"March 8, 1958 " said the young priest beginning his homily *"you will ALWAYS * remember this date!"
True! With the other children in my class I sat waiting. The girls were resplendent in “immaculate” white dresses, lacy chapel veils concealing their carefully arranged hair and little white gloves; we boys wore pale blue neckties (like our Dads!) white shirts and dress coats - our Sunday bests for Our Lord (and the photos to come).
The long awaited day of Our First Communion had arrived. The mass prayers were in Latin, readings in English. Crisply dressed altar boys reverently bowed and whispered Latin responses kneeling a step below the priest who faced … the altar, the tabernacle, the crucifix on the front wall (back to the congregation as if leading a procession to Jesus).
Maybe I’ll be an altar boy someday I mused. Slightly older than I, the altar boys had set the scene, reverently lighting all the altar candles, stopping to genuflect each time they passed in front of the holy tabernacle containing the most Holy Eucharist.
They knew each step, gesture, and Latin response. They bowed, brought forward the gifts. Poured the little vial of water over Father’s hands and held the purificator for him.
At the elevation of the consecrated Host they knelt ringing bells three times to call everyone’s attention to the Eucharistic Jesus held high in worship. Thrice more for the elevation of the Chalice.
As the moment of our reception neared, we stood up and orderly processed to our spots
behind those at the communion rail. They knelt, waiting. The priest himself, with blessed hands consecrated by a Bishop approached distributing the sacrament.
Eyes lowered, a dutiful altar boy held the golden paten beneath the chin of each communicant to catch any particle of the Eucharist wihich might fall.
I moved forward, knelt at the altar rail, hands folded, watching the others receive.
The moment had come. I received, reverently walked back to my place in the pew, closed my eyes and spoke to Jesus - now with me closer than ever before.
I felt a gentle warm feeling within. That nice feeling of being home and loved. The security of Dad and the tenderness of Mom all at once. We were told to speak to and listen to Jesus with our eyes closed right after communion.
I was glad I had gone to my first confession the afternoon before and had a clean soul to welcome the Lord to (after a LIFETIME of sinning)!
This was nicer than kneeling in the dark confessional, looking at the crucifix of Jesus who’d died to save me from the sins I was about to have to confess. That screen slid open, I gulped out a “Bless me Father, this is my first confession …”.
My sins were probably parental disobedience and fighting with my sibling brother.
At any rate, the priest told me Jesus loved me very much and wanted me always to do better - and that I’d made a good confession (as I remember). Then came the words of
absolution. They might have been in Latin. But I emerged from that little closet clean … clean …FREE FROM SIN! Shining and ready for my FIRST communion.
Now it was ending. The priest had carefully cleaned the paten and chalice, consumed any remaining PARTICLE of the Holy Eucharist, In magnificent vestments he ceremonially gathered together the Chalice, purificator, pall, chalice veil, burse and corporal into their proper post-mass configuration, said the final prayers “Ite, missa est!”
“Deo Gratias!” we replied. And priest and altar boys bowed and genuflected to the remaining Eucharist in the centrally located and high golden tabernacle, with its nearby red sanctuary light indicating “HE is here!” … and left the sacristy.
In an orderly manner we waited to leave as the choir sang its Recessional hymn.
“Holy God we Praise Thy Name!”
As our turn to exit the pew came, we faced our Lord in the tabernacle, once more genuflected our fealty to Him as we’d done when we’d entered the church; then turned and exited.
Back to the world now. A lovely, sunny but cool north suburban Chicago day. Relatives, presents, a party at home. Cards with money in them. Prayer books, missals, prayer card bookmarkers and a great meal with Grandparents, cousins and the glow of Jesus still within me. “I will never forget this day,” I thought, the priests words echoing in my ear.
The women were happily gathered in the kitchen preparing one delight after another wihile they conversed. The men were in the yard and the living room excited about the new baseball season - could the Milwaukee Braves repeat as World Champs? Was Ernie Banks of the Cubs the best shortstop ever? Or was the White Sox’ Luis Aparicio going to
lead the go-go boys past the Yankees this year?
I could feel God smiling at all of the wonderful people he’d made. Heaven was going to be better than THIS?
And I think today of communion rails. Genuflectiing to Our Lord. The reverence of my elders back then. The chapel veils and hats of the women. The clicking of high heels as they processed to communion. The rustle of the men’s corduroy pants.
The holy tabernacle high, exalted and central as God’s throne (and how I looked at it during the Holy, Holy, Holy because that’s where Jesus WAS).
Things changed. If if was fine with the Church it was good by me. Guitars, organs, both good! Priest facing the people? Jesus probably faced the apostles. New music? Why not if its good … though for a while only the choir knows the new ones.
A culture of “coming closer to Christ” and “worshipping as a community” was the rationale.
A little more horizontal (we) celebration in the mass instead of giving the Lord his own hour of Kingly worship (vertical) with solemn reverence.
God and neighbor. We are to love them both. Today, when I see that altar rails are returning, I rejoice. Reverence is needed. More important than the rail will be the return
of tabernacles to front, center and high (as is proper to the guest of honor and master of the house).
We WILL have to remember to bend the knees again. And it might be harder than when I was 7. But every knee shall bow and tongue will tell that “Jesus Christ is LORD!” :angel1: