“Come & Take Possession of My Heart” | The First Holy Communion of St. Josemaria Escriva
St. Josemaria Escriva made his First Communion on April 23, 1912, exactly ten years after his Confirmation. It was the feast of St. George, patron saint of Aragon and Catalonia (Spain), and the traditional day for the First Communion celebrations in the church of the Piarists’ school.
St. Josemaria was 10 years old. In Spain, as in many other countries, children had not, as a rule, been making their First Communion before the age of twelve or thirteen. By a decree issued in 1910 by Pope Saint Pius X, the age requirement was lowered to when the use of reason is acquired, “which is at about the age of seven.” The timing of this ruling coincided with preparations for the International Eucharistic Congress to be celebrated in Madrid in June 1911. An intense catechetical effort was launched in all the parishes of Spain, so that the greatest possible number of children could receive Holy Communion.
St. Josemaria’s parents, Jose and Dolores, taught the Catechism to him. He was also prepared by a Piarist priest named Fr. Manuel Laborda de la Virgin del Carmen, or “Padre Manole,” as he was affectionately called by his students. Some time before the long-awaited day arrived, Fr. Manuel taught him a prayer to use to keep his hunger for the Eucharist ever alive: “I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you; with the spirit and fervor of the saints.” It was a prayer that St. Josemaria remembered all his life and recited often, and later taught to thousands of people.
When the day arrived, St. Josemaria’s mother called in a hairdresser to give him a nice, elegant look; but while gathering up some hair to make a curl, he burned the boy’s scalp with the hot curling iron. He recalled suffering it in silence, offering the pain up to Jesus, to avoid the hairdresser being taken to task or anyone getting upset. His mother did eventually find out about it, but only much later, when she discovered the scar left by the burn. It was a small sacrifice to prepare for that important day. Thereafter, he would find that on his special days, Our Lord would announce his presence with a touch of pain or a twinge that felt sweet, “like a caress.”
Years later, St. Josemaria said that when he received Holy Communion for the first time he prayed for his parents and sisters, and he asked Jesus for the gift of never losing him.
St. Josemaria would always observe with unabashed fervor the anniversary of that wonderful day on which, as he would say, “Our Lord chose to come and take possession of my heart.”
Excerpts adapted from The Founder of Opus Dei. The Life of Josemaría Escrivá. Volume I, by Andrés Vazquez de Prada. New York: Scepter Publishers.