How You Pray is How You Believe

5

My daughter received her first Holy Communion this weekend.  What should have been one of the most beautiful and fulfilling moments for me as a mother who spent the last 8 years of her life preparing her for this day, was instead a heart wrenching.

The day began with my husband returning from “practice” to tell me that our daughter was told not to receive in her mouth, in fact that no child was receiving on the tongue and that he was concerned she would not be able to receive in the mouth.  As I discussed this with our daughter, she told me that no one was taught to receive on the tongue and that she “couldn’t”.  When we got to the Church, I greeted Fr. and then made sure our daughter could receive on the tongue that day.

As mass began and I looked around, the first thing I noticed was four different sets of parents in front of us, chewing gum.  Throughout mass they continued to chomp away on their gum.  Two of the four parents chewing gum continued to chew gum right up to receiving communion and continued to chew gum after communion.  I guess they put the gum in the corner of their mouth, or perhaps they just chomped Jesus right into the gum.

I watched with grief in my heart as not a single child genuflected before going into their pew.  Maybe a handful bowed as they approached the altar and only when prompted by an adult.  During the consecration, not a single child kneeled, the congregation kneeled, the catechist kneeled right next to all of the First Communicants that he helped to parade up onto the altar, but not a single child kneeled.  I was told by my child later (who I had told to kneel) that she could not kneel, she was told she couldn’t.  My heart continued to sink into my chest as I watched   several of the boys poke each other, giggling or just looked around completely oblivious to what was going on right in front of their eyes not 12 inches away from them.

signum-crucis:

Every act of reverence, every genuflection that you make before the Blessed Sacrament is important because it is an act of faith in Christ, and act of love for Christ. And every sign of the cross and gesture of respect made each time you pass a church is also an act of faith.

—Pope John Paul II

What is the protocol? Are kids allowed to be up there on the altar? I will need to check that out.  According to the EWTN website: http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/non-ordained.htm

“The Eucharistic celebration is the act of the entire community, carried out by all the members of the liturgical assembly. Nevertheless, everyone must have and also must observe his or her own place and proper role: “In liturgical celebrations each one, minister or layperson, who has an office to perform, should do all of, but only, those parts which pertain to that office  by the nature of the rite and the principles of liturgy.” (SC art. 29). During the liturgy of the eucharist, only the presiding celebrant remains at the altar. The assembly of the faithful take their place in the Church outside the “presbyterium,” which is reserved for the celebrant or concelebrants and altar ministers. [Notitiae 17 (1981) 61]

When it came time to receive not a single child bowed before receiving, only about 2 of the 30 parents bowed.  Some of the children walked right up and using their pincher fingers, plucked Jesus right out of the priests hands and then popped it in their mouth like a piece of popcorn.  One kid put out his left hand, then just popped it in with the same hand.  I think that is when I started crying.  I later told my daughter that I was crying because I was so happy for her receiving Jesus.  The truth is that I was grieved and filled with utter sorrow as I watched these 8 year old children take part in a show rather than any form of prayer (the mass is supposed to be prayer, the ultimate prayer). No wonder no one believes anymore.

This is how they are formed.  Some how, some way we need to find a better way to convey the mysterious reality of what they are receiving.  Perhaps having them receive on a kneeler would be a great way to do this.  I am in favor of that, after all if your body speaks a language then how wonderful would it be to have your body offer such a reverent posture.  If the Holy Father does his 1st Communion celebrations, why don’t we? It’s more about teaching the “rules”.  I do not desire that people just teach the rules, but rather that they are evangelized during the process of catechesis so that the love of God stirs their hearts so that they desire to know how to pray the mass because they are on fire with love of God.

Understanding the mystery of transubstantiation is a complex concept to teach children.

Some how a bread making party does not seem to be the best way to teach this, at least not in my opinion.  I realize there are some great concepts that could be shared in this way but it seems a bit rudimentary.  We skipped the Bread Making party, instead we went on a Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help to be enrolled in the Brown Scapular.

The lack of reverence throughout the mass by the kids and the parents was astounding.  The reason why so many people leave the Church is because they do not believe.  Why? Because how you pray the mass is how you believe.  If the mass is a prayer, THE prayer! If the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and these kids are not taught to receive with reverence, are not taught the that this is GOD, then of course they will not believe.  Why not go to the Luthern Church? Why not just say a prayer at home? Heck, it’s all the same right?

I have a friend that signs her emails “lex orandi, lex credendi”.  On wikipedia it says this;

The principle is considered very important in Catholic theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Church’s faith precedes the faith of the believer who is invited to adhere to it. When the Church celebrates the sacraments, she confesses the faith received from the apostles – whence the ancient saying: lex orandi, lex credendi (or: legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, according to Prosper of Aquitaine). The law of prayer is the law of faith: the Church believes as she prays. Liturgy is a constitutive element of the holy and living Tradition.”[2]

Based on this, what does it seem that parish believes in? I am not sure exactly.  I do know that my daughter believes.  How do I know? Because we have spent a lot of time “praying” what we believe and by entering into the mystery of this belief with all of the beautiful means our faith has given us.  Adoration of the blessed sacrament, sacramentals, story books, the old Baltimore Catechism, “This Is Our Faith” book series, Pilgrimage to the Shrine, praying the Rosary and so much more.  I am not saying we were some how better, I am just saying there are so many ways to teach the faith, why aren’t we using them? Why aren’t we providing them at our parishes? 

