Kathryn Quigley's communion, circa 1970s, in Philadelphia. Credit: Provided
My son didn’t want to wear a tie, but at least he didn’t spit out the Body of Christ onto the floor.
My seven-year-old made his First Holy Communion on Saturday. Between the ADHD and his sensory issues, I wasn’t sure it was going to happen. He can’t sit still, hates being dressed up and eats a limited diet. So, making his First Communion presented some real challenges.
First, there was CCD every Sunday. No fun. I was a mean mommy for making him attend and learn about Jesus and love. For the ceremony, he had to wear a suit, dress shirt and tie. None of that is any fun to a boy who is sensitive to fabrics, tags and smells. I washed the suit ahead of time. But I forgot to wash the white shirt and sure enough, he complained it “smelled weird” and didn’t want to put it on. After an argument, he finally did, but he drew the line at wearing the tie.
Chewing and swallowing the host was another problem. The CCD teachers gave the kids unconsecrated hosts to try during Communion practice. My son gagged and wanted to spit it out. He just didn’t like the taste. I had visions of the host winding up on the floor, under a pew or spat into the priest’s face.
Finally, I realized all the pressure was coming from me, because of my Catholic upbringing about how things should go. I decided: If he made his Communion, great. If he refused to eat the host, then we would try another day. If Jesus loves ALL the little children, then he would take care of my smart, funny, lovely, quirky boy. It would work out when my SON was ready.
In the end, everything went great. His CCD teacher got him to put on the tie. He wiggled in the pew, but no more than the other squirmy seven-year-olds. He even ate the host! The main glitch of the Mass was the priest who decided to sing the “Tatum Ergo” — in Latin — during the homily. He also quoted St. Thomas Aquinas at length — to a group of second graders. Um.
The experience was so different from my First Communion at St. Timothy’s Parish in Northeast Philadelphia. I liked my pretty white veil, although I was slightly peeved that I had to wear my cousin’s Communion dress instead of getting a new one. Now I understand my parents' wisdom in that.
My second grade teacher at St. Tim’s was Sister Paul Vincent, SSJ. She was mean and took no crap. She also liked to throw erasers at our heads and slam her pointer onto our desks when we weren’t paying attention. Under her tutelage, none of us dared wiggle in the pew during First Communion.
For years, I have tried to figure out how old Sister Paul Vincent was. I’ve looked in obituaries and on the Sisters of St. Joseph website. When I was in second grade, I was fairly sure Sr. Paul Vincent was 90. But it’s quite possible she was really just 40.
I know some Catholics long for the days when mean nuns reigned supreme at grade schools and ruled with an iron pointer. I don’t. I’m sure she loved us and meant well but all I remember from that year was fear.
I want my son to have a faith in which he knows love and acceptance. And his First Communion last week was a good start. Jesus loves all the little children, even the ones who think about spitting Him onto the church floor.