Tradition and the Meaning of First Communion
Following the ancient tradition and practice of the Church, the season of the First Sacraments is approaching. It corresponds to the Paschal (Easter) season in the life of the Church although some parishes will continue to celebrate First Sacraments well into the Pentecost season.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us "The sacraments of Christian initiation - Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist - lay the foundations of every Christian life. The sharing in the divine nature given to men through the grace of Christ bears a certain likeness to the origin, development, and nourishing of natural life. The faithful are born anew by Baptism, strengthened by the sacrament of Confirmation, and receive in the Eucharist the food of eternal life. By means of these sacraments of Christian initiation, they thus receive in increasing measure the treasures of the divine life and advance toward the perfection of charity." Catechism of the Catholic Church #1212.
First Holy Communion is the common name for a person's first reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist. Roman Catholics recognize the importance of this event as the Eucharist is the central focus of the sacramental life of the Catholic Church. First Communion is not practiced in the Eastern Catholic Churches, which practice Infant Communion.
First Communion is traditionally also a festive occasion for families of the First Communicant. Traditions surrounding First Communion usually include large family gatherings and parties to celebrate the event. Special clothing is usually worn. The clothing is often white to symbolize purity. Girls often wear fancy dresses and a veil attached to a headdress, as well as white gloves (long or short). In other communities girls commonly wear dresses passed down to them from sisters or mothers, or even simply their school uniforms plus the veiled headdress and gloves.
In Scotland, boys traditionally wear a kilt for the ceremony. In many Latin America countries, boys wear a kind of military-style dress uniforms with fancy gold braid augelltes. In Switzerland, both boys and girls wear plain white robes with brown wooden crosses around their necks.
There is a very well done short DVD which can help the First Communicant and their family prepare for the special event:
First Communicants are usually given gifts of a religious nature, such as rosaries or prayer books, in addition to religious statues and icons. Many families also have formal professional photographs taken in addition to many candid snapshots of the day.
With regards to First Holy Communion, the Catechism teaches us "Having become a child of God clothed with the wedding garment, the neophyte is admitted 'to the marriage supper of the Lamb' and receives the food of the new life, the body and blood of Christ. The Eastern Churches maintain a lively awareness of the unity of Christian initiation by giving Holy Communion to all the newly baptized and confirmed, even little children, recalling the Lord's words: 'Let the children come to me, do not hinder them.' The Latin Church, which reserves admission to Holy Communion to those who have attained the age of reason, expresses the orientation of Baptism to the Eucharist by having the newly baptized child brought to the altar for the praying of the Our Father." Catechism of the Catholic Church #1244
Pope Pius X declared Blessed Imelda Lambertini the Patroness of First Communicants in the early part of the 20th century. The life of this young child was quite astonishing. She lived only from 1322 to 1333 - a time in the Latin Church when First Communion was reserved for children of at least 14 years. In the short and very moving book Patron Saint of First Communicants, you can read her story - the story of a special young girl who was completely devoted to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. A very meaningful and unique gift that can be given to First Communicants is the hard to find Blessed Imelda Lambertini Holy Card, which includes a prayer of intercession.
There are many wonderful prayer books available for children on the occasion on their First Holy Communion. Most are available in separate versions for boys and girls.
For many more faithful gift-giving ideas on the occasion of First Holy Communion, please be sure to visit the Aquinas and More First Holy Communion specialty store .