In Jesus’ time, a conscientious Israelite would never eat at the same table with a tax collector or a Samaritan. Sharing bread at the table was a sign of harmony in life and faith. At the Last Supper, Jesus did not have to teach his Apostles the importance of sharing a meal as a way of sharing faith.If your kids don’t experience a meal where the family can talk and share ideas and faith—as well as food—it will be much more difficult for them to appreciate the Eucharist as a sharing in the One Body of Christ.
When Jesus gathered with his friends in the upper room to celebrate the Passover, they talked a lot. They remembered the Exodus when God freed his people from slavery. Jesus spoke of his own Passover from this world to that of the Father, and of the freedom from sin and death that this would bring. He told the Apostles how much he loved them and that he would always be with them.
At the best meals, a family also remembers and tells stories. Family members talk about everyday things like what happened to Aunt Marge, what the boss said today, and discuss events that are coming up.
These meals nurture the spirit because they help everyone in a family remember good times and places shared together. The secret to preparing such family meals is simple: How you eat is more important than what you eat. As an old proverb says, “Better a dish of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:17). Here are some suggestions for your own family meals:
Create a peaceful atmosphere. Light a candle, or place flowers on the table. Use a tablecloth or cloth placemats and napkins.
Be sure everyone likes something on the table. If you are serving a food a child does not like, try to offset it with a favorite. Be flexible-allow a child to substitute fruit for a disliked vegetable.
Serve the food on a platter if you bring fast food home for dinner. Treat it as if it were home cooked instead of straight out of the bag. Use good dinnerware, not plastic forks and paper plates.
Sing your prayer. Your child is probably learning songs in class that he or she would be thrilled to teach the family.
Talk about the day. Avoid discussing problems, or discipline. Let each family member share good news or stories from their daily experience.
Turn off the TV. Put on soft background music. Avoid running the dishwasher during dinner. Deflect incoming calls, either by using an answering machine, leaving the phone off the hook, or by answering but saying that you will call back later.
Jesus told us to patch up our conflicts before coming to the Eucharist. He knew that quarrels, tension, and anger are a vicious cycle until we find forgiveness. Here are some ways to invite forgiveness and peace into your home, and to help teach your children how to do it better when it’s their turn.
Don’t let a problem drag on unresolved.
Pick the right time to discuss problems or emotional issues.
Make sure there’s enough time to deal with the conflict.
Have family meetings to resolve disputes before they reach the boiling point.
NEVER hit anyone or resort to ANY kind of abuse.
Share a blessing before bedtime as a sign of peace.
Look for ways to offer an olive branch.
Be willing to offer an apology, sincerely.
Be willing to forgive from the heart.
Be willing to accept forgiveness.
After you have forgiven, don’t bring it up again—ever.
Prepare your hearts as well as your home for the celebration of your child’s First Eucharist with a special family prayer. This prayer is designed to heighten your family’s awareness of Eucharist in daily life. It should help you focus on:
your needs and your reliance on God;
your gratitude toward God, who gives you all that you need; and
your offering of your life and will to God with Jesus.
Make a number of “loaves of bread” cut from white or brown construction paper, or a brown grocery bag. Place a small bread basket or bread plate on your dining table. Keep it there from now until the time of your child’s First Eucharist. Place the bread shapes and pencils beside the basket or plate. Every evening before dinner-or once a week if that works better for your family-invite family members to write on the paper bread loaves three types of things to be included in your prayer:
things you need and wish to ask God for;
things you have received and wish to thank God for; and
things you offer up in your lives and accept out of love for Jesus.
Help younger ones write or draw their prayers. Then take turns reading or showing your items for prayer. After each petition, have all respond, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Place each paper loaf in the bread basket or on the bread plate.
The Way It Is
It’s Sunday morning and our family is getting ready for Mass. My son can’t find his shoes; his hair isn’t combed. We have ten minutes to get there, and we haven’t left the house yet. As the whole family piles into the van, I lay down the law about how “This is not going to happen again.” Emotions flare, and feelings smart. As we hurtle toward Church, the atmosphere in the car is all wrong.The typical Sunday morning can be a blur of cereal, a scramble for your favorite section of the newspaper, and a mad dash to get to Mass on time. It’s hardly the way to prepare for Eucharist, but for many, it’s real life.
Times like this tell you there has to be a better way. The Eucharist is, after all, Real Life—Christ’s life. Scripture says the Eucharist will transform you on a grand scale—providing you with resurrection, heaven, and paradise with God. But your heart wants the Eucharist to make a difference right now—giving you peace, hope, friendship, love. Deep down, you know that the more you allow the Eucharist to influence your daily life, the better this life can be. So how do you begin to open the door to Eucharist and bring your children along in the process?
