St. Patrick’s Church is a small architectural jewel nestled in the heart of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Because it is celebrating its sesquicentennial this year St. Pat’s First Holy Communion ceremony this weekend was particularly special. Thirty well-groomed and well-rehearsed young boys and girls processed down the aisle with a solemnity that barely concealed their restless expectation. The standing room only congregation consisted of parents, grandparents, godparents and friends all of whom listened with pride as Fr. Rogers, the popular young pastor, reminded the young communicants – indeed all of us – of the great gift they were about to receive.
My wife and I were present. Two of our grandchildren, Cecilia and her cousin Max, were there to receive the Eucharist for the first time. As I watched them return from the altar three thoughts occurred to me.
One was the etymology of the word ‘tradition’ which my mother taught me when I was around the age of these children. It derives from the Latin ‘tradere’ (trans: across; and dare: to give) meaning to hand over. Tradition is active and not passive. It requires effort. Seeing these first communicants receive the sacred host elicited prayers of gratitude from me for their parents who have “handed over” to them knowledge, albeit elementary, of this ‘source and summit’ of our shared faith.
The second was a startling realization, one which in a strange way relates to tradition. My wife and I are not parishioners at St. Patrick’s. Indeed, we belong to a different diocese altogether. What happenstance then, I contemplated, brought me back to this tiny church after so many years? I pondered this as I readjusted my body in the well-worn pew.
St. Patrick’s Church was erected in the latter half of the 19th century. I was baptized there as an infant in the first half of the 20th century and now these two grandkids have received their First Communion in the same church in the first quarter of the 21st century. I wondered if the same happenstance would bring Max and Cecilia back to St. Pat’s in the early 22nd century to witness this beautiful initiation rite for their own grandchildren.
It also struck me as I watched the joyous expressions of all gathered there that – just as with this sacred building and this sacred sacrament – the timeless vibrancy of Beauty quietly advances the Kingdom.
I pray that these two young, now veteran, communicants will, like their parents, be active participants.