BEING INVITED TO a First Holy Communion can plunge the invitee into a state of dread and fear. There is the fear of having to go Mass, fear of being fleeced, fear of being exposed as non-believer. There is the fear of appearing too holy or not holy enough. Family gatherings always have elements of coercion and compromise but religious ceremonies in Ireland have the additional burden of having to show one’s feelings towards the Catholic Church. Oh Gaaaawwwd!
But honestly, don’t worry. Pope Francis is on the cover of Rolling Stone and things are changing for the better.
For reasons I won’t go into now, the Catholic Church has had to come off its high horse. The Irish Catholic newspaper referred to “the peculiar phenomenon of modern First Holy Communion” where rules, diktats and fear have been replaced by gentle all-inclusiveness. Children don’t have to make their Communions but it’s great if they do. If non-Catholics feel left out they can put on National dress/white dress/brother’s suit and tag along for a blessing. It’s all good.
That welcome includes you. No matter if you are an agnostic uncle, atheist aunt or lapsed cousin. Your appearance on the day makes the day special. That’s all the church wants. In my book, Kathleen and the Communion Copter, the priest despairs when he is confronted with his texting, cartwheeling, bun-eating congregation but he makes sure they know that God loves a full house.
Now, back to the Big Day. You still have to deal with your family and families have their own rules but here are a few pointers:
- Gifts get people worried. Some say it’s all about hard cash. That line suits those who are too cool to walk into Veritas or who haven’t clapped eyes on the Communion child for years. To them I say “Pony up.” There are people who want to give a lasting keepsake. I’ll keep it simple. Suitable gifts are:
- Rosary beads (fancy ones)
- Statuettes of Mary or girls in white
- Photo frames in silver or wood / photo albums
- Holy water fonts (Belleek do a nice one)
- Rosary keepsake boxes
- Jewellery, but check first who is giving the cross and chain (parent. Godparent or Grandparent)
- Cash (between 20 and 50 usually)
Here’s a tip – the Pinterest website can act as a portal into America’s Bible Belt at its consumerist best. On this site people post pictures of things they like to buy. Type in “Holy Communion gift” while there’s still time to order from abroad. Bear in mind that small children are unburdened by good taste. Then go ahead and order rhinestone jewellery, musical Jesus statues and multi-coloured glass angels on chains. Have fun with it.
On the day/before the day/long after the day
The goal should be collaboration and celebration. A few ideas:
- Show up. At the very least if you show up at the restaurant or party you’re giving a message that the child’s Communion matters. Forget your complex spiritual belief structures … kids see only absence, presence and presents.
- Get involved. Offer to help with the food or to hang balloons.
- Make a memory. Photos and memories are intertwined. Make sure you get a good picture of yourself with the kid. It might be another decade before the child looks at the pictures and realises happily that YOU wanted to be photographed with them. Older children can be given the job of taking photos.
- Use the archives. As a relative you are probably in a position to gather old family communion pics and make a display. It helps people to feel included.
- Bring Joe. If you are a Holy Joe, go for it! Don’t be shy. The new spirit of open-mindedness applies to us Catholics too. Give the child a bible or statue of their namesake saint if that’s your thing. Throw in €10 to sweeten the pill.
- Complain and give out. For some people this is the best part of any day out. Save it for the car journey home. And enjoy.
Avril O’Reilly is a children’s book writer and author of Kathleen And The Communion Copter.