“Sacraments Season” comes around each year in the Church. In most parishes, this season stretches from the celebration of the Holy Triduum all the way through First Holy Communions and Confirmations. Sometimes this season stretches all the way to Pentecost and the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. We might also note that this season often includes a significant increase in the number of sacramental marriages being celebrated as well.
Without a doubt, these are the busiest, and often the most stressful, weeks of the entire year for those of us who work or volunteer in parish ministry. Still, no matter how hectic the season is, the Lord always manages to reveal Himself, obviously and powerfully, in these moments. Each year, at nearly every sacramental moment for children, teens, or adults, I have personally been filled with joy and zeal for the renewal of my own journey of discipleship. I have heard countless others express similar feelings about these celebrations, too.
Why is this? Why are we able to experience this joyful renewal so palpably during this season?
One personal experience might help to crystalize this the reason for such deep joy and renewal. Two years ago, my daughter received her First Holy Communion, just after the Covid pandemic had set in. While she was incredibly blessed to receive the Most Blessed Sacrament on schedule, our diocesan protocols prohibited her from receiving the Precious Blood until just this past Holy Thursday. I was behind her as she took that blessing cup into her hands for the first time. I welled up with emotion as she finally got to participate fully in what Jesus had given. Along with that, my own devotion to the Eucharist deepened, as did my commitment to being a father in pursuit of holiness for my family.
Remember the early days of the Covid pandemic, when Masses were cancelled all across the world? Just as Covid took something precious away from us, we ought to see and practice something similar during Lent each year. The season of penitence and sacrifice is meant to allow us to live in a proverbial desert, waiting the full manifestation of God’s glory. We know that the desert eventually gives way to the Living Water. We know that the spiritual dryness of Lent gives way to a season of expressive joy in which we can feel the presence and power of the Holy Spirit moving in and through the Church building, and through the Body of Christ. It is easier for us disciples to recognize and appreciate the apparent graces after they have been hidden for six weeks, or for two years.
Another reason that these moments are so special is that they provide us with real hope for the next generation of the Church. All of us who watch realize that we are imperfect disciples, sinners who have fallen far short of the ideal set for us by Jesus and the Church. Still, even for a moment, we have hope that these neophytes, this new flock of First Communicants and Confirmandi, this newly-wed couple, will live the faith better than we have. Even if we have lived the life of discipleship relatively well, we still hope to see others reach higher heights than us.
All of this culminates in what I sense is the ultimate reason for our experiences of joyful renewal. We Catholics intuitively recognize the power of the sacraments. We believe that these are not merely ceremonies celebrated by a bishop or priest for pious parents who want pretty pictures. We believe that they are encounters with the risen and living Jesus. Each time we witness an adult plunged in the waters of Baptism, a child receiving her First Holy Eucharist, a teenager receiving Confirmation, or a couple exchanging wedding vows, we know that Jesus is present in the same way that He was at the Jordan River, at the wedding feast at Cana, or at the Last Supper. And, when we see others meet Jesus in those moments, we can recall the moment when we met Jesus in the same way. Thus, we are strengthened in faith and charity.
So, as we come near to the blessed solemnities of the Ascension, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi, we all do well to find those special sacramental celebrations near us. Attend a First Holy Communion, a Confirmation, or a wedding at your parish. While we participate in those celebrations, we ought to pray for each of those who are taking this next step in their walk with Our Blessed Lord; and we need to ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the renewed zeal that we need for the next phase of our individual journey as well.