The natural consequence of the fear of God taught her by her mother was a humble, trusting, constant communing with God in prayer. No one knew better than Maria herself how much she needed God's grace and her heart longed for closer union with Him. She asked her mother repeatedly, when she could receive Jesus in Holy Communion. This caused her mother much grief, since the Church laws at the time did not ordinarily permit children Maria's age to receive Communion. These laws however could be waived if the local pastor felt a child was exceptional and had reached what was called "the age of discretion." Assunta didn't know why, but she felt a strong urge to due her utmost to prepare Maria for her First Communion. (Another ten years would elapse before Pope Saint Pius X would issue the encyclical Quam singulari; allowing children to their First Holy Communion at the age of reason.) Assunta's first concern was that Maria was not sufficiently versed in her catechism. Her daughter overcame that objection by suggesting that a certain Elvira Schiassi in the town of Cibca had offered to teach catechism privately to children who were unable to read. But, her mother countered, when could she be spared? Maria promised her mother she would have all the work done by evening so that when Assunta came home Maria could leave. Her mother finally agreed and for the next 11 months Maria walked 3 kilometers to Conca and 3 kilometers back every evening. On Sundays a Father Alfredo Paliano taught the children after Mass.
Because Assunta felt she she had not done enough for her daughter's preparation, she finally confided her concern to the Arch priest of Nettuno, who examined Maria himself. He was entirely satisfied with her answers and assured Assunta, "Be at ease, good mother. Your daughter is very well prepared. Put away all your vain fears and confide her to Mary Immaculate. Place her under the Virgin's protecting mantle and have no fear." Again it seemed that Our Lady had a motherly hand in the careful nurturing of this special flower. Maria's preparation was completed by making a retreat given for the First Communicant by a Passionist Priest. The priest spoke much about Out Lord's suffering's and Maria was much impressed. She recounted the priest's words to her mother: "When we commit sin we renew that passion." The tone of voice on which she spoke made it clear that she had firmly resolved to avoid sin at any cost.
The Sunday within that Octave of Corpus Christi was Maria's happiest of days. Her mother's second objection to Maria's First Communion- not having the means to dress her as would befit the occasion - had vanished as the neighbors vied with one another in adorning this child beloved by all. One gave a veil, another shoes, another a candle and wreath of flowers. Her mother said, "I saw her dress and gave her the little earrings I am now wearing." The dress was wine-colored with little white dots - symbolic perhaps of the blood she would spill for preservation of her purity.
After having asked pardon of Almighty God in the Sacrament of Penance, Maria formally asked pardon of all at home, including Alessandro Serenelli and his father who were the cause of so much grief to the Goretti family. Maria's older brother Angelo, 14 was also one of the class of two boys and thirteen girls who received their First Communion in the Church of the Annunciation, June 16, 1902. The sermon given to these boys and girls, ranging in age from 11 to 14, was on the virtue of purity. The priest recommended to them the practice of offering 3 Hail Mary's every evening in honor of Mary Immaculate and exhorted them to die rather than commit a mortal sin.
After receiving Our Lord, Maria distinguished herself by her piety and recollection. At her mother's suggestions, she offered up her First Holy Communion for her father. When she returned home, her face shone with joy at having made her First Communion, and the thought of receiving again soon.
On the way home from church, Maria said to her mother, "Mama, I will die rather than commit a mortal sin." Within a month, she would show these words were more than an emotional out burst of pious fervor.<< Previous chapter | Next chapter >>