First Communion is a ceremony in some Christian traditions during which a person of the church first receives the Eucharist. It is most common in many parts of the Latin Church tradition of the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church and Anglican Communion (other ecclesiastical provinces of these denominations administer a congregant's First Communion after they receive baptism and confirmation). In churches that celebrate a rite of First Communion separate from baptism or confirmation, it typically occurs between the ages of seven and thirteen, often acting as a rite of passage. In other denominations first communion ordinarily follows the reception of confirmation, which occurs at some point in adolescence or adulthood, while Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians first receive the sacrament of Holy Communion in infancy, along with Holy Baptism and Chrismation.
Catholics believe this event to be very important, as the Eucharist occupies a central role in Catholic theology and practice.
First Communion is not celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Oriental Orthodox churches or the Assyrian Church of the East, as they practice infant communion (which often is simultaneously administered with infant baptism and confirmation). Some Anglicans allow infant communion, while others require the previous reception of confirmation, usually during the teenage years.[dubious ]
The celebration of this ceremony is typically less elaborate in many Protestant churches. Catholics and some Protestants believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist; Roman Catholics believe this is through transubstantiation, Lutherans believe that this is through a sacramental union, Methodists believe that the way Christ is made manifest in the Eucharistic elements is a Holy Mystery, while the Reformed affirm a pneumatic presence. Other denominations have varying understandings, such as the Eucharist being a symbolic meal and means of remembering Christ's last supper.
First Communion is an important tradition for Catholic families and individuals. For Latin Church Catholics, Holy Communion is usually the third of seven sacraments received; it occurs only after receiving Baptism, and once the person has reached the age of reason (usually, around the second grade). First confession (the first sacrament of penance) must precede one's first reception of the Eucharist. For those entering into the Catholic Church as adults, Confirmation occurs immediately before first Communion. In 1910, Pope Pius X issued the decree Quam singulari, which changed the age at which First Communion is taken to 7 years old, due to the case of Ellen Organ. Previously, local standards had been 10 or 12 or even 14 years old. Byzantine Catholics celebrate the sacraments of baptism, confirmation (Chrismation), and Holy Communion on the same day as an infant's baptism.
Traditions of celebration surrounding First Communion usually include large family gatherings and parties to celebrate the event. The first communicant wears special clothing. The clothing is often white to symbolize purity, but not in all cultures. Often, a girl wears a fancy dress and a veil attached to a chaplet of flowers or some other hair ornament. In other communities, girls commonly wear dresses passed down to them from sisters or mothers, or even simply their school uniforms with the veil or wreath. Boys may wear a suit and tie, tuxedo, their Sunday best, or national dress, with embroidered armbands worn on the left arm and occasionally white gloves.
In many Latin American countries, boys wear military-style dress uniforms with gold braid aiguillettes. In Switzerland, both boys and girls wear plain white robes with brown wooden crosses around their necks. In Spain, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, and Guam, girls are dressed up as little brides, although this has been partly replaced by albs in recent times.
In Scotland, boys traditionally wear kilts and other traditional Scottish dress which accompany the kilt. In the Philippines, First Communion services often occur on or around the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (the country's patron saint), with boys donning either the Barong Tagalog or semi-formal Western dress, and girls a plain white dress and sometimes a veil.
Gifts of a religious nature are usually given, such as Bibles, children's or teenager's daily devotional books, rosaries, prayer books, religious statues, icons, and holy cards. Monetary gifts are also common.
Many families have formal professional photographs taken in addition to candid snapshots in order to commemorate the event. Some churches arrange for a professional photographer after the ceremony.
First Communion photo of a girl in Argentina, 1923
Children from Argentina in 1920
Children from Holyrood School at England, in 1949
An Indian girl receiving her First Communion
The decorated bread is a gift for the Catholic Church from children who had their first Communion in Poland.
Candle as used for First Communion
First Communion in Mexico City, Mexico
First Communion in Toledo, Ohio, c. 1920
With the recent pastoral letter "Come, Holy Ghost," Bishop Steven Lopes revealed the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter would now become the 14th Latin-Rite diocese to make the reception of Holy Eucharist which normally follows Confirmation, something commonly called "restored order" of the sacraments, with a focus on involving the child's family in sacramental preparation. ... The following U.S. Latin-Rite dioceses have currently embraced a restored order for the Sacraments of Initiation: Saginaw, Michigan (1995); Great Falls-Billings, Montana (1996); Portland, Maine (1997); Spokane, Washington (1998); Fargo, North Dakota (2002); Gaylord, Michigan (2003); Tyler, Texas (2005); Phoenix, Arizona (2005); Honolulu, Hawaii (2015); Denver, Colorado (2015); Manchester, New Hampshire (2017); Springfield, Illinois (2017); Gallup, New Mexico (2019); and the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (2020).
Some congregations follow a pattern familiar to older generations of Lutherans: first communion is received at the time of confirmation. A generation ago, many of our congregations began preparing catechetical material for children to receive their first communion when they reached fifth grade.
For Anglicans and Methodists the reality of the presence of Jesus as received through the sacramental elements is not in question. Real presence is simply accepted as being true, its mysterious nature being affirmed and even lauded in official statements like This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion.
The Westminster Confession emphatically declares that Christ is truly present in the elements and is truly received by those partaking, "yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually" (chap. 31, par. 7). The insistence is that while Christ's presence is not physical in nature it is no less a real and vital presence, as if it were a physical presence. ... Those of us in the Reformed tradition are under strong obligation to honour the notion of the real presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper.
In the Roman Catholic Church the official explanation of how Christ is present is called transubstantiation. This is simply an explanation of how, not a statement that, he is present. Anglicans and Orthodox do not attempt to define how, but simply accept the mystery of his presence.