Think back to your childhood. Do you remember the day of your First Communion? Anything about it? Maybe you’re a recent convert and you don’t have to think back so far. Do you remember what your wore or what you thought?
For me, I remember the circumstances of my First Communion quite well. On the day my classmates received Jesus for the first time in Holy Communion, I came down with the chicken pox and had to delay this special moment in the life of a Catholic. I ended up making my First Communion, a week later, a day after my birthday, on Mother’s Day, by myself, with a guest priest because our pastor was on vacation. Photos of the day are on display in my dining room and photos of my second communion too, deeming it such an important occasion that I had to celebrate with the pastor. I returned a week later, which apparently was Pentecost indicated by the red chasuble he donned. In my First Communion clothes we celebrated the occasion a second time.
Parishes throughout the world already have or are preparing to celebrate the day of First Communion with their students. As we see the students dressed in their Sunday best, in some ways they renew within us how we ought to receive Holy Communion. For them, this is their first time, and they do so reverently, with full belief that Jesus is present in the Eucharist for this is what they have been taught, and indeed it is true.
I don’t recall my thoughts or emotions of the event. Or what I did in those precious moments afterward. But there are some in the Church, holy men and women, who journaled about their First Communion. Three come to mind. Adele Brise, the Wisconsin visionary, promised God on the day of her First Communion that she would become a religious and work in the foreign missions. The Story of a Soul relates St. Therese of Lisieux’s experience. Recently, I discovered St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a French Carmelite saint, and it is her whom I’d like to propose for our consideration.
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity (1880-1906) received her first Communion on April 19, 1891. She was eleven years old. It wasn’t until 1910, that Pope Pius X lowered the age of First Communion to the age of reason (7 or 8 years old). This is one reason why we are able to get a glimpse into a spiritually mature soul, and discover how her experience of Jesus in the Eucharist can enrich our experience.
In my reading of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, I’ve discerned these five tips for how we can learn to love the Eucharist and show our children how they too can be sustained in their faith.
Tip One: Foster a deep love of God
Elizabeth of the Trinity possessed a deep love for God in her youth. She prayed often and wanted to give herself completely to God. All children possess the ability to have a love for God because God has already given them this grace through holy Baptism.
Parents assist their children in developing this passion for God by bringing them to Church, teaching them how to pray, and reading the scriptures, to name only a few ways. Do we have a deep love for God? Our appreciation for the Holy Eucharist can only be deepened when we desire God, and foster a deep love of God and prayer within our soul.
Tip Two: Be Joyful
On her First Communion Day, tears of joy streamed down Elizabeth’s cheeks. When a child approaches the Sacrament for the first time, they do so with such innocence and purity of heart. In my pastoral ministry, I’ve also seen the elderly approach the sacrament in a similar way, with tears coming down their cheek.
God filled Elizabeth with joy and its expression was through tears of gladness. In our own reception of the Holy Eucharist, Elizabeth and others challenge us to pause and consider who it is we are receiving. When we realize that it is God himself who comes to us in the Eucharist, the joy of God’s presence must fill our souls.
Tip Three: Allow Jesus to Feed You
After Elizabeth received the Eucharist for the first time, she said to another young girl, “I’m not hungry, Jesus has fed me.” What a profound spiritual insight the young Elizabeth offers us.
In our life we have many different appetites that desire to be satisfied. The most important one is the spiritual appetite — our hunger for God. In Holy Communion, Jesus feeds us so that we hunger no more. Sometimes our appetites might hunger for things that are not holy, but if we receive the Eucharist often, there is a good chance that God will satiate our hunger for the things of the world, as we are fed with heavenly things. Hunger for God and then allow him to feed you.
Tip Four: Allow Christ to Guide You
Elizabeth of the Trinity allowed the presence of God to dwell within her soul. It impacted the entirety of her life. Every word she spoke, every action was marked by the presence of God. While Elizabeth had an intense hunger for prayer and made that a priority in her adolescence, it didn’t mean that she did not also enjoy the pleasures of life. Her love of God didn’t stop her from going to parties. But what did she do beforehand? She prayed, asking God to keep watch over her and to keep her united to Him.
When we allow Christ to come under our roof and make his home in our soul, it should guide the course of our life. Ask Jesus living in you to help you make the right decisions, especially when it comes to the moral life.
Tip Five: Make a Thanksgiving
What do you do when you return to the pew after receiving Holy Communion? Maybe you join in the song. Or look at everyone going up in the communion line to receive. Another thing we can do is to make a short prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus. It can be a prayer from the heart: Thank you Jesus for allowing me to receive you today. I need you today more than ever. I am struggling. But because you are with me, I know I have nothing to fear. Or it could be a prayer from our Catholic tradition like the Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Bonaventure.
Elizabeth of the Trinity made a thanksgiving after Holy Communion— moments of silence in which she drew close to Jesus in prayer. One time during her thanksgiving, he felt a calling from God to commit herself to a life of virginity, a prayer she offered during her thanksgiving. When we make that prayer of thanksgiving, we never know what God might ask. Why not give it a try?
Many years ago, we all made our First Communion, and since then, hopefully every Sunday. Like anything when we do it so often, we can almost take it for granted, and receive without thinking about it. The celebration of First Communion invites us to reconsider our own reception of Holy Communion. And the witness of the saints can inspire us to renew our religious fervor and devotion to the Eucharist. Like St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and the little children in your parish who receive Jesus for the first time, when you approach, remember who it is you are receiving, and be sure to give thanks. Our mindful, reverent, and worthy reception of Holy Communion will transform us spiritually and help us become the saints God calls us to be.
Editor’s note: Learn more about St. Elizabeth of the Trinity and her teachings in the book Elizabeth of the Trinity: A Life of Praise to God, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.