The homily at yesterday's First Communion Mass was one of the best I've heard. The priest spoke directly to the children, in language that they could understand, but he didn't dumb down his message at all. I can't remember exactly the words he used, but this is the gist of what he said.
You're wearing special clothes today and everyone is celebrating because this is one of the most special days of your lives - you are about to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord for the first time. This means that the Church thinks you are not babies any more, but are ready to join all the adults in beginning to take responsibility for your own faith and to participate fully in the life of the Church.
Now that you are receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus is calling you to be more like Him. (He then asked the children for examples of ways in which they could be more like Jesus, and he expanded on each of the examples they gave - generosity, kindness, standing up for what's right and gratitude.)
You need to nourish your faith and let it grow, because if you don't feed it, it will die and you might start to think that you don't need Jesus in your lives. The world often tells us that we don't need Jesus, and sometimes it's difficult to be a Christian.
People might sometimes think you're weak or not cool because you're Christian. Some people think that to be popular at school, you need to bully other people. Some people think that to be first, you need to push other people out of the way. Some people think that to be successful at work, you need to step on other people and make them fail.
We don't live that way, and some people might say you're not successful because you're not doing those things. But if you have faith and you believe in Jesus, you don't need to do all of those things, because your life is successful if you live the way Jesus wants you to live.
There are some pretty difficult messages in that, but the children really listened and seemed to take in what he was saying. At the end of Mass, he reiterated that they need to nourish their faith in order to let it grow. He then gave each child a little tomato plant as a symbol of their faith, and told them to remember to water and nourish that plant.
I had gone into the church with, if anything, slightly negative expectations. The music was absolutely not to my taste, and the church is being refurbished, so the Mass was in the parish hall. But the parish hall has been beautifully set up as a temporary church, and the congregation showed real reverence, as well as joy at the celebration. In particular, when the priest opened the tabernacle before Communion, not just the priest and the altar servers but everybody in the church genuflected until he had closed the tabernacle and carried the chalice to the altar.
My friend told me afterwards that the priest had insisted that not only the children, but also the parents, should be given lessons to prepare for the First Communion. She said she had never thought that someone without children could understand so well the challenges of bringing up a child, and that she had found the preparation very helpful.
The whole event really taught me something about judging by appearances. Yes, we may have 'processed' out to "We are marching in the name of God", with a number of people dancing behind the children, but technically the final blessing had taken place and Mass was over, so why not celebrate at that point? And those children - and their parents - had been beautifully and lovingly prepared for the celebration, and the priest made sure they understood the importance of this event in their lives.
I made my First Communion in 1976 and it still stands out in my memory as one of the most special days of my life. I think in 33 years' time, my godson will remember his First Communion in the same way - and who can ask for more than that?