We are slowly gearing up for the last little girl in the house to make her First Holy Communion.
I state at this time that I think the Eastern Church has the Latin skinned by a mile in this regard. There is no big white dress or suit for First Communion. There is no argument out of surly teens because, "Maybe I don't want to be confirmed. It's my choice." There is no confusion with Protestant Confirmation and Catholic/ Orthodox Confirmation. The little baby is baptized, confirmed (chrismated) and receives the first of hopefully many Eucharists if not at the exact same service, then within a couple weeks of the rest. All three Sacraments of Initiation neatly packaged for one child, one day, suitable for family photographs! If children are accepted into the Household of Faith through Baptism, then let them be accepted for all three Sacraments, and hang what they know or realize. The Latin Church, particularly in the US, has turned Confirmation from the Sealing of Baptism and the Reception of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit into a Catholic Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Not so in the Eastern Church. The next big sacrament is preparation for Confession, and then those kids don't need a thing except regular religion classes. And no matter the opinion of some Latin directors of religious education, the children of our Eastern brethren do not seem to skip catechism classes because they have already been confirmed and communicated. There are no hoops of years in classes, service projects, and retreats in Byzantium.
I pointed this out to my husband some time ago, when one of the elder children was confusing Confirmation with a Baptist altar call. He did not appreciate my suggestion that we at least explore the possibility of say the Italo-Albanian Church, rooted in Byzantium and still loyal to the Holy Father. He was not amused, stating he doubted we would have any other children. How little he knew.
So here we sit, awaiting the happy occasion of our youngest's first reception of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus, in the Easter season, which for Catholics is about eight weeks long. Her First Reconciliation is this Saturday.
I have only walked one little boy through his First Communion. He prepared for Reconciliation by not only examining his conscience, but also memorizing lines from the movie, The Quiet Man. Why? "Because Father is from Ireland, and if he gets too upset with my sins, I'll just talk in a brogue and tell him jokes to calm him down." The only way he was going to show interest was if the Transformers or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were also making their First Communions. His interest in clothing was minimal, but did involve the choice of a bright tie that had a pattern similar to stained glass. He chose a similar tie for his Confirmation, same pattern, just longer.
So that leaves my first-hand First Communion experience with two young ladies.
One first received in 1986. The lesson plan was less than stellar, but I managed to make up for it. Girls wore cotton eyelet at the time, and everything for young girls was tea length. She did not desire a veil, and was adamant she would not wear one. She did not want a hat. She did not want a flower wreath. "Just leave my head alone!" I managed to get a very fancy ponytail holder, with a spray of tulle and a flower or two, and get that in her hair.
The second one was influenced by the Age of the Computer as well as Disney movies. I think if animated birds could have flown down and deposited her wreath upon her head, her happiness would have been complete. She designed and wrote each of her invitations to brunch before Mass. I tried something new, taking the kid for portraits before the Big Day, and letting her just be herself. What a concept! She wore her favorite purple glasses to Mass, read her portion of the petition prayers, and then walked around the baptismal pond, which was surrounded by flowers for Easter, sniffing as she went. "I've been wanting to do that all Easter!" she said as she returned to our pew. All her other actions were reverent and heartfelt. The DRE and the child's teacher, personal friends, made sure all the kids were involved, and everybody had a really good idea of the what and why of the Mass and Communion.
I am hoping this last one does not have to endure what I saw last year at the First Communion Mass in our parish. Father does not like the practice of reserved seats. This did not stop people from literally lying across whole pews, forgetting that they spoke English, and saving seats. The din in that little church was more of a family reunion in the park and less of a congregation in a house of worship, let alone a Catholic church. The first communicants were all herded up front, where from the sounds of things, they were not little angels. I wouldn't know. I was crammed in the back. So were the parents of several first communicants. As we have a new second grade teacher for the school, I've suggested perhaps depositing a child in each pew, where he or she would be supervised by parents; two Masses, not necessarily dividing the children by CCD versus School, but perhaps drawing names; and giving parents the opportunity to have their children receive at regular Masses in Easter.
I am hoping for the latter. My darling is an Italian-American Child of God, at least one-quarter anyway, and an Italian princess needs a venue and an entourage. The posse she has: Her living grandfather and grandmother, my parents, would come from the ends of the earth to attend their last granddaughter's First Communion. Her godparents will be abroad, but will be sending an emissary, one of their children. At least one of my sisters will attend Mass, and everybody will want to go to the party after Mass. The venue, well that's tricky. The Mister prefers that we entertain in a restaurant or club for such events. If we have to go with the parish's group Mass, we will be entertaining our guests at one of a national china of campy Italian eateries, several towns away from ours. If we can just bring her to any weekend Mass in the Easter season, we will opt for the early morning and offer breakfast or brunch at one of the many pancake houses.
Our baby would prefer to receive with the whole group, but at the earliest possible Mass in the parish on Sunday morning. Why? "Nobody is paying any attention to God! This is about God, and all they care about is their clothes and what they're getting (for presents)!" The other reason is, "They could be done, change clothes, and go have fun. Instead, everybody has to stay all dressed up, all day!" This was when she asked if we could rent a trampoline for First Communion.
She already has her dress, very simple, name-brand close out on last year's dresses. She was planning on staying simple in the veil department, as well. "A too poufy veil means you can't concentrate on God!" What she described sounded as if it was a cross between a mantilla and a head rag.
This was before we took a walk through Hobby Lobby.
For you parents, grandparents, godparents contemplating the First Communion of a little girl this year or any other year, there's no need to spend $30 upwards for a simple veil. Hobby stores, fabric stores, and "big box" stores all carry a premade veil, ready for a headpiece, $8-10. A simple flower wreath runs about $6 to make. If you can't use a glue gun, find a relative who can. Many bridal headpieces fit little girl heads. If the veils aren't with the First Communion and Easter dresses, try the Wedding Department, next to the Cake Decoration Department.
It was at Hobby Lobby that we found the Tiara. Her simple dress has one ornament, a bow with a circular rhinestone clasp at the neck. Floral wreaths did not seem a good match. A simple headband in satin didn't work with the child's high forehead. The big, bling headpieces did not seem right for her or the occasion.
She dug it out of the corner of a shelf. "This is the one."
As a child, I heard the story of a female saint, I can't remember who, that was asked by her priestly uncle to attend her First Communion not with her class, not in finery, but in her normal dress at the earliest morning Mass. She did so.
While I am sure her sanctity was rewarded, I remember at the time being angry with the uncle in the story. Who did he think he was? Life is short, and childhood is even shorter. If I was his sibling, I would have verbally been up and down his fine idea, butting his nose into the family's business.
I am pleased our baby is taking her duty to God seriously. I am pleased she is considering a vocation, what she calls "the sister lifestyle." However, I highly doubt God wants to deprive this child, who has already been deprived as an infant and toddler, of a princess tiara.