Explaining the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist to children can be difficult, but Kate Kelleher Junk offers some easy ways to help with that process. (Photo by Kate Kelleher Junk)

As Catholics, we believe that Our Lord Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. That’s a big mystery to wrap your head around.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1374) says, “The mode of Christ’s presence under the Eucharistic species is unique. It raises the Eucharist above all the sacraments as ‘the perfection of the spiritual life and the end to which all the sacraments tend.’ In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist ‘the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.’ ‘This presence is called ‘real’ — by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be ‘real,’ too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present.’”

How do you even begin to explain to children the mystery of our Lord truly present in the holy Eucharist when so many adults do not believe?

My pastor, Fr. Mark Payne, reminded me, “to have a childlike faith means that your view of the world is expansive and unhampered by restricted boundaries allowing one’s imagination to soar rather than being inhibited.” It may be easier to share this essential truth with my children simply because they are young. Miracles and mysteries are things they see daily, and when someone they trust consistently tells them something and lives as though that thing is the truth, they believe it.

That said, no one significant lesson has driven this home for them because that’s not the way I catechize. I try to impart the faith consistently by finding teachable moments.

Here are a few small moments that help me reinforce our Lord’s true presence with my children.

Every day

  • Whenever we pass a Catholic Church, you’ll hear someone in my van shout, “We love you Jesus!” Then everyone inside the car is cued to cross themselves and tell Jesus they love Him. As my children got older, my son asked why we do this at some churches and not others — this was an opportunity for catechesis. We have protestant members of our family, and we explain that they love Jesus just as much as we do and that Jesus loves them just as much as he loves us. The difference, however, is that they do not believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, so there isn’t a tabernacle at those churches.
  • Spiritual Communion: I would never have expected to pivot to live-streamed Masses for months because of a global pandemic. I’m certainly not glad that it happened, but the home Mass experience gave us two gifts: an understanding of why it’s not the same to watch from home and the practice of making a Spiritual Communion. Of course, Jesus is always with us, but he is with us corporeally when we come to Mass.
  • Genuflection: Even when we aren’t at Mass, if we are walking past the tabernacle, we kneel. Running through the church to use the bathroom after baseball? Drop a knee. Are you cutting through from one parking lot to the other? Genuflect. My children often need gentle reminders, but we commit to giving them — reverence matters.
  • Even if it’s only a few minutes. There have been times we spent more time getting loaded into the car than actually at adoration. This is not a failure. Any moment spent with Jesus is good, and I am sure he appreciates that we were willing to make an attempt.
  • Pointing to the Red Candle. When my children act unruly in the narthex after Mass (read: every Sunday), I pull them aside and point to the candle. What does that mean? “Jesus is right there.” Right. Act like this on the playground. Not in front of Jesus.

Before Mass

  • Explaining the state of grace and sharing when I go to confession. An easy way to explain this to kids is to say, “I’ve got some things on my conscience I want to take care of before I receive Jesus. He deserves a clean place to rest.”
  • When we talk to our kids about our Mass obligation, we talk about how lucky we are to attend Mass. We get to witness a literal miracle every single time.
  • Stopping to announce the Eucharistic Fast — especially on those school Mass days, I will set the alarm and shout, “OK, anyone who’s planning on receiving Communion, we begin our fast now.” My kids know it must be serious if mom is actually putting down her coffee.
  • Though our interior disposition is essential, we make ourselves physically ready, too. On most weekdays, if my kids are in uniform, I don’t nitpick. When there is Mass, however, I am adamant that there will be no holes, stains, or wrinkles. Shirts tucked in. Faces and hands washed.
  • I owe my high school teachers an apology — they were right. We focus better when we dress the part.

At Mass

  • After Communion is distributed, Father takes great care to purify the vessels. This act is not simply a chore or a time filler. It is a literal work of devotion. We explain that Father ensures that every part of Jesus is cared for. Each piece of the Host that remains, each drop of the Precious Blood is Our Lord, broken for us.
  • Right before the consecration, I’ll lean over to whichever child is nearest to me, point to the altar, and say, “here comes the miracle.”
  • When our parish reinstituted the Sanctus bells, it helped so much. When we hear the bells, we make a profound bow, and I will whisper, “My Lord and my God.”
  • Whenever we reach the beginning of the Communion line, I make my children pause and tell them to “bow to Jesus.”
  • If you’re ever behind my slow-moving circus at Mass, please know that I appreciate your patience. Saint making ain’t easy.
  • As my children’s attention spans grow, I plan to have longer discussions, but the bite-size catechism is working for now. Come Holy Spirit.