Last Sunday we celebrated the Mass of Enrolment, and began the Sacramental Preparations for children preparing for First Holy Communion. On that same day my grandnephew, the grandson of the doyen of Scottish Sports journalists, was making his First Holy Communion at St. Andrew’s in Bearsden. Needless to say, some memories were sparked of in my mind. The first was of my own First Holy Communion. I remember that day very clearly, which was, unbelievably, 65 years ago. I was a pupil at St. Peter’s Primary School in Partick at the time, and my First Holy Communion took place in St. Simon's in Partick, the parish in which I was born and grew up. I remember the black blazer and grey trousers I was wearing, white shirt, blue tie, ribbon in my lapel, and a blue sash across my chest, which was fit to burst with excitement and pride. I remember my hands joined in prayer and going up to receive for the first time from our kindly curate, Father Edward Kelly, who is still alive. After the Mass the children all went together to St. Simon’s Parish Hall, where we were served a communion breakfast of sausage and egg, and even though the sausage and egg were cold, it was still a very happy day. Afterwards I became an altar server in St. Simon’s and remained an altar server for the next six years, before the family moved away from Partick, out to Drumchapel, and to the parish of St. Laurence. Around that time, I began to commute each day from to St. Mungo’s Secondary School from Drumchapel, a long, two-bus journey, and I never did take up an altar server’s role in St. Laurence’s. Later in life, though, I became a priest, and here I am – but my faith journey goes on, as I hope and pray it does for these children this week.
The other memories sparked off were of my grandnephew. Firstly, celebrating the wedding of his parents, which also took place in St. Simon’s back in 2008. I was based in Mount Argus in Dublin at the time, and I sacrificed going to the World Youth Day in Australia with our parish youth group, so as to come home and celebrate the marriage. It had a rather panicky beginning as the parish priest, who had gone off on holiday and left us in the capable hands of his deacon, had managed to double book the church. This meant that when I arrived to get things ready, I encountered a group of Polish Catholics getting ready to celebrate Mass. While the Polish priest sympathised with the situation, there was no compromise to be made, and so, as Polish Masses tend not to be short affairs, our wedding party had to take shelter in local cafes and pubs to pass the time, while the bride, my lovely niece, had to make a tour of Glasgow in the wedding car so as not to arrive too early. After that, all went well, and we were able to thoroughly enjoy a lovely reception in the Oran Mor at the top of Byres Road.
If ever there was a woman who longed to be a mother it was my niece, and so the final memory was of the Baptism of my grandnephew. There had been years of heartache as she and her husband tried to have a child, and so, when her son was born, it was one of the most joyful days in family memory. I was still based in Dublin, but there was no way I would not come back home to celebrate my grandnephew’s Baptism, which was also celebrated in St. Simon’s. Since then, he has a wee brother, and it won’t be long until he makes his First Holy Communion as well. I suppose the final memory is a sad one. You can see clearly how, as a family, we tried to maintain a connection with St. Simon’s Church, the cradle of our faith, and so, to think of that church being burned to the ground, never to rise again, brings great heartache to all of us, but the memories will never fade. And so, my thoughts and prayers are will all the children, from any and every parish, who are making First Holy Communion at this time. It’s a very special moment. Receive the Lord as often and as fervently as you can.
So, as always, protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, and protect Christ in your lives.