After first confession (reconciliation), the next sacrament in the Catholic journey is first Communion. This takes faith to a whole new level. Accepting that a ritualistic confession will earn you forgiveness is one thing. But communion borders on symbolic cannibalism.
We were taught that the bread and wine of communion were miraculously transformed into the body and blood of Jesus. When I asked my parents about this. I was told that there had once been a woman who saved the communion wafer in her mouth. After mass she spit it out only to see it transform into blood! I secretly wanted to try this but never did....
First communion happens around Easter, I recall being all dressed up and once again waiting in line for my turn to receive the sacrament. Though this time it was less nerve racking. The Priest presented me with the host “Body of Christ” he said, “Amen” I replied and received a piece of Jesus that was thin and cracked when I bit into it. I then received the “Blood of Christ” which is a semi-dry red. I will always remember the feeling of relief from my sin after my first confession and the giddy warmth of receiving Jesus during my first communion. After mass, my parents threw a party, I received a crucifix and over $100.00 in cash from loving grandparents, aunts and uncles. That seemed like a fortune to a kid in the late 80's!
Not too long after this, I became an alter boy. From what I recall, there was zero training involved. It is more of a trial by fire. My first mission was to serve at a 7:30 am mass on a weekday morning. I was so nervous that I kept using the bathroom, finally when I made it to church I was late. I put on my robe incorrectly and ran out into onto the alter only to be correct by the senior alter boy and sent back to change. But I made it through, and continued as an altar boy until my senior year in high school. Eventually the pre-mass anxiety subsided and I got to be pretty good at it. Many times, after watching me help the priest, my grandmother would try to convince me that I should go into the priesthood. I actually did consider it and even sent off for more information. A word of warning, If you express the slightest interest in being a priest, the church will hound you with pamphlets and phone calls. They are are worse than than the Red Cross after the know you have given blood!
From my first communion until confirmation, my religious life was more or less the same. Weekly religious instruction and mass every Sunday morning. Sometimes at 8 AM (ugh) and if I was lucky we'd go at 10. And I would do my duty as an alter boy at least once a month, first on weekday masses and as I got older I got to do the longer Saturday evening/Sunday morning masses. The one benefit of being an alter boy is that you are occasionally assigned to serve at the Saturday evening mass, this gets you out of having to go on Sunday morning! As I got older, religious instruction changed , among other things I remember being told about the importance of abstinence and being shown images of aborted babies. It must have worked pretty well, I didn't date until my mid 20's and even then I felt guilty.
When I was about 15 years old, preparations began for confirmation. When you meet the bishop and receive the Holy Spirit. Upon completion of this ritual, I would be an adult member of the congregation.