Q: I have a question about preparing for first communion during the pandemic. How can a child really prepare if their parents aren’t bringing them to mass for months at a time? I’ve always thought that they needed to bring them to mass in order to prepare them for celebrating the mass before receiving. What are your thoughts about this?
A: This pandemic keeps raising unexpected questions, doesn’t it?
Here’s where canon law may help. Canon 913 §1 says, “The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.”
As you see, it does not explicitly require what we naturally do, get the children to church before their first communion so that they start to appreciate what will be happening to them. Even the RCIA suggests something similar for catechumens who are unfamiliar with Mass: It may be wise to break them in gradually, conducting Liturgy of the Word for them apart from the Sunday assembly, or dismissing them after the Liturgy of the Word with the Sunday assembly, as two possible examples.
It’s good to remember too that we are somewhat privileged being in a society where children have access to Mass every Sunday; indeed, every day. In some parts of the world priests are so scarce that children may experience Mass once a month or once every few months. They still need preparation for first communion.And you may remember from your history of the catechumenate, that in the fourth century, it was somewhat common for catechumens to have no experience of the eucharist at all until their initiation rites. They got mystagogy afterwards, explaining what they had just experienced.
So, do whatever you can to fulfill the rather flexible canon 913 §1: Catechize the children according to their capacity, and help them appreciate why especially this year we hunger so much for the body of Christ