First Communion


Figure 1.--I believe this is probably a French boy doing First Communion, but the image is unidentified I can't be sure. Notice is tassled sailor hat on the chair. The photograph was probably taken in the 1910s.

Communion is an ecclesiastical term signifying the relationship to each other, involving mutual cliaims and duties, in which those persons stand who are united by unifomity of belief into one religious body or belief. The most important symbol of the realization of communion is the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper, a rite itself known as Communion. There are theological differences between different denominations. There are also denominal differences between First Communion celebrations. The Catholic Church tends to give special importance to First Communion. First communion is a major event in the life of a Christian child, especially children in the Catholic and associated churches. Practices vary from church to church and country to country. Children receive First Communiin at various ages, depending on the church or country. And this has changed over time. The event is celebrated differently. The First Communion is especially important in Catholic churches. Normally the child dresses up for the event at least in the 20th century as family incomes rose. Often this mean a new suit for boys and junior wedding dresses for the girls--both expensive items. This is now less common for boys as suits in general have vbecome less common. The styles of suits worn at First Communion is a good reflection of contemprary formal boys' clothing at the time and in each different country, although in Europ we see casspcks popular in some countries.

Theology

From a catholic standpoint, Communion is the central act by wich any member of the Chuch is invited to approach the Holy Table for receiving a Host from the priest's or deacon's hands. The essential feature of the Holy Communion is this: in receiving this Host, the believer receive more than a piece of bread. The Host, from bread becomes the Christ Himself in His reality of God. The Communion is not an act of commemoration in the memory of the last supper before the passion, death and reurrection of Christ, In other words, the appeareance of bread becomes, for the catholic orthodoxy, the substance of Christ. What is signified then, is a kind of fusion between the Savior and the saved from sins. It is during the consecration, when the celebrant repeat the words of Jesus 'This is my body" "This is my blood..." that is transsubstantiation."

Communion Liturgy

Communion is an ecclesiastical term signifying the relationship to each other, involving mutual cliaims and duties, in which those persons stand who are united by unifomity of belief into one religious body or belief. The most important symbol of the realization of communion is the act of partaking of the Lord's Supper, a rite itself known as Communion. For all Christian churches, communion or te Eucraist is at the center of religious belief. There is a great deal of common thought on communion. Communion viewed as remembering what Jesus did for us. The following is a Christian explanation of communion.
What is "communion?: Communion, along with baptism is one of the central symbols of the churchof Jesus Christ. Often referred to as "The Lord's Supper" or "The Eucharist" in other church traditions, communion is a symbolic remembrance of Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross and the hope it brings for the Believer.
The Bread: When we eat the broken bread we remember that Jesus suffered and died on our behalf.
The Cup: When we drink the cup we remember that Jesus blood was spilled that our sins may be forgiven.
Who may take communion?: Participation in communion is open to anyone who believes in Jesus Christ as Saviorand Lord. Church membership is not a requirement.
Why do we celebrate communion?: The New Testament teaches that Jesus, on the night of the last supper withhis disciples, commanded them to share the bread and cup in order to rememberhim until he returns. Each time we celebrate communion together we are bothremembering and obeying the Lord.
Does communion grant salvation?: Like baptism, communion is an external symbol of an internal spiritual commitmentand therefore does not automatically make the participant a Believer. Salvation comes only through a decision of faith to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and communion is an expression of that faith.


Figure 2.--First Communion suits were often white to symbolize purity. This was often a major expense for the family as a white suit was not worn for many other occasions. This boy wears a short pants suit with white long stockings.

First Communion for Children

Christian churches vary considerably in the practice of First Communion. Some churches like the Catholic Church make it a major event in a child's life and organize it at Catholic schools. The grade level has varied over time and between countries. Other churches, even traditionally oriented churches, do not practice a formal "First Communion" for children. They believe the Bible teaches that communion is anexpression of personal decision of faith rather than of reaching a certain age. Their children's and youth minitries teach young people about Christ, how to have a relationship with him and about the meaning of communion, but it is the responsiblityof the family to determine when a child is ready to take communion appropriately. Many parents use the Easter holiday as a time to introduce their children to communion

Catholic Church Practice

Children receiving First Communion must be baptized members of the faith community. The local parish usually likes them to participate regularly in parish worship with their families. The parents normally enroll the child with a Faith Formation office, attend the two Saturday morning workshops with the child and work at home with the child with the book that parents receive at the first workshop. First Communion is then celebrated at weekend Masses on the second and third weekends in May, although this varies somewhat from church to church. The First Communion or Eucharist can be celebrated at any grade level, the parent simply enrolls the child for the sacramental preparation on the registration form in addition to registration for the regular class on his or her normal grade level. Many Catholic schools routeinly prepare children in the second grade (about 7 years old), for First Eucharist as part of the class program.

