Confirmation and First Communion Masses

Many ministers of communion will testify that people presenting for communion occasionally seem unsure how to respond to the statements: “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ”. It’s not uncommon for the ministers to be met with silence or even “Thank you”!
Probably the best known part of the first document from the Second Vatican Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, is the section which calls for “full, conscious and active participation by all the faithful in liturgical celebrations” (CSL 14). The same paragraph goes on to describe this full and active participation as “the aim to be considered before all else” and puts the onus on pastors to “zealously strive to achieve such participation by means of the necessary instruction”. The people are to be “encouraged to take part by means of acclamations, responses, songs and actions…” (CSL 30).
Active participation in the liturgy is not the sole prerogative of the presider and liturgical ministers. The liturgy is indeed “the work of the people”. We all make the liturgy happen by acting as the Body of Christ at worship, by standing, singing, responding, praying, keeping silent together. This is our right and duty by reason of our baptism (CSL 14).
Many parishes celebrated confirmation and first communion during the Easter season. It seems that those involved in preparing the children for these sacraments of initiation into the church sometimes misunderstand the meaning of active participation in liturgy. Confirmation and First Communion Masses can become an opportunity to showcase the abilities of the children and a lot of time is spent ensuring that every child has an “up-front” part to play in the liturgy. After all these attempts to give children a special role, the central aspects of the sacraments – the laying on of hands and anointing with chrism and the act of sharing at the Lord’s table with the whole assembly – become anti-climactic and almost overlooked.
The preparation of the children should be centred on their full, conscious and active participation in these key gestures. The parish’s usual ministers should carry out their normal roles. The special role of those to be initiated is to share in the body and blood of the Lord for the first time. Others minister to them as they are confirmed and welcomed to the table.
Sacramental preparation is the responsibility of both the family and the parish community. It is the duty of parents and parish catechists to offer the children prayerful and practical help to celebrate the sacraments with proper devotion and to “coach” them in the rituals of receiving the sacraments.
The children need to practise responding to the bishop’s “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit” with a firm “Amen” and to “Peace be with you” with a gracious “And also with you”. Making these statements is an act of faith. They need to be said with conscious conviction if the children are to enter fully into the ritual.
Before their first reception of communion, the children need to be told how to answer “Amen” and shown how to hold out their hands, how to consume the host, how to hold the chalice and drink from it.
Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in the middle of the fourth century gave such instruction to those adults who were about to be received into the church:
”When you come forward, do not draw near with your hands wide open or with fingers spread apart; instead, with you left hand make a throne for the right hand, which will receive the King. Receive the body of Christ in the hollow of you hand and give the response: “Amen”.”
In celebrating the sacraments, simple actions such as smearing with oil, eating bread and drinking wine are invested with deep, powerful meaning. It is up to all of us to participate fully in liturgy for our own spiritual growth and as a model to other, especially younger, members of the Body of Christ.

Elizabeth Harrington