At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the Eucharist, or the "sacrifice of his body and blood," to "perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Eucharist is one of seven sacraments, or outward signs, that many Catholics believe was instituted by God to give grace. Typically, Catholic children are invited to receive Holy Communion at around the age of 7, but younger children will have questions about the Eucharist from attending Mass. Do your best to explain the Eucharist in simple terms that your child will understand.
Read the four accounts of the Last Supper found in Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39 and John 13:1-17:26. Use a children's picture Bible with illustrations to help your child understand the narrative.
Discuss the importance of food in your family life. Explain that you gather for meals not only to eat, but to share your day and enjoy the company of others. Similarly, the church gathers as a family at Mass to receive spiritual nourishment -- the body and blood of Christ -- spiritual renewal and the strength to live out a Christian life in the coming week.
Answer your child's questions about the Eucharist. Many Catholics believe that Christ is truly present -- body, blood, soul and divinity -- in the Eucharist. Your child will almost certainly wonder how Christ can be present and unseen. Pope Benedict XVI explained the mystery of the Eucharist to children by making several analogies. You can't see an electric current, but you can see light. You cannot see the human soul, but you can see the soul in action through words and actions.
Talk about friendship. Most young children value friendships highly, so they will understand when you explain that Christ is present in the Eucharist in order to stay close to his friends.
Give examples of sacrifice. For instance, your child sacrifices a toy she loves in order to make a friend happy while playing. Explain that, at Calvary, Christ sacrificed his life out of love for us. Through the Eucharist, we unite ourselves with his gift and receive grace.
Talk about the effects of the Eucharist. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that just as food gives strength to the body, the Eucharist gives strength to the soul. Through the reception of Holy Communion, the Christian receives the grace to resist temptation and the strength to act with love. Additionally, the Eucharist unites the whole Christian family with Christ.
Sit in the front pew at church so your child can see what is happening at Mass. Whisper explanations about the priest's actions in her ear. If your child is too young to receive the Eucharist, she can approach the priest with her arms crossed over her chest for a blessing. The crossed arms are a sign to the priest that your child is too young to be a communicant. With your priest's permission, take a tour of the sanctuary and sacristy after Mass. Show your child the altar, tabernacle, vestments and vessels used for Mass.