Have you ever wondered why first Communion and Confirmation usually take place in the spring? Is it because of the better weather, allowing more people to stand outside church and take pictures? Is it because we are close to the end of the school year, and these two sacraments come at the culmination of months of preparation in religious education? Or is it even that, finally, there is “room on the schedule” at church, with Lent and Easter now out of the way?
It’s probably a little of all of these. But may I suggest the possibility that there’s a more relevant reason we see so many first Communion and Confirmation liturgies in April, May, and June. Yes, it’s true, we have just come through Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, and in fact we are still in the Easter season. What better time in the liturgical year for young people to receive first Communion than when Holy Thursday is so fresh in our memory? It was on that very special night in Holy Week when we commemorated Christ giving us his body and blood as food for the Church’s journey until the end of time.
And what better time to confer the sacrament of Confirmation, when our young people receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, than in the weeks leading up to the great feast that marks the birth of the Church itself: Pentecost? Indeed, along with Baptism, we might well think of these sacraments as “the Easter sacraments,” as they are so rooted in events in the life of Our Lord and the Church that took place in those days after his resurrection.
So, for all those who are receiving and celebrating first Communion or Confirmation this month, congratulations! You are entering more deeply into what it means to be a Christian, for you are partaking in these life-giving encounters Christ left for us. If you are able to celebrate these “milestones” with some sort of party and if people give you gifts on this occasion, great! They are indeed causes for joy and celebration. But think of the gifts and parties as symbols of the eternal gifts from almighty God and the heavenly banquet to which he invites us.
Whether you are approaching your first holy Communion or you want to deepen your faith in this wonderful sacrament, I invite you to meditate on the readings from Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. St. Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, speaks of Jesus being “handed over” in betrayal, but also “handing down,” through the Church, his own body and blood in the Eucharist. Paul in turn hands this down, and generations ever since have obeyed the Lord’s command to “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24).
But in John’s Gospel, we also learn that Jesus asked his disciples to do something else in imitation of him, when he humbled himself to wash their feet (see John 13). Strengthened by the Eucharist, Jesus wants us to carry on his example, offering ourselves in humble service to one another.
It is precisely in the holy sacrifice of the Mass where these two offerings come together. As simple gifts of bread and wine are placed on the altar for consecration, we are called to consider the many ways we can offer our lives in union with the sacrifice of Christ on the cross: We prayerfully offer up our good work, our charity, our sufferings, and our joys.
As for Confirmation, it might have the feel of a “graduation,” but it is really a call to greatness! God created us for greatness. Confirmation is meant to empower you for true greatness. At every stage of life there are challenges that will test your faith in God. But God will always be faithful. Do not be afraid — no matter how it feels, you are never alone, never abandoned. These gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive empower us to continue our journey together toward the kingdom of heaven. All along the way, the Holy Spirit is our great Advocate.
Nourished and strengthened by these Easter sacraments, we could not be more gifted as individuals, as families, as parishes, and as a Church!