Answering child’s questions about communion
Lent is among us, and Easter is quickly approaching. My middle child, Lily is receiving first holy communion this year and she has tons of questions. Questions I really don’t remember answering when my oldest Ava, received her communion. No child is the same, every single one has desires and fears. My job is to give my girls a base of religion, so they become good people, right?
Like many of you in this town I grew up very Catholic. My grandparents signed me up for CCD and brought me to church every Sunday. There were no questions about it, my parents were divorced, and my grandparents wanted me to have a solid religious foundation. I like to think that they provided me with the vision of what an undivided family was like. My grandparents, Anna and Mike, sat next to each other in Mass; my grandfather’s arm always draped around my grandmothers’ shoulders and his fingertips always touched mine. He would look at me and smile in Mass, while my grandmother held the liturgy in her hands pointing with her fingers at the words the priest was reciting.
I must be honest, as a child I didn’t really pay attention. I stood up, I sat down, I kneeled, but I didn’t understand why at 8. I had more interest in my grandmother’s rings that caught the glimmers of light from the stained-glass windows then following the words she was pointing to in the liturgy. Oh, the stained glass, I was obsessed, between Anna’s rings and the stained glass I had so many questions that weren’t church related. Who made stained glass? What was the process? How did they install the windows? As my eyes wandered the walls of St. Anthony of Padua on Route 206 with all the wonder, I was interrupted with a tap behind my shoulder to stand up and say peace to my fellow parishioners. This was my favorite part of Mass as a child because it meant that we were closer to leaving (I know God is totally upset with me right now and so is Anna for saying it out loud.) to go to CCD, which meant I was one step closer to going to breakfast at Tony’s Custard and heading home.
I’m rambling on because preparing communion was the only time at 8, I paid attention to the priest. (I know how bad this sounds, but I was 8). As soon as the priest took the altar it was a stage to me, and the breaking of the bread was like a musical on Broadway. I watched his hands as he took the chalice and held it up to the sky and the eucharist reciting prayers. I remember thinking…. “Soon I will get to eat that body of Christ and drink the wine and be an adult just like my grandparents.” When I was a kid, I had no idea what sins were and that the sacrament I was reciting was the central rite to Catholic worship.
Now, 31 years later I have an almost 8-year-old preparing and asking me all the big questions about the sacrament of communion. At her first reconciliation she looked at the statue of Jesus being held by Mary in church as said to me, “Mom, why does he have holes in his hand?” I took a deep breath and looked into her big blue eyes, and I told her Jesus died for our sins and was nailed to the cross.
Lily: “What about his head? Was that nailed to the cross too?”
Me: “No baby, but he had to carry his cross to where they tortured him and nailed him to the cross by wearing a crown of thorns.”
Lily: “Oh my God, why? Why were they not kind to him?”
I didn’t have the heart to explain that using the Lord’s name in vain as a sin, so I just let it go. Again, I looked again into those big, beautiful eyes and told her that the people didn’t understand that Jesus was here to save us from our sins. That’s all I had in my back pocket that day. As my baby girl proceeded forward to go confess her sins, I had a tough moment where I thought to myself … “Is this too much for a child to understand, and am doing the right thing right now?” I have a trip planned to visit the stations of the cross so she can see exactly what I was trying to explain, but as a parent I also chose to numb it down at that very moment because I could see she was nervous already.
While Lily was in confession I thought back to years ago, when Ava was small, maybe 5. She shouted out in church, “The man is on fire!” I was mortified and completely confused looking for a man who was actually on fire. As I turned my head to my husband John, who was covering his mouth pointing to the statue of St. Jude, I couldn’t begin to even explain that it was a statue of a saint with a visual representation of when he received the holy spirit to Ava at that age. She also called the priest a wizard two weeks later, and after agreeing we needed to go to Mass more to avoid more spectacles, we noticed she was beginning to sit still.
As Lily came out of confession, kneeled and recited her prayers I couldn’t help to think, what could she have confessed? I grew up Catholic, I go to church when I can, I don’t personally attend confession because I believe my relationship with God is strong enough where I can do this in my home, but my child is doing it. Honestly the teaching of the Catholic faith connects me to my grandparents, it connects me to my previous ancestors that went to Mass, but I believe that there is more to just attending masses and receiving sacraments. I believe that we must live through God’s teachings and give when we can. That can be love, a lending hand, a listening ear and meal to someone who needs it. So, this mom is teaching Lily and my other children to focus on the life they currently have and make the most of it. We know Jesus died for our sins and he rose from the dead on Easter Sunday but having the bunny bring candy that day is okay too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is in this day and age it’s very hard to try to get our children to relate to the Gospel when the teachings sound so scary. The world around us is literally on fire with war, COVID, and the uncertainly of tomorrow. I am teaching them to trust in God but be like him and give to others. Because all the gospels I remember are the ones where Jesus treated those with kindness. The Catholic religion can be so scary for an 8-year-old, but Father David is great with the kids and reminds me of my Deacon Rocky Mangino. So, I am more than grateful he is an available resource. I just hope that as a parent I am showing Lily and the rest of my girls how to be good humans. So, remember when you’re in church and your child acts out, or asks a silly question, they are just children. Most of the parishioners attending will laugh and relate, but don’t stop immersing them in a religious setting because you are afraid of being embarrassed. They will remember the moments with you in church, even if they are staring at your rings, the stained glass or admiring how their family is sitting together united.
Loraine Griffiths is a fifth-generation Hammontonian, graphic designer, wife and mother of three. She can be reached through email at LifeWithLoraine@gmail.com.