ANTIGO — The cup runneth over for students in sacramental preparation classes in Antigo.
In early March, students and their parents from St. John and Ss. Mary and Hyacinth parishes in Antigo, and St. Wencel Parish in Neva created “Blessing Cups” in preparation for their first Communion. It is a longstanding — and extremely popular — program among the students and their parents.
“Usually one of the first questions our sacramental preparation students ask when they begin their classes is, ‘When do we make the cups?’” faith formation coordinator Sue Brettingen said. “The cups are unique, just like each child.”
Monthly preparation classes begin in January. Community ceramic classes create the simple, yet elegant cups, which are glazed so they can actually be used for meals. They are not used at Mass.
With help from parents, other family members and volunteer Barb Smith, students decorate their own cups, incorporating various eucharistic symbols, often with very special meanings. The finished product also contains the communicant’s name and date of first Communion.
“We keep the cups to be put in front of the altar on First Communion Day,” Brettingen said. “It’s a time for togetherness. Our Sunday Mass is like a Sunday meal.”
Afterwards, the students take their cups home to be used in family meal prayers as well as in personal prayer.
“One family places the cup on the table to celebrate the child’s birthday,” Brettingen said. “All family members place slips of paper in it stating what they love about that child. They read these as they offer special prayers for that person.”
Similar ideas for using the Blessing Cups include events for marking the new school year, first reconciliation, a new home or in case of illness. The ideas are listed in a small packet of prayers Brettingen presents to each family.
“Meals are a natural time for family sharing,” Brettingen said. “The Blessing Cups help bring God into everyday life. In passing the cup, our common hopes are shared.”
In addition, at the start of classes, each child is given a prayer partner from their parish. These adults have volunteered to pray for the students as they prepare to receive first Communion.
“In addition to praying for their child, the partners often ask what else they can do,” Brettingen said. “Each year, they have contributed to the cost of the Blessing Cup for their students. Most times, they are eager to see the completed product on First Communion Day.”
The custom has an ancient tie, Brettingen said.
“In Jewish life, the cup and sharing it are a rich symbol of unity and blessing,” she explained.
Family involvement is key, Brettingen said, noting that the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls parents “the primary educators of their children in the faith.” With that in mind, the first reconciliation and first Communion classes have four sessions, which include instruction for children, adult catechesis and hands-on faith-sharing activities.
“While the children meet for their portion of the instruction, the parents explore ways they can bring Christ into their homes,” Brettingen said. “They then come back together to engage in a prayer experience or faith-sharing activity such as creating a blessing cup.
“We do instruction, but also some fun things too,” she stressed.
On a recent cup decorating day, Sophie Spencer was working on her creation with help from her mother, Roxanne. Siblings Brennen and Maddie have already gone through the program.
Spencer said the two older children’s cups are located in the family curio cabinet, always on display. They are not used, but retain a high degree of sentimental value,
“It makes me very proud to think that all three children have continued on in their faith formation,” she said.
Sophie said that she has spent considerable time determining her cup’s design.
“I was thinking of swirls,” she said. “I like it.”