Protestant Church practice

Protestant First Communion practices are not nearly as uniform as in the Catholic Church. There is a wide diversity of views from different protestant churches. A Methodist theologian provides this Protestant different concept of the role of children. "Communion is a gift of God to His people. It is a gift that allows us to remember Jesus and His ultimate gift for each of us. The church, minister, people are not the ones doing the inviting in Communion. Christ is the one who issues the invitation to come. Therefore, we cannot deny anyone the right to participate in Holy Communion, at any age. Holy Communion allows the Holy Spirit to be set free to act in the life of God's people. We must allow the Spirit to work. The Spirit may speak to a child in Communion, showing them God's love. Understanding is not a prerequisite to coming for Holy Communion. It is a gift to be received. None of us, at any age, can fully understand the mystery of Christ which Holy Communion symbolizes. Christ initiated Holy Communion while observing Passover, which was always a family gathering. Christ reinterpreted the Passover Meal of deliverance from slavery in Egypt to His own remembrance. He would deliver from slavery of sin. Our children should be able to participate in our celebration and remembrance, just as children and families celebrate the Passover. Communion is a family meal. John Wesley believed the Lord's Supper was an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and lead persons to salvation in Christ. We must allow the Spirit to work in the lives of all people, including our children. God may speak to a child at the altar. Children learn that they are an important part of the family of God by being able to participate fully in the community of faith. Communion is an important part of this fellowship and to exclude children is to communicate that they are not really a part of the family of God. By participating, children learn that Communion is an important meal. They may not wish to participate in all parts of the meal, depending on their age. Some children will take the bread and not the juice. Communion stewards should be aware of this. Some may only come to the altar and not participate in taking the bread or cup. Churches should allow children to have the freedom to come to the altar during Communion and participate without constraints.

The Children

Psychological Development

One Church reports to parents that 7-8 year old children, the age that most Catholic schools set for First Communion are beginning to deal with religion, but may not be capable od\f some of the more abstract concepts. At this stage, a child's understanding of faith is still essentially a reflection of others, but the circle has widened from the family to other adults, teachers, coaches, and friends. Words like grace, salvation, faith mean little to them--too abstract. But religious imagery is very real. Religious sense is strong, they tend to be very curious about God and Jesus. They are capable of joining in prayerful celebration of faith. They want to know church rules, stories, procedures and to conform to what the group does in church. They love stories from the Bible. The most effective way to pass faith to grade school children in fact is through stories.


Figure 3.--Catholic girls still are formally outfitted in First Communion dresses. It is now much less common to buy white first Communion suits for boys.

Memories

One American oy in the 1950s remembers his First Communion very well, especially the seemingly endless practice for weeks before the actual event. Ritual was important to him, whether it's daily ritual or something more formal. First Communion is the first formal ritual he can remember, and he remembered it fondly. He says it seemed to link him to a world of magic, not hocus-pocus but rather a kind of transendental magic that is in daily life yet is so often overlooked.

First Communion Garments

First Communion is a major milestone in the lives of Catholic children all over the world. For girls the purchase of an elaborate white dress, looking much like a junior wedding dress, was very common and in many cases still a part of the First Communion event. For many boys the occasion sometimes required a new suit--usually a dark suit that could be worn for best after the First Communion ceremony. White suits were also purchased for boys, becoming popular in the 1920s. Suit styles and colors varied greatly from country to country. Boys in some European countries might wear sailor suits or cassocks. However more common was the purchase of a new suit that could be worn for other special events. In recent years the trend in many countries had been away from suits to simplier outfits--especially for the boys.

Country Trends

Some information is available on First Communion practices and outfits in different countries. There is a great deal of similarity among countries, but there are many interesting differences as well. Sailor suits were worn in several countries. Cassocks were worn by some boys in France and Spain. Boys in most countries wore suits which varie greatly in style over time. Boys wore kneepants, short pants, knickers, and long pants suits--styles and types varied substantially from country to country. There have been significant changes over time in these countries. Quite a bit of information is available from many countries, but information is still lacking on several countries--especially Italy.

Personal Experiences

HBC has received a few accounts about the boyhood experiences that HBC readers remember about their First Communions. This was an important event in the lives of especially Catholic chilren and many remember the event and their outfits despite being quite young.






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Created: December 20, 1998
Last edited: 9:15 PM 1/25/2015