As our daughter prepared to celebrate her First Communion, I was somewhat conflicted about how we would celebrate. What came to mind first was all the stories I heard as a grade-schooler from my Catholic friends about their big Communion parties. And yes, I admit that I also thought how cool little Anthony Corleone’s First Communion party was in The Godfather II. Maybe not the whole party, what with the attempted bribery and all the killing and whatnot, but the part with all the happy relatives and the music and dancing and food. And you know, Tahoe wasn’t such a bad setting, either, but I digress.
Ok, two problems with this: first of all, we don’t really have family around save for an uncle, aunt and cousins. So it’s not like we were going to have that Corleone level of family attendance. Secondly, we’re kind of WASP-y. I could write a whole different post on how demographically weird I sometimes feel as a Catholic. It’s just not in my blood; at least, it hasn’t been in my blood for a looooooooooong time.
And therein, I discovered, lies the problem. Somewhere along the way, huge sections of my family tree were forever altered by the Reformation. Interestingly, I was recently able to see that shift of one branch of my family on my maternal grandfather’s side as I helped my son do a genealogy research project. We’ve always prided ourselves on our Dutch heritage, but I never knew that although that line does go way back in The Netherlands, it actually originated in England (well, who knows where they came from before that but they were certainly in England when it was still Catholic.) Any student of theological history can tell you this is consistent with the persecution that the more radical reformers underwent there, and they eventually ended up in Holland, with my family later migrating to America to start the Dutch Reformed church in new areas.
So what, you say? Well, looking at any branch of my family tree, it’s hard not to see all the little fissures. Before we had done all that research, I had never really considered what it was like for my ancestors before the 16th century. However it played out, it must have been a huge shift for huge swaths of my family. From the Anabaptists and Mennonites to the Dutch Reformed, I found it interesting that most of the branches of my family tree were quite radical, and none of them remained Catholic. Kind of makes it hard to throw a First Communion party this far down the line.
Frankly, I’m not even sure throwing a party is a stellar idea. I was conflicted with that idea as well. (By now, you may have discovered that I walk around feeling conflicted a lot.) What I thought about though, was the fact that Emma’s First Communion was really exciting and was a huge deal because she was meeting our Lord in the Eucharist. I really didn’t want to see that muddled with a lot of hoopla and presents that have little to do with the actual event. I’m always up for a good party, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t want the meaning of this special day to be lost in a swirl of materialism, either.
But still, parties are about celebrating, and this is certainly an occasion to celebrate, right? And Catholics certainly like to celebrate, considering the liturgical calendar.
Ultimately, Jason and I made peace with the fact that Emma’s day would be really special no matter what. The Communion Mass was amazing, and it was made even better by the fact that her older brother was an altar server and her older sister sang in the choir. A very special day for her, indeed. And so we opted not to attempt the big rockin’ party and instead asked Emma what she’d like to do to celebrate. We ended up going to her favorite Mexican restaurant, or as she refers to it– “the place where I always spill my drink” (and she usually does, although this time she did not.) Afterwards, she got to go to Baskin Robbins and have a huge ice cream cone. It was a heartbreakingly simple choice in her parents’ eyes. She has no clue what that day could have looked like, but she was very pleased and I know it’s a day she will never forget.
As far as the family tree goes, I feel like we’re pioneers setting out to heal some of the many breaks that took place after that infernal free-for-all known as the Reformation took place. There is no way, in our lifetime, to see what effect our actions will have had, but I’m hoping somewhere down the line, maybe our great-great grandchildren will have a big ol’ First Communion celebration and it will seem like that’s what the family has always done.