At this time of year, many parishes celebrate First Holy Communion. For priests, the challenge is to communicate a message of simplicity without watering down the meaning of the sacrament and the gift of Christ himself in the Eucharist that the children receive for the first time.
On 6th May this year, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Rakovsky, Bulgaria, on the second day of his apostolic visit. Included was first communion for many of the boys and girls from around the country.
Here is the full text of the Pope’s homily. Hopefully it will be of help to priests as we prepare our homilies for the celebration of First Holy Communion.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am pleased to greet the young boys and girls who will receive their First Communion and their parents, relatives, and friends. To all of you, I offer the beautiful greeting exchanged in your country at Easter time: “Christ is risen!” This greeting is the expression of our joy as Christians, as disciples of Jesus. We rejoice because, for love of us, Jesus gave his life on the cross and destroyed sin. He rose again and made us adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. We are joyful because he is alive and present among us, today and always.
Dear boys and girls, you have come here from every corner of this “Land of Roses” to take part in a wonderful celebration. I am sure you will never forget this day: your first encounter with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. One of you might ask me: How can we meet Jesus? He lived a long time ago, but then he died and was laid in the tomb! It is true: Jesus carried out an immense act of love to save human beings of all times. He remained in the tomb for three days, but we know – the Apostles and many other witnesses who saw him alive have assured us – that God, his Father and ours, raised him up. Now Jesus is alive and is here with us. That is why we can encounter him today in the Eucharist. We do not see him with our physical eyes, but we do see him with the eyes of faith.
I am looking at you, dressed in your white robes. What a meaningful and beautiful sign. You are dressed for a celebration! First Communion is, above all, a celebration. We celebrate Jesus, who wants to remain always by our side. He will always be with us. This celebration was made possible also thanks to our parents and grandparents, our families and our communities, who have helped us to grow in the faith.
You have travelled a long way to come here to Rakovski. Your priests and catechists, who have accompanied you in your preparation for this day, have also accompanied you on the road that today leads you to meet Jesus and to receive him in your hearts.
As we heard in today’s Gospel (cf. Jn 6:1-15), Jesus one day miraculously multiplied five loaves and two fish, satisfying the hunger of the crowd that followed him and listened to him. Did you notice how the miracle began? It started with one child who offered all he had: five loaves and two fish (cf. Jn 6:9). Like that child, you too have helped a miracle to take place today. The miracle by which all of us older people have recalled our own first meeting with Jesus in the Eucharist, and are filled with gratitude for that day.
Today you have made it possible for us to relive that joy and to celebrate Jesus, present in the Bread of Life. Some miracles can only take place if we have a heart like yours: a heart capable of sharing, dreaming, feeling gratitude, trusting and respecting other people. Making your First Communion shows that you want to be closer to Jesus every day, to grow in friendship with him and to lead other people to share in the joy he wants us to feel. The Lord needs you because he wants to work the miracle of bringing his joy to many of your friends and family members.
Dear boys and girls, I am happy to share this great moment with you and help you meet Jesus. For you, this is a day to be celebrated in a spirit of friendship, joy, and fraternity. A day of communion among yourselves and with the whole Church, which, especially in the Eucharist, expresses the communion that makes all of us brothers and sisters. This is our identity card: God is our Father, Jesus is our brother, the Church is our family. Al of us are brothers and sisters, and our law is love.
I ask you always to pray with the same enthusiasm and joy that you feel today. Remember that this is the sacrament of your first Communion, not your last! Remember too, that Jesus is always there, waiting for you. I hope that today will be the beginning of many Communions, so that your hearts may always, like today, be festive, full of joy and, above all else, gratitude.