Friday, April 30, 1999

Their first Communion

Tristate second-graders perform generations-old Catholic ritual of commitment to faith

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tiffany Dunn, Eric Humphries and Ryan Wynn wait outside church before First Communion.
(Steven Herppich photos)
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        Flouncy white dresses. Blue blazers and ties. Palms pressed together.

        Second-graders of St. Teresa of Avila Church Sunday look strikingly like the generations of second-graders before them who have made their first HolyCommunion at the Price Hill church.

        But there were also differences between this first Communion and the ceremony their parents celebrated a generation ago. The adults, roaming the side aisles with cameras and video recorders, remembered a solemn event laced with a touch of fear. In contrast, their children waved and smiled as they walked up the centeraisle, then sang and used sign language as they participated in the liturgy.

        “The kids participated so much.” says Lina Jansen, whose daughter Alessandra8, led one of the two rows of first communicants. Ms. Jansen recalls how strict the rules were for her own first Communion. “We were scared to death; we couldn't look at the camera or anything. It's a serious sacrament, but I think they got more out of it because they were able to enjoy it.”

Jessica Luken receives Communion from the Rev. Larry Tharp.
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        Roman Catholics believe that when consecrated, the bread and wine at Mass become the real body and blood of Jesus. Holy Communion is the central act of Christian worship and one of Catholicism's seven sacraments, so the first time a member receives Communion marks a deepening commitment into the faith.

        Children who have been raised in the faith usually celebrate it in the second grade. First Communion is a springtime ritual for thousands of young Tristate Catholics and their parents every year.

        Catholic children also mark their first reconciliation, the sacrament in which they confess their sins to a priest, in the second grade. The two events mean the year is one of the most formative in their lives as Christians, and they spend much of the year in preparation.

Joyful yet serious
        “It's a joyful time but it's also a serious time,” says Dave Donovan, director of religious education at St. Teresa of Avila, who worked with four teachers to prepare the 70 students for Sunday's first Communion. “It's the first time they're receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. It's very central to our belief as Catholic Christians, the real presence. It's not just a symbol in terms of the ceremony, but Jesus is really there.”

        As their second-graders posed for professional pictures after Mass, and their other children fidgeted, the St. Teresa parents reminisced in the church that many had attended their whole lives. Teresa Bluemel, whose daughter Leah made her first Communion Sunday, remembered during the ceremony that her first Communion partner 32 years ago had been Tim Floyd. Mr. Floyd was there with his son Sam, who was also making his first Communion.

        Alessandra Jansen, dressed in the white dress she wore in her uncle Frankie's wedding, its veil affixed to her upswept hair, felt the excitement of the day.

        “I liked eating the bread because it's the first time tasting it, and I was waiting to taste it for a long time,” she said during a post-Communion party with family at Delhi Lodge.

Busy grandmother
        Being a grandmother on Communion day can require commitment. Teresa Sabado raced from Alessandra's Communion at St. Teresa to Our Lady of Visitation Church in Mack, to see grandson Dominic Wolf's Communion. Then she joined the 150 people at Delhi Lodge — about 70 of them children — to further honorAlessandra, Dominic and their cousin, Meredith Metz.

        “I wish they would stay as clean-cut as they are today. This should be one of the best days of your life,” says Mrs. Sabado, a native of Italy who raised her family in Bridgetown. “I was telling my sister, it was only the other day their (the children's) mothers were making their first Communions.”

        After photos and compliments from party-goers, Alessandra was finally granted her wish: permission to change from the handmade embroidered white dress into something more comfortable. The party, with its four trays of lasagne and tables groaning with appetizers, continued as tapes of Italian music played in the background.


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