There are some families that are not active participants, they do not go to mass yet they still are drawn to the Church desiring the sacraments for their kids.  What a great opportunity to evangelize!  Why are we missing this chance to awaken their hearts and souls to God?

I was saddened that confession still is not done before 1st Communion.  When we do not give the kids confession until the 5th grade we are waiting almost 3 yrs to allow a child to be freed from mortal sin.  Having kids past the age of accountability receiving Jesus, perhaps some of them with mortal sin is a very said thing indeed. (We have some kids getting pregnant at 12, we have some kids practicing witchcraft and other things  so yes, I think that some kids are capable of mortal sin in the 5th grade).

This is why confession before communion is a good thing, I would hope and pray that this will be the last First Communion mass that will miss the opportunity to teach these children the belief in the true presence.  This was not a meal, as the song “Sharing A Meal” the song the kids sang as entertainment for the “audience”  implied.  Actually, this is more than just a meal and we should be telling them this!  This is Jesus Christ.  This is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ.  This is His sacrifice, His love poured out to the world so that sins could be forgiven. This is His Flesh and His Blood.  He who eats His Flesh and drinks His Blood will have eternal life! When the priest does this in memory of Him, the priest is actually making present once again the sacrifice of Calvary. The priest is making presence Jesus death on Calvary to save our immortal souls.  This is to give our souls sanctifying grace so we can get to heaven.  How about: “Jesus, My Lord, My God and My All” or “Behold the Bread of Angels” or “Jesus, Jesus come to me”
From the YOUCAT, no. 218:

Because God is truly present in the sonsecrated species of bread and wine, we must preserve the sacred gifts with the greatest reverence and worship our Lord and Redeemer in the Most Blessed Sacrament.

So why was I grieved? Because as I sat and watched all of this and then I entered into how our Lord must feel watching all of this take place.  I began to weep, sadness came over me as I watched them chomp on their gum and realized, they believe exactly how they pray.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY AFTER SPEAKING WITH SOME PRIESTS AROUND THE COUNTRY ON FIRST COMMUNION TRADITIONS

First Communion is like a wedding.  The child is going to have the God of the universe enter into them in Holy Communion.  The two will become one flesh and the grace within this food will enable their souls to be transformed.  The music should be sacred and holy, to inspire the mind toward heavenly things.  I would love to see a choir singing heavenly praises and not a song about a meal.  If I wanted a meal I could go to Perkins.

What would be a great way to prevent these things from happening in the future? Well, the first thing is to realize I do not believe giving people a bunch of rules is the answer.  Jesus came to free us from the law, he desires us to be in an intimate relationship with Him and to do things for love of Him, not because we are afraid to break the rules.  When we better educate people and then provide them an opportunity to enter more deeply into their faith, they fall more in love with God and then their actions are natural expressions of their beliefs.

As we learn our faith we discover the reasons for doing and not doing things.  When a person understands that in the Old Testament we saw the foreshadowing of many things.  One such thing is of the sanctuary.  In the Old Testament only the high priests entered this holy of holies, the Sanctus.  The reason was that it was holy ground.  The sanctuary is where the sacred rites take place.  There should not be anything distracting the faithful from entering into the mystery of the mass going on, especially not in the sanctuary.

According to the GIRM the proper posture for the faithful during consecration is to be kneeling.  The mystery of God made flesh is a complex concept to teach children.  However, we have so many rich traditions to help us draw them into this sacred mystery.      Our bodies and our souls are one.  Our bodies need to say the same thing as our soul.  The words “Amen” means “I believe”.  When we receive Jesus on our knees, our bodies speak a language of belief.  This posture says  “I believe”.  We now have our entire person in communion with our belief, body and soul expressing the same thing.

When we genuflect before going into the pew, it is not because it’s a rule, but because it is speaking a language.  To genuflect with the left knee bent is for reverencing a living person, such as a King or Queen.  To genuflect with the right knee bent is for reverencing God alone.  To genuflect toward the tabernacle before entering the pew or even if you cross in front of the tabernacle, is to say with your body that you believe that God is present before you.  It should be done toward the tabernacle not toward the altar so if the tabernacle is located in the back of Church (let’s hope not), you would need to turn around and face Him.

“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”

— Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

When we learn that Jesus is truly present in Eucharist then we understand and desire not to be chewing gum up to receiving Him.  In fact the thought would be ludicrous.  When we believe in the true presence,  we realize we should not be eating or drinking anything an hour before hand because we would not want to have Jesus mixing with coffee , crackers, cereal or any other undigested substance in our stomach.

