Some time back in December, Maggie was talking about the seven sacraments after she returned from her PSR class.
“I don’t know if I’ll get all seven,” Maggie said.
“Most people don’t,” I said.
“How come?” she asked.
“One of them is for becoming a priest and another is for getting married. Priests can’t be married so most people could only get six and if you don’t get married then only five.”
Maggie looked at Kim and asked, “how many do I have mom?”
“Three,” Kim said, “Baptism, reconciliation, and first communion.”
“Same as Elena,” I said.
Kim looked puzzled a moment and then nodded, “yep, she did.” She paused and added, “sort of.”
Maggie asked, “what do you mean?”
Kim answered, “she had baptism and last rites.”
“Last rites?” Maggie asked.
“What the priest gives you when you die,” Kim said.
“That’s only two,” Maggie said.
“Well, she also took her first communion,” I said.
Maggie frowned, “that shouldn’t count. She wasn’t supposed to.”
Elena had gone up with Maggie and Kim before Maggie had even taken her first communion. Kim couldn’t leave the girls seated while she went up for communion so she’d always taken them with her. Elena had clearly been thinking of trying this for weeks. When Kim put her hands out to receive the wafer, so did Elena. And the person assisting Father Gary had put one in her hand.
Elena held up the wafer and turned to show Maggie. Elena turned back to the altar and closed her eyes a moment and popped it in her mouth. Maggie burst into tears. It wasn’t fair. She was supposed to receive communion before Elena. She’d been going to class to learn what it really meant. There would be a party afterwards. She’d wear a white dress.
In fact, all that did happen months later when Maggie received her first communion. Elena jumped into some of the pictures with the rest of Maggie’s communion class. After all, in her mind she’d been there and done that.
Maggie’s cousin Julie had done the same thing. She’d just put her hands out for the wafer and received one long before she should have. Julie is Kim’s God Child. Kim said smiling, “oh that Julie is so bad.” I went out and bought her a congratulations card and put five dollars inside. Mary Kay, Julie’s mom, reminded me of that when Elena pulled the same stunt.
We can joke about Elena receiving her first communion, but she didn’t really. And it’s been really tough for Kim to watch the other kids in Elena’s class reach these milestones that Elena will never reach.
The church has been amazing about it and has included Elena in these rituals. I’ve asked Patti McGovern, Jack’s mom, to write down one of the stories she told us of the first sacrament that Elena missed participating in.
Jack received the sacrament of Reconciliation last week. For the non-Catholics, this is a child’s first confession with a priest. It precedes the sacrament of First Communion, and teaches children that everyone sins, that as long as you are truly sorry for your sins and that you promise to try harder to be a better person in the future, then through confession, your sins are absolved by God.
Elena should have been a part of this celebration. She was in this class of PSR students at Our Lady of Peace. She planned on wearing a fabulous dress for her Communion, and teased Jack that the two of them would pretend that the day would also be their wedding day. To a six-year old boy, there could be no better torment. She made him crazy.
As part of the ceremony, each child had a candle on the altar that they lit themselves after leaving the confessional. The act of striking the match and lighting the candle was very exciting for the children. To honor Elena’s life and to include her in the Reconciliation ceremony, the PSR teachers placed a candle with her name on it on the altar along side the other childrens’ candles.
At some point during the program, Mrs. Fletcher came to Jack and invited him to light Elena’s candle for her. He was very proud to do it. Plus, he was the only kid who got to strike the match twice. When all the children were done confessing their sins (most related to general unkindnesses imposed on younger siblings, occasional disobedience toward one or both parents, and maybe a swear word or two), Mrs. Fletcher approached Jack again, and asked him to bring Elena’s candle over to the statue of the Virgin Mary, with the memorial candles that parishioners light to honor lost loved ones. He did this again with great pride.
He gently placed Elena’s lit candle on the right hand side of the statue, kind of looked at it, thought for a moment, and then moved it to the left side. He returned to our pew and said, “I’m sure Elena’s would have preferred to be on the left”. Of this he was completely sure.
At the end of the program the children were invited to either take their candle home with them that evening, or to leave it burning in the church and collect it at another time. Immediately, Jack took his candle and placed it next to Elena’s. He came back to our pew and said, “I’m going to keep her company here. I think she’d like that.”
He was quiet for a moment and then jumped to his feet. “I just thought of 3 more sins! Where’s Father Gary? I need to talk to him. We better come back on Saturday and do this again.”