By Rita Buettner
That morning I put on the same white dress my oldest sister had worn, and my mother curled my hair. We climbed into the family station wagon and drove to what was then called Loyola College.
My mother’s uncle, Miles Fay, who was a Jesuit priest, always stayed in the Jesuit residence there when he came from Boston to visit for Christmas, and my mother always scheduled our first Communions to be held while he was in town.
It was my turn that day. I was in second grade and ready to receive the Eucharist.
I wish I could recall more about how Uncle Miles celebrated the Mass in the small chapel in the Jesuit residence. What I do remember is receiving the host that was Jesus’ body. I can picture where I was standing in that chapel. I can still see Uncle Miles leaning over to hand me the host – Jesus himself. I recall how he asked my mother whether she wanted me to receive Jesus’ blood as well, and she said yes. I can remember the taste of Jesus’ blood from the chalice.
Twice, I said, “Amen.”
The day must have been all about celebrating me and my reception of the sacrament, with photos and cake and extended family, but I was 7 and all of that is a blur. Still, I do remember that central moment, the reason for all the excitement – the first time I received Jesus’ body and blood myself.
Every spring as I watch the children of friends and relatives – and children in our parish – make their first Communion, I think back to my own first experience with the Eucharist. It was decades ago that I stood in that chapel, looking into the eyes of a priest I knew so well, accepting from him the bread of life. I’ve held onto that memory for more than 30 years.
This spring our older son will receive Jesus for the first time, and I am both excited and – I’ll admit – a little worried. Could I do more to help him prepare? Have we talked enough at home about the sacrament? Will he feel an extraordinary sense of awe and wonder when he receives? Will he know how much he is loved – and feel a deepening of his love for Jesus? Does he truly understand the gift he is accepting with his “Amen”? Does he know how the Eucharist can – and does – change you?
I have to hope, believe and trust that the answer is yes. Ultimately, of course, only he and Jesus know what is inside his heart, and only he and Jesus are involved. As his mother, I must step aside and recognize that this is not his baptism, where I had a role. All I can do is prepare him as well as possible and then leave the rest in God’s hands.
And so I pray for him and for all those who will receive the Eucharist for the first time this spring.
I also think of those of us who are receiving for the 1,500th time, or the 3,000th.
How, I wonder, does our understanding and appreciation of the Eucharist change as we receive over time? Do we ever take this extraordinary gift for granted? Do we feel changed, not just by that first intimate encounter with the Eucharist, but every time?
We are not always dressed up. There are rarely photos and cake and groups of loved ones gathered around to celebrate our receiving the sacrament. But as special as that first time is, it’s no more special than receiving Jesus’ body and blood again and again and again.
“Do you realize,” St. Thérèse of Lisieux said, “that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you – for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart.”
May each of us burn with that same desire to welcome Jesus into our hearts today and every day.
Read “Open Window,” Rita Buettner’s blog, here.