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With the start of fall classes, excitement begins to grow for first Communion, confirmation

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Martha Yanovich's excitement about first Communion has been growing since she watched her cousins receive the sacrament the past two springs.

Yanovich, a second-grader at St. Columbkille School in Papillion, said she paid close attention as her cousins folded their hands in prayer while walking up the aisle, replied "Amen" after receiving the Eucharist and bowed before returning to their seats.

Since then, Yanovich said she's learned that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, and she's looking forward to fully participating in Mass with classmates and family when she receives first Communion next spring.

"I'll finally get to receive Jesus with everyone else," she said.

Each fall, as part of their faith-formation instruction, many second-graders in parish religious education (PRE) and Catholic schools prepare to make their first reconciliation and receive first Communion, and eighth-graders take the final steps of a two-year journey toward the sacrament of confirmation, one of three sacraments of initiation, along with baptism and the Eucharist.

Although preparations vary for each sacrament, a common theme is the importance of parental involvement, said Cathi Snyder, coordinator of elementary catechesis and catechist certification for the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis.

Catechesis in Catholic schools and PRE programs is designed to compliment what is happening in the home, she said, and without parents living the faith, it is difficult for young people to build a meaningful relationship with Christ.

For Kevin and Staci Koenig, nurturing that relationship in Christ for their five children includes attending Mass, praying and reading Bible stories together and teaching them to give thanks to God for the everyday beauty in the world.

Members of Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Butte, which is part of Sacred Heart Parish and includes Assumption BVM in Lynch and St. Mary Church in Spencer, the Koenigs are helping their third child, Brett, 7, prepare for first Communion this school year, after making his first reconciliation last spring.

Both sacraments are important, Brett Koenig said, first Communion because receiving the Eucharist means living forever with Jesus, and reconciliation because it properly prepares people to receive Christ.

"We have to ask God to forgive our sins so we can take Communion," he said.

For first Communion preparation, parish and school curriculum follow canon law and are approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Snyder said.

At Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Butte, first Communion students meet weekly in their PRE classes, said Charlotte Mitchell, youth minister for Sacred Heart and director of religious education for Ss. Peter and Paul. Students also host a parish soup/supper dinner to raise funds for the PRE program, distribute baskets to parish shut-ins and spend time with residents of a local nursing home, she said.

Mitchell said some of the shut-ins and nursing home residents are prayer partners for the students preparing to receive a sacrament.

"It helps the youth understand that even though you don't see them in church, they are still an important part of our parish," she said.

Preparation for confirmation includes choosing an adult, Catholic sponsor with whom a candidate can talk about the faith, and a name, including the name of a saint, a virtue or a candidate's baptismal name, Snyder said.

Revisions approved early this year by Archbishop George J. Lucas clarify requirements for confirmation, in which a baptized person is sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and strengthened for service to the church, and emphasize the spirit of those two years of preparation, which also includes service, a retreat and religious education, Snyder said.

The sacrament is an important milestone because teens are old enough to understand and make a commitment to the faith, said Rachel Williss, an eighth-grader preparing to be confirmed next May at St. Columbkille.

Class work focusing on the meaning of the sacraments, community service projects such as volunteering at a local library and sharing her musical talent by singing at Mass have strengthened her commitment, Williss said.

"The more you learn about your faith, the more you can see how God is present in your life," she said.

While being confirmed is often seen as a transition toward adulthood, it's also important to remember it is not a graduation, but rather another step toward a deeper relationship with Christ and the church that continues throughout life for the candidates, parents, teachers, catechists and others involved, Snyder said.

And it should be a joyous journey, she said.

For Mitchell, that joy is found in students who continue to volunteer long after fulfilling their confirmation service requirements, in the grins on children's faces as they walk up to receive the Eucharist at Mass in the weeks following first Communion, and, in one case, watching a young girl who so enjoyed her first reconciliation that she skipped back to the pew to complete her penance.

"That's a joy we all should feel," Mitchell said.

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