As a parent, focus on what makes this one of the most important days in your child’s life.
The preparations for and experience of a child’s First Communion has an impact on them for the rest of their lives. What is essential on that day is the child’s first encounter with God, the unique intimacy of Eucharistic communion. Therefore, everything must be done to enhance this encounter, to facilitate the child’s contemplation before, during, and after the Mass of First Communion.
Clothes should not come first
It is not a question of rejecting family festivities or approaching it like a monk; it is a question of making sure the festivities do not take on more importance than the First Communion itself. That’s why it’s better to have a simple meal that allows the parents to remain relaxed and available than an elaborate party that is stressful and distracting.
What they will wear is often a major concern for young girls, especially if there are many of them receiving communion together for the first time. It is up to the parents to help them put this in its place. Although it is appropriate to dress up and wear festive clothes for such an occasion, this should not come first. Our own attitude in these matters has a great influence on the attitude of our children. The more relaxed we are about outfit issues and the more reluctant we are to judge people on their appearance, the more our children will have a fair attitude about all this.
What about presents?
Children love receiving presents. And grandparents, godparents, and others love giving them. This is part of the celebration. On the other hand, it is hard not to let these presents take first place (or too important a place) in the child’s mind.
So, what should we do? It’s up to each family to decide. One possibility is no presents at all, with the child’s full support. Offering religious gifts can also be a good solution. In any case, video games or dolls are not a good idea on the day of First Communion. It is up to us to explain this diplomatically to loved ones and guests. It is preferable to disappoint uncle Arthur or cousin Charlotte than spoil our child’s devotion.
Too often, we focus all our attention on the preparation for First Communion and we fail to follow up. Yet our child needs us after the First Communion as well. First of all, we must encourage them to go to Mass every Sunday. Secondly, communion must not become automatic (I go to Mass, so I receive communion systematically without question); rather, it needs to be prepared for the day before or even throughout the week. We can talk about it during family prayers for example, so that everyone in their own way can think about preparing for their upcoming communion the following day or the following Sunday.
Essentially, this preparation remains a secret between God and the child, but it is sometimes useful to suggest a particular effort or act of offering. Let us also remember the rule of Eucharistic fasting, which requires that the person preparing for communion abstain “at least one hour before Holy Communion, from all food and drink, with the exception of water and medication” (New Code of Canon Law, canon 919, § 1).
This rule may seem purely formal and without deep meaning; that is why many Christians do not apply it and often ignore it. In reality, whoever tries to put it into practice realizes that it is a very concrete way of preparing for communion, of not going to communion automatically or out of habit. This preparation of the body encourages a preparation of the soul. Indeed, the rule of Eucharistic fasting is very educational and it would be a pity to deprive the child of it, with the excuse of trying not to overload them with rules and obligations.
While it is important that the child does not go to communion out of habit, that they should prepare to receive Jesus, that their participation is supported by a regular request for the Sacrament of Confession (in general, once a month is a good pace), that the child is not in a state of serious sin (let us not believe that the little ones are only capable of “little” sins: the seriousness of their refusal to love is proportional to their capacity to love, which can be very big).
On the other hand, while it is essential that they should not receive Jesus any which way, it is also necessary to make sure that the child is not a prisoner to scrupulousness or perfectionism that would prevent them from receiving communion under the pretext of unworthiness. The Eucharist is not earned: it is God’s free gift to us. And Jesus has not come for those doing well but for sinners.