First Communion

“That Christ Should Enter Under Our Roof

How do we raise our children so that they are made ready to respond to [the] eternal, eucharistic love [of Jesus Christ]? We so often assume that children cannot understand God’s love, so we feed them paltry crumbs of truth, which cannot meet their hunger for the infinite expanse of God. Instead, we should strive to give them food that is both digestible and nourishing.

Children are concrete thinkers. Family life must prepare children for the Eucharist in concrete ways. Christ in the Eucharist loves us by offering himself to the Father. Eucharistic love is sacrificial love. “In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner” (Council of Trent (1562), DS 1743, cited in Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 2nd. ed. [Washington, DC: Libreria Editrice Vaticana–United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2000], no. 1367). We too can offer ourselves in an unbloody way, by lifting up the daily events of our lives as a sacrifice of praise to the Father.

In the new English translation of the Roman Missal, the priest says, “Pray, brethren [brothers and sisters], that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father” (emphasis added). Baptism gives every Christian the power to offer up our very selves—including every one of our good actions, no matter how humble, as well all the sufferings, great and small, that beset us in daily life—as an offering of thanksgiving to God within the one great offering of Jesus himself to his Father. “Offer it up” is the eucharistic pattern of Christian life. The conditions for living true love in everyday life are the conditions for “full and active participation” in Mass, indeed for authentic prayer.

If we parents keep in mind that our children need our homes to be schools of patience, of stillness, of silence (the essential conditions for a vital interior life), then certain practical steps come immediately to mind. If busyness consumes us as adults, the frenetic pace of the world will invade our children’s spirits. The peace of Christ should be palpable in our homes. This requires that our own prayer lives be vigorous and constant and that we pray together 3 as families. Grace before meals is crucial (as is eating dinner together). The Church encourages laity to exercise their common priesthood by praying the Liturgy of the Hours, such as can be found in Shorter Christian Prayer. (There is also a modified form in the beautiful periodical Magnificat.) Night Prayer serves well as a structure for bedtime prayer. Praying the Rosary together suffuses the graceful presence of our Holy Mother Mary. If possible, going together to daily Mass at least a few times during the week will make a decisive difference in the spirit of the home, as will eucharistic adoration.

To establish the necessary rhythm of peace, it is worth prayerfully considering placing significant limits on the amount of television our children watch. Outside of prayer, giving up television is perhaps the most beneficial decision we ourselves have made for our children. As children get older, it is essential that we be vigilant in monitoring how often they are plugged-in (for example, gaming and music) and moderating the degree to which they are enveloped in social networking. Constant noise and trivia destroy the taste for prayer, our ability to see everyday life as something to be offered up to God, and our recognition of the deepest hunger in us for God’s true love. Our children naturally aspire to infinite knowledge and love. But marketing and advertising executives want us to scratch our every consumerist itch, and this attitude also reflects the dominant sexual culture. Our homes must provide the elevated tone that allows our children’s aspirations for true and infinite love to unfold.

An elevated tone: that is a prime characteristic of the new translation of the Roman Missal. The more we bring that tone into the home, the more our children will thrive. We could, for instance, write out the newly translated Collect or opening prayers for the preceding Sunday and post them on the refrigerator.

Children must have all their senses engaged. Beauty draws us out of the mundane and the self-regarding into the vertical slipstream of transcendence. Filling our homes with statues (the more beautiful the better), reproductions of great art (religious and otherwise), great books, classical music, crucifixes, and maybe even incense during bedtime prayer will have a profound impact on children.

When we as parents pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we are given inspiration to undertake the practical steps necessary to transform our homes into schools of love. Truer than Marlowe’s Faustus, we can say, “See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament.” Indeed, see, see the unstoppable torrent of Christ’s love coursing through the interstices of everyday life, flowing from his pierced Heart on the Cross (Jn 19:34), when we intentionally arrange the life of our homes according to Christ’s eucharistic offering.”

Excerpted from The Fountain of Love: How Parents Form Children for Prayerful Participation in the Eucharist by J. David Franks, PhD, and Angela Franks, PhD Theological Institute for the New Evangelization of Saint John’s Seminary, Boston, published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops