The Sacrament of First Communion

 

First Holy Communion or the Sacrament of First Communion is the common name for a person's first reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is a significant event, as the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” In the Roman Catholic Church, First Communion typically takes place when a child is about 7 or 8 years old. Because reception of the Blessed Sacrament is so central to the Faith, First Holy Communion is an important event and is commonly a time of celebration. The family celebrates this significant event with the child, and gifts such as rosaries, missals, and other religious items are given. This event is not celebrated in Eastern Catholic Churches, which practice infant communion beginning at baptism.

According the Catholic Encyclopedia, infant communion was not uncommon throughout the Christian Church in the first centuries. However infant reception of the Eucharist was much more universal in the East, even then. It was not the general standard in the West, though the Eucharist was received by infants and very young children at certain times, especially at baptism or when severely ill and in danger of death. The current practice in the Roman Rite – that children receive First Communion upon reaching the age of reason – was established at the beginning of the 13th century, at the time of the Fourth Lateran Council.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that this is not a fixed age in number of years, “but rather the arrival at a certain stage in mental development, when children become able to discern the Eucharistic from ordinary bread, to realize in some measure the dignity and excellence of the Sacrament of the Altar, to believe in the Real Presence, and adore Christ under the sacramental veils.”

Adapted from the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia.

 

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