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May 10, 2009

First Communion a ‘turning point’ for children, families

By Michelle Martin


As thousands of children prepared to make their First Holy Communion this spring, they learned about the Mass and the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. They practiced their prayers and they rehearsed their processions.

Many of their parents, meanwhile, shopped for their clothes — especially for the girls — and planned parties and meals and hosted family to celebrate.

For Andrew St. Amand, a second- grader in the religious education program at St. Patrick Parish in Lake Forest, his May 2 First Communion was an opportunity to join his three older siblings at the table.

“It’s finally his turn,” said his mother, Jennifer St. Amand. “He’s very excited.”

At St. Patrick, the students prepare all year, and the parents attend several meetings. The children made their first reconciliation earlier this year, and they attended a “first Communion workshop” a few weeks before the big event. The 91 children in the First Communion class were divided into two Masses.

“They all made a banner with a chalice and a host, they had a tasting station so they would know what it would taste like,” Jennifer St. Amand said.

She ordered a cake that said “God Bless Andrew” and planned a party for family members that came from New York, California and Georgia, St. Amand said.

At St. John Fisher Parish on the South Side, relatives have come from as far away as Ireland and Peru, said Elena Chermak, the director of religious education. The children are very well prepared, Chermak said, because of the efforts of their families working with the catechists.

“I know how much support they (the first communicants) get from their families,” she said. “They are as excited for the First Communion as the kids are.”

Families come together to celebrate First Communion as an acknowledgement of a rite of passage, Cermak said. Despite the recession, she had not heard many families talking about cutting back on their celebrations. Instead, the talk was of what the children were wearing and getting ready for parties at home or in restaurants.

That fits with what Anne Maria Haugh has seen at Heaven Sent Religious Articles and Books in Oak Lawn. Business was down before Christmas at the Catholic book and gift store, so in January, when the store started selling First Communion dresses, it offered a bigger discount than usual and did very well, Haugh said.

By the end of April, the dresses had mostly been sold, she said, but there was a fairly steady stream of customers coming in to buy Communion or confirmation gifts. However, they weren’t spending quite as much as in past years, Haugh said.

Most parents said they hadn’t changed their plans to celebrate, because a First Communion is a big deal for the child and for the family.

Chermak said her students were excited because Communion is something they are experiencing for the first time, but will continue to experience for the rest of their lives. They take on the responsibility of responding to the Mass prayers and singing the songs, participating in the Mass instead of just observing.

“I ask them to think about how many Communions they will have in their lives,” Chermak said. “I ask them to think about how many Communions their parents have had, or how many the priest has had. It really launches them into a lifetime of being Catholic.”