“I’d like to order a cake with the words ‘God Bless You on Your First Holy Communion’ written on it, please.”

“Oh! Congratulations! What parish?”

Receiving the Eucharist is the closest a living Catholic can physically get to God.

This was the exchange I had two weeks ago at the local supermarket bakery when placing an order for a quarter sheet cake for my youngest son’s First Holy Communion celebration. I don’t know if the baker was Catholic — but everyone seems to know this is an important event in the lives of their Catholic friends with young children. Not everyone knows why, however.

Catholics believe Jesus meant what He told his disciples at the Last Supper: “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.'” (John 6:53-57)

The Catholic Church teaches that through transubstantiation, the bread and wine on the altar during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass become the body and blood of Jesus Christ upon consecration by the priest. Once consecrated, the bread is now known as the Eucharist or the Most Blessed Sacrament and the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. Each crumb of the Eucharist and each drop of the most precious blood after consecration contain the full soul and divinity of Jesus. Receiving the Eucharist is the closest a living Catholic can physically get to God.

This is why First Holy Communion — and every Holy Communion thereafter — is profoundly sacred. By receiving the Eucharist, we are united with Christ and with all faithful Catholics as His disciples. We are connected as the Mystical Body of Christ, here to do His will on earth.

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Amelia Haynes of Dallas, Texas, an adult convert (like me), received the Blessed Sacrament for the first time last month and told LifeZette, “It took years of seeing the theology behind the Eucharist before finally accepting that it could be anything less than the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When I finally received at the Easter Vigil this year, I returned to my seat, and for the first time in my life, I cried tears of joy. All I could say was ‘Thank you, Jesus,’ over and over.”

Most children raised in the Catholic faith receive their First Holy Communion in second or third grade, and then only after receiving the Sacrament of Penance (also known as Confession and Reconciliation) — a person must be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist.

Erika Drain’s fourth child receives his First Holy Communion this week. Drain also teaches the catechism to children in the Traditional Latin Mass community at her parish in Scranton, Pennsylvania. What is most important for first communicants to understand, she said, is this: “The Eucharist is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that we must always approach Him with a pure soul to receive Him reverently.”

It was so beautiful and moving to be at Mass with extended family when my youngest son received our Lord for the first time.

She continued, “It is an honor to help parents in the preparation to receive these two most beautiful Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. This is the second time one of my own children is part of our class.”

First Holy Communion is a family affair. The youngest child of my friend Brooke Haas received the Eucharist for the first time earlier this month. She said, “First Holy Communion was extra special for our family this year, as the youngest of our five children received the Blessed Sacrament for her first time. She felt as though she had been waiting forever to join the rest of us! We had a festive family and godparent gathering at our house, with the cake of her choice to celebrate, and she grinned from ear to ear all day long.”

Her sentiments were echoed by Maribeth O’Hara of Hershey, Pennsylvania. Her daughter received Communion for the first time this month. O’Hara said, “The whole family was so excited for her. We continued the celebration back at home with all of the extended family who had traveled from near and far to share in this special occasion. What a beautiful and meaning family experience.”

I agree. It was so beautiful and moving to be at Mass with extended family when my youngest son received our Lord for the first time. His second Communion was even more meaningful for me because we kneel at the altar rail to receive the Eucharist at our parish and we were side by side, shoulder to shoulder, as we received Him together — as a family.

As part of the worldwide Christian family and Christ’s church here on earth, there is nothing more beautiful to me than being a part of that.

Jewels Green is a mother, writer, public speaker and advocate for the right to life from conception to natural death. She lives in a suburb of Philadelphia.