First Communicants process forward at the start of Mass at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula on May 11. (COURTESY PHOTOS)

The Eucharist

Wauchula  |  During the month of May, more than 3,000 young boys and girls throughout the Diocese of Venice take part in the Sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time.

At St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, the first Communion group was so large that two Masses were needed May 12, to accommodate the 102 children who received Jesus for the first time.

The girls in white dresses and boys in suits or white shirts with ties solemnly came forward as they reached this important milestone in their spiritual journey of faith.

During an early May Apostolic Journey to Bulgaria, Pope Francis gave first Communion to 245 boys and girls, telling them the Lord wants them to share the joy of the Eucharist with others.

“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 Holy Father said. “The Lord needs you because he wants to work the miracle of bringing his joy to many of your friends and family members.”

Pope Francis said he was happy to spend this moment of celebration, friendship, joy, and fraternity with them, noting that it is a day of communion with themselves and with the whole Church, which is “especially in the Eucharist… This is our identity card: God is our father, Jesus is our brother, the Church is our family. All of us are brothers and sisters, and our law is love.”

The Holy Father also told the boys and girls he is sure they will always remember this day: their first encounter with Jesus in the sacrament of the Eucharist. While this is their “first Communion,” it is not their last, they need to remember that Jesus is always present and waiting for them in the sacrament.

“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,” Pope Francis said.

The Sacrament of the Eucharist has been a topic often addressed throughout his papacy. During a 2014 catechesis the Holy Father said it “must always be clear that the Eucharist is not something that we do; it is not our commemoration of what Jesus said and did. No. It is an act of Christ. It is a gift from Christ, who is made present and gathers us around him, to nourish us with his word and his life. This means that the mission and the very identity of the Church spring from this, from the Eucharist … Through the Eucharist, Christ wishes to enter into our existence and permeate it with his grace, so that in every Christian community there is coherence between liturgy and life.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that the Mass is a sacrifice in the sense that when it takes place, Jesus Christ, through the celebrating Bishop or priest, makes present sacramentally his saving sacrificial death on the Cross by which he redeemed us from our sins. The Eucharistic sacrifice is the memorial of Christ’s redeeming death.

Through participation in the Eucharist, we also participate in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, that is, in his dying and rising, which is made present for us in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the Catechism states. This participation in the Paschal Mystery of Christ reaches its consummation when one receives his Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Christ’s victory and triumph over death is then made present in the lives of those who participate in the Eucharist.

As with the first communicants at St. Michael Parish in Wauchula, or those in Bulgaria and around the world, Pope Francis said the sacrament should inspire forgiveness and an encounter not only with Christ but with others.

“In the Eucharist, Christ renews the gift of himself that he made on the Cross. His entire life is an act of the fullest sharing of himself for love. This is why he loved to stay with the disciples and with those he met. For him, this meant sharing their yearnings, their problems, that which stirred their soul and their life. Now, when we participate in the holy Mass, we find ourselves with many people.”