This short book provides a wonderful model for addressing the seemingly perennial questions that surround the completion of Christian initiation of children, which has its climax in the celebration of their First Communion (and never “First Eucharist” as the author rightly points out). The value of the book lies no so much in the practical suggestions that Eschenauer offers largely because of the context from which she writes – that is, the experience of the Church in the United States – though some of her suggestions are certainly worthy of consideration.
The value, rather, lies in the theological and liturgical basis for the celebration of First Communion that Eschenauer outlines in the early chapters of the book, a basis which then dictates in her eyes the way in which catechesis should be undertaken and the form of the celebration should unfold. At the heart of this theological excursus by Eschenauer is the appreciation of the Eucharist as both verb and noun, as something that is done over and over again, and which is, of its nature, initiatory rather than an object external to the gathered assembly.
This underpinning is entirely in keeping with the Church’s long understanding of the significance of the place of Eucharist, a place described by the Second Vatican Council as the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life. Understanding this centrality, Eschenauer argues, means that First Communion is no longer able to be seen as ‘an event’ but as the completion of one journey – that of Christian initiation – and the embarkation point for another journey – that of the Christian life – that will stretched into the future for many years to come.
Associated with this understanding of Eucharist is an associated understanding of the liturgical expression of that Eucharistic theology. Eschenauer argues, cogently I believe, that to fully appreciated the significance of First Communion requires a thorough liturgical catechesis, both of the liturgy (which we rightly call mystagogy) and for the liturgy, so those preparing for the celebration of the First Communion can be prepared for ultimately assuming their proper place as ministers within the liturgical assembly (which ministry in the first place is as members of the liturgical assembly).
Eschenauer’s book is well researched and draws not only on the writings of other theologians of note but also on the official magisterial documents of the church and the official liturgical rites as well. Combined with her long experience in pastoral ministry, particularly in the preparation of children for First Communion, this book provides a source of thought-provoking reflection for anyone who might be involved in the journey of completion of Christian initiation with children or who, like myself, wish to review and revise their practice of the journey to ensure it is a fruitful expression of the life of the church.
Very highly recommended.