Reflecting, remembering and continuing in faith
It is very hard to believe that it is now 10 months since Fr Martin and I first began writing this series of articles to accompany the journey that parents, children and faith communities engage in as they prepare to celebrate First Communion.
Now we approach the final Sunday of the programme, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi as it is probably more commonly known. The preparation is complete.
The sacrament that welcomes us to the table of the Lord and invites us to be nourished by the Bread of Life has been celebrated for the first time by children all over the country and now is a good time to take a moment to stop, reflect on the journey we have been on and to consider where we go from here.
The decision to include an invitation to children and parents to be present in their local parish community on the Feast of Corpus Christi as part of the Do This in Memory programme was a very deliberate one.
In a sense we saw it as an opportunity to encourage parents to reflect on how they can continue to do with and for their children what Jesus asked of us at the Last Supper when he said ‘do this in memory of me’ to his disciples, his friends and now to each one of us.
We hoped that it would encourage some reflection by the Sunday faith community on how they can continue to welcome and support these families on their journey. We were also very aware that it was an invitation that would not be accepted by all and indeed that it might be used as a yardstick by which to judge the effectiveness or otherwise of the programme.
Both of these have been proven to be true over the years. There have been many priests, pastoral workers and indeed members of the faith community who have expressed their disappointment, sadness and sometimes anger at the small numbers who have responded to this invitation.
In some parishes this invitation has sparked a revival of the age-old tradition of the Corpus Christi Procession and this has resulted in significant numbers of the children and their parents being present on the day.
For others they are content with simply welcoming those who come back and rejoicing in their presence.
Over the past few years I have become more and more convinced that the most important and worthwhile thing that those of us involved in ministry and those who are faithful, active members of our parish communities, in this wonderfully flawed Church of ours, can do is to be with people, to welcome them in; to encounter them where they are, to consider how we can deepen and develop the faith understanding of those who want to know more and to be content with doing that well.
Pope Francis would probably add that we should do this joyfully. The purpose of the Do This in Memory programme is simply that, to offer people we have not seen since the baptism of their child a non-judgemental welcome back; to encourage those who are inconsistent members of our faith communities to be more consistent and to support those who are there every Sunday in the evermore challenging task of being a faithful Catholic today.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi families who have celebrated First Communion with their child are given a poster with some of the more traditional prayers on it. This is done to encourage the continuation of prayer at home. Parents might consider framing this poster for their child and hanging it in their bedroom as a memento of their preparation journey.
The Do This in Memory candle may have burnt down to almost nothing over the past 10 months but, the tradition of lighting a candle and saying a prayer together can be easily maintained. The use of the Family Prayer Space might also continue as a reminder that the journey we were on in the past year isn’t over but rather it continues as we continue to grow in our faith and our friendship with Jesus Christ.
As the summer holidays draw near consider a family pilgrimage to one of the many holy places in our country as one of your days out. Combine a family walk with a visit to a local Holy Well or Sacred Place where you can stop for a moment and offer a prayer as a family.
Most of all remember the journey you have been on with your child this year.
Recall the good memories of being involved with others who were on the same path; the joys, the laughs, the pride, the questions, the wonderment, the shared moments with your child, your family and with the wider faith family in your parish community. Remember them, treasure them and ponder them in your heart as you continue to ‘do this in memory’ of the one who is always waiting in love to welcome you to his table.