Explaining the crucifix to a child; receiving Communion

| Father Kenneth Doyle | May 22, 2014 | 0 Comments

Q. Recently, I took my 4-year-old grandson to Mass. I noticed that while looking at the crucifix, he was visibly shaken and upset. How does one explain Jesus on the cross to a 4-year-old?

A. Recognizing that I know precious little about child pedagogy, I will nevertheless venture an answer. First, there is no way to prevent children from seeing a crucifix and asking their elders about it.

Many years ago, our seminary class was studying sign language so we could transmit the Scriptures to the hearing-impaired. I recall very little from that time, but what I do remember is that the sign for “Jesus” was to point to the center of both palms. So ingrained in our consciousness is the suffering of Christ that his nail prints identify him.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal stipulates, in No. 308, that on the altar of every church, or near it, there should be a cross with the figure of Christ crucified, clearly visible to the congregation.

I do take your concern as a helpful caution against display or descriptions that are overly graphic. In explaining the passion of Christ to your grandson, there is no need to highlight the nails, the scourging, the crown of thorns.

I think that I would say something like this: Many years ago, they used to punish people who had done something very wrong by hanging them on a cross. Jesus didn’t do anything wrong at all. In fact, he was the nicest and the kindest man there ever was.

But other people have done many wrong things, and Jesus still loves them. So he told his father that he wanted to offer his own life to make up for those other people, so that they could one day be with him in heaven. Jesus suffered a lot on Good Friday, and he died because he loved all of us so much. But the nice thing is that three days later, his father brought him back to life again. He saw his friends and his mother some more after that, and now he is very happy and lives in heaven.

Q. Is there a best way to receive Jesus, or does it matter?

A. The guidelines for the reception of holy Communion are expressed most clearly in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

It says that the host may be received either on the tongue or the hand, and the choice belongs entirely to the communicant. If Communion is taken in the hand, it is done in the following way: If the person is right-handed, let’s say, he or she should open the left hand fully and place it over the right hand, creating, as the theologian Tertullian said, a “throne for the Lord.”

The priest places the host in the left palm and then, using the fingers of the right hand, the communicant puts the host into his or her mouth. (Never should a communicant reach out to the priest and grab the host.)

The U.S. bishops have determined that Communion is to be received while standing, following a simple bow of the head.

However, the general instruction clearly states that an individual communicant may opt instead to receive while kneeling. There is no need to genuflect before receiving or to make the sign of the cross before or after.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Category: Ask Father Mike