First Holy Communion Traditions
A First Holy Communion is a sacrament of initiation in the Roman Catholic Church. With rich tradition celebrated the world over, a child who has reached the "age of reason" and who has gone through the proper formation may participate in the First Holy Communion. It is a very important day for a Catholic because it is believed to be the first time the child receives the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Preparation for the Sacrament
When parents sign their children up for classes to receive First Holy Communion, they may find that their parish will prepare the child to receive the sacrament of Confirmation at the same time. Early church traditions had candidates initiated with both sacraments at once. Tradition later changed, and Confirmation became a sacrament one received as a preteen or teenager. Today it is stressed that once a child has reached the "age of reason," the child is qualified to receive both First Holy Communion as well as Confirmation.
Preparations for one or both of the sacraments may include extensive classes and parental meetings. The Catholic Church prefers that at least one parent of the communicant be a practicing Catholic and take an active role in the preparation for the sacrament. Additional family members or godparents may also be given a role in the ceremony, as the church deems the First Holy Communion a family celebration. Children may also be given the sacrament of reconciliation in preparation for the sacrament of Communion, depending on the specific diocese's practices.
First Holy Communion Ceremony
First Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church is a baptized Christian's first reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is what Catholics believe to be the true body and blood of their Savior, Jesus Christ. Some Protestant churches, such as the Lutheran Church, also have a version of this sacrament, although the tradition is much less elaborate. Children who are 7 or 8 years old are thought to have reached the age in which they are able to understand and believe in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Adults who wish to receive this sacrament do so by completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). This is an adult catechesis that culminates in full reception into the Roman Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil Mass on the evening before Easter Sunday. Adults interested in becoming Catholic can find their diocese and start the process through the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.The First Holy Communion ceremony is a special Mass celebrated by the bishop or the parish priest. The readings may come from the scheduled readings for that day's Mass or from the readings from the Mass of Christian Initiation or the Votive Mass of the Holy Eucharist. After the Liturgy of the Mass and the Eucharist, the First Communicants line up to be the first to receive Communion.
When the child approaches Communion, the priest or bishop holds up the Eucharist and declares "The Body of Christ," after which the child shall say "Amen" and receive the host on his or her tongue. Children may also receive the Eucharist into their hands, but Pope Benedict XVI has expressed a strong preference that Catholics receive Communion directly into their mouths while kneeling, as it expresses a higher degree of reverence.
A child's First Holy Communion celebration is usually a very festive family affair. White is the preferred color of decoration in order to emphasize the purity and holiness of the occasion. Girls typically wear beautiful white dresses, gloves and veils, The attire worn by boys varies by location. Past U.S. tradition used to be a white suit, but a dark or light suit is now acceptable, and the choice has become a matter of personal preference.
Gifts for First Holy Communion are religiously oriented, such as special rosaries or bibles. It is also customary to include a card. Other choices include commemorative items such as plaques or picture frames.