I cried at my eldest daughter's First Communion, but promised myself that I wouldn't cry for my middle daughter's. No such luck. Standing behind my sweet Maria as she received communion from the priest, I broke down and barely managed to receive the host myself. As for the wine, forget it.
Much to my delight, my daughter Maria chose to receive Holy Communion in the mouth rather than in the hand. During the First Communion training session, the Director of Religious Education told the children they could receive the host either in their hands or in their mouths. Then the Catholic schoolteacher told the children they had to receive in the hand only. Our poor Maria was confused as to which instruction to follow.
My husband and I receive in the mouth, an action which has deep meaning for us. Christopher West talks about how human beings should receive God's love trustingly, rather than grasping for it; he says that receiving Holy Communion in the mouth reflects the proper receptivity toward Our Lord. My husband and I also have a prayer card of Mother Teresa, in which she says that out of all the things she has seen in this world, what makes her saddest is when people receive communion in the hand rather than in the mouth. We told Maria that no one, not even her teacher, could take away the right to receive Jesus in a more reverent manner.
But I was scared. A kid not used to receiving in the mouth and a Eucharistic Minister not used to distributing the host that way could very well be a recipe for disaster. Maria and I practiced over and over. "Body of Christ," I said, and she opened her mouth with her tongue curling up almost all the way to her nose. "No, no," I giggled. "Put your tongue out, not up! Try again." Again she walked solemnly up to me, and this time stuck her tongue out at a steep downward angle. I had visions of the host rolling all the way to floor. "Out, not down," I said, starting to think we should give up on the whole thing. "Like a shelf!"
On the day of Maria's first Holy Communion, Manny and I walked up the altar steps behind our daughter as she stood in front of the priest to receive. I realized that there was no way I could possibly dive in front of her fast enough to catch the host if it fell. This was up to Maria and the priest. She opened her mouth, the priest carefully placed the host inside, and I started to bawl. She walked up to receive the wine, and let it touch her lips. No funny face, no spitting, no gulping. My little girl, all grown up.
Maria's relationship with God was moving out of my purview. It was becoming more her responsibility. The Holy Spirit had nestled within her soul at the moment of her baptism, and the Bread of Life had entered her body at the moment of her First Communion. God's path for her -- not my path for her -- was ready and waiting. My mind turned to Maria's future confirmation, and then to her wedding or her profession of vows to religious life. God had prepared a path for her, I had led her to it, but it will be up to Maria to walk down that path on her own two feet. Is she ready? Am I ready?
At the end of the day, after the party guests had gone home, and Maria's pretty veil and tiara had been stored away for her younger sisters on their special days, Maria turned to me and smiled. "I can't wait until next Saturday," she said. "Why?" I asked. "Daddy promised to take me to Mass," she answered, beaming. "It will be my Second Holy Communion!"
Oh, yes, I thought. She's ready.
En español: Como Crecen los Hijos