Start Where You Are
While you are rushing around and trying to get everyone’s hair combed and shoes tied, you might say to the little ones: “We have to hurry now. We’re going to meet Jesus.” The mad dash is meaningful when you think of it in these terms. Everyone hungers for security, love, and meaning. Because Jesus fills these needs, people’s hearts naturally seek him. Most children can hardly wait for First Eucharist. It is their own natural spiritual hunger, and parents can nurture that desire in their children.
If the person of Christ is not a big presence in your life, begin to search for your religious core. Your baptism has already started you on your journey towards Christ. Go with your family to church every Sunday without fail. Kids need to see that it is important for the whole family to be there.
Ask your pastor to order extra copied of the missalette so you and other families can take one home. Glance over the three readings for the coming Sunday and choose the one that you think is the easiest for the kids to understand. Then, take ten to twenty minutes Saturday or Sunday morning, read the passage together with your kids, and talk about it. Get them involved—ask them to tell you what it means to them. Avoid being critical. The idea is just to get them hearing things about God’s Word. Share what it means to you, and wrap up by saying “Let’s see if the priest at Mass got the same thing out of it that we did.”
When the Liturgy of the Word begins, your children will be listening for “their” reading. You may find them also beginning to notice remarks from the homily connecting with the reading. The preparation is just a nudge in the right direction to help them take part in worship. It prepares their hearts—as well as yours—for the Eucharistic celebration. And, over a period of a couple of years, you will all be growing spiritually just by talking over the messages of Scripture. Many parishes today also send a question around the Gospel reading home with you to share within your household.
If your parish serves doughnuts and milk after Mass, go occasionally with your family. Spend time with your fellow Christians. Fellowship with those who belong to Christ is a natural extension of Eucharist.
When you finally head off to church, you can use the travel time to reconcile with one another. Point out that Jesus expects you to be at peace with one another before you bring your gifts to the altar. You need to forgive one another and let go of any grudges you may have. In other words, you need to “be in communion to receive communion.”
You can begin by saying something like: “I’m sorry for getting angry with you last night, Matt. I was tired and impatient.” Take turns asking forgiveness for the hurts you have caused others during the week. You can bet the youngest, even it not yet receiving Eucharist, is definitely listening, because forgiveness is always potent stuff. Your efforts at reconciliation will help get across the message that people need to be free of serious sin before receiving Christ.
Whispering Is Allowed
Once you are at church, there are a few simple things you can do to make a big difference in preparing children of any age for their First Communion. Sit where the children can see the priest and the altar and all the action; they’ll have a better chance of absorbing some meaning and not being bored. The Mass, after all, is a fairly complex ritual whose meaning is not always obvious or engaging for children.
Let the kids know that they can ask questions during Mass: “Why does Father hold his hands up like that?” “Why do we have to kneel?” If your answer won’t take long, deliver it on the spot in a respectful whisper. If the answer is more complicated, promise to explain on the way home.
If your kids don’t ask you questions, raise the issue yourself. Young children think concretely. Teach them straightforwardly that Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Christ and not just the appearance of bread and wine. You might also make a quick comment during the Our Father, such as, “Jesus is our daily bread.” The Mass is a teachable moment, and the kids need to know what they’re doing there.
Make Connections At Home
Look for links between daily life and the Eucharist. Over the years there will be plenty of chances for you to say to your kids: “Happiness is not having the most toys or nicest clothes, but being loved and showing love to others. No one is really rich unless he or she has that love.” At moments like these, faith becomes practical and real. The Christ of Eucharist becomes the love by which all other loves in your life are measured.
For you as parents, the golden moment is when it seems like all the effort to make the Eucharist part of your family’s life really has made a difference. It’s when you see in your children’s eyes and actions that their hearts have opened up and are making room for the Real Life of Christ.
In a department store the other day, I overheard a young boy, about eight, obviously shopping with his mother for a gift. “What about this?” he asked, pointing to a cozy looking red flannel. “It’s just the kind of shirt Grandpa likes to wear.”“Nice job, kid,” I thought to myself. But his mother blurted out something like, “Oh, that’s ugly! We’re not getting that.” I felt sorry for the boy. What a put-down! I doubt that his mom even realized what she’d done.
Most people do not see themselves as others do—or as their children do. This mom was speaking her own mind without realizing that she was teaching her child a lesson she did not intend: “Be cautious, son, if you’re going to share your ideas with me in the future, you could get hurt.”
Good communication in a family is the key to emotionally healthy kids. Just as parents have to share feelings to satisfy a human need to be close to someone (usually a spouse), so do kids. They need to feel that a parent actually enjoys spending time with them, to talk and do things together.