. Our small group of saints were told to stay by the side entrance of the school where the group photo was taken and greet the rest of the ‘student body’ as they arrived at the beginning of the school day. As you may suspect, comments came thick and fast and it put me off girls for a long time after (at least until lunch!).
On the whole it turned out to be a good day and one I remember with fondness. As an afterthought I should mention that the Mass was celebrated by the convent chaplain. He didn’t live within the convent walls as he was a Franciscan Friar, I can’t remember his face and I wouldn’t recognise him if I saw him, but I do remember his brown habit and the cincture round his waste, but what attracted me most about his attire was his sandals! Happy days.
From this Monday 15th June. Ss Luke and Teresa will be open daily between the hours of 10.00 am and 1.00 pm for private prayer only. To keep the parish safe, please respect Social Distancing, use the hand sanitizer on leaving and entering the Church, and ensure that any surfaces you have used are cleaned with the sanitising fluid provided when you leave.