There seems to be a generation that were poorly catechized and when you add into that equation a world that seems be losing faith in God, the sacredness of life and so much more. Perhaps we need to try providing some preparation for the parents as well as the kids.  After all, there are only so many times the parents even come to the Church outside of their own personal conversions.

If we know they will come looking for God for baptisms, communion and confirmation then maybe we should seize these opportunities and revamp our preparation programs to provide a homecoming like the prodigal son’s father did.  That way they want to stay and enter more deeply into relationship.

Perhaps a retreat that is Eucharistic centered.  It should include the parents so they too can be evangelized.  We should always be undergoing conversion.  It the parents are to continue helping their children to know, love and serve God then we need to be providing them with opportunities to be evangelized.   I don’t have the answers, I just know that if it’s broke you fix it.  Please share any and all suggestions in the comments box if you have a suggestion for how we can best accomplish this.  I will be sure to pass them along and will most probably begin utilizing them myself in the apostolate work I do.

Copyright 2012 Christina King

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About Author

Christina King is a national Catholic speaker with a highly dynamic and interactive style which enables her to capture the attention of the audience and inspire them to embrace the beauty of the Catholic faith and God's plan for their lives. Whether she is speaking on Parenting, Pro-life, Chastity, Motherhood or Apologetics, her deep love and knowledge of Christ and Church Teachings are apparent. From being raised through all forms of abuse to her own teen pregnancy, this daughter of the King realized that God had a plan for her life and that she was made in the image and likeness of God. Christina is a busy wife and mother who has written for multiple publications and appeared broadly on television and radio.To book Christina to speak at your next event you can email her at [email protected] or call her at 920-277-8559 or visit www.EmbracingYourGreatness.org.

5 Comments

  1. Perhaps the religious education teachers in parishes need better training, or perhaps some adult education is needed from the pulpit. We have noticed a similar lack of adherence to traditional Catholic practices. We are in the process of organizing an educational segment that will appear in each bulletin which describes why we do some of the things we do. It may be that many of our parishioners don’t know these actions (or their significance) or maybe they have forgotten and need a reminder. Now, the gum chewing … well, that’s just plain obvious!

    Many blessings!

  2. This past year, I was a 1st grade CCD teacher & I have to tell you that having the children for one hour a week when the parents don’t go to Mass, won’t follow up & practice the prayers at home…it’s impossible for the teachers to “do it all” if the parents don’t care to do it at home (for sure). I tried over & over & over again to engage my students’ parents into getting more involved, taking their children to weekly Mass, etc. but, in all honesty, when you have a class full of 6 yr olds who don’t even know the Sign of the Cross, there is SO much that needs to be taught! By the time our CCD year ended, most of the class could sign properly (they only did it on Monday afternoons with me before we prayed), knew the Our Father, Hail Mary & Glory Be, but if the parents don’t continue to do these prayers at home, the 2nd grade teachers will have to start all over again while simultaneously preparing them for First Confession in the fall followed by First Communion in the spring. It’s a gargantuan task that should not be the responsibility of the teacher alone. Sadly, due to major stress, lack of parental support as well as our own crazy homeschool schedule here, I am not able to continue to teach next year but I pray that their new teacher gets more support & input from the parents or it’s for sure a most frustrating battle to wage for these children.

  3. I am so very thankful for this post. I agree with you and appreciate your tone. I am a recent convert and I’m amazed at times how cradle Catholics do not know their faith as much as I do. I stll have so much to learn, but it’s a wonderful journey. Thank you again.

  4. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a Montessori based religious education for the child beginning at age 3 and going through age 12. It is beautiful. It brings the child to the Church… meeting the child where they are, and recognizing the “simple wisdom” that dwells in those little hearts. The preparation for First Communion and Reconciliation is simply beautiful…including 5 weeks of scripture based sessions where the child AND the parent attend, as well as a truly meaningful retreat for the children. Training for this program is time intensive for the catechist…but after being raised Catholic, the catechist formation for CGS gave me the true gift of my faith.
    My heart hurt for you as I read your experience…God is truly present where “two or more are gathered.” He was there with you all at that Mass – can’t you just imagine how thrilled He might have been, to see so many of His children come home…even if it was just for that day…even if they “forgot” the rules or even their good manners. For those moments, they were home… and because they were there, who knows, maybe they will come back… they might not have remembered who He is – the King of Kings… but He remembers who they are…. His children…and for that day, they were home.
    Many blessings to you.

  5. My daughter just celebrated her First Communion last week. Some of the same problems happened, although I was so thrilled with the beauty of the mass I didn’t notice. However our parish does a few things really well. They have parent sessions for first communion. They gather at least one parent from each family for about 8 sessions – Saturday mornings, have speakers, and prayer services, and videos that help evangelize us. These are mandatory for children to receive the sacraments (we do have First reconciliation before First Communion). The children also need 2 years of Prep classes before they receive the sacraments, so they can’t just show up for grade 2, they need to do grade 1 and 2.

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