First Communion is a ceremony in some Christian traditions during which a person first receives the Eucharist. It is most common in the Latin Church tradition of the Catholic Church, as well as in many parts of the Lutheran Church and Anglican Communion. In churches that celebrate First Communion, it typically occurs between the ages of seven and thirteen, often acting as a rite of passage.
Catholics believe this event to be very important, as the Eucharist occupies a central role in Catholic theology and practise.
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 paedobaptism and confirmation). Some Anglicans allow infant communion (also called "paedocommunion"), while others require the previous reception of confirmation, usually during the teenage years.
Celebration of this religious ceremony is typically less elaborate in many Protestant churches. Roman Catholics and some Protestants believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, although not through transubstantiation for many non-Catholic groups.
Other denominations have varying understandings, ranging from the Eucharist being a "symbolic" meal to a meal of "remembering" Christ's last supper.
The sacrament of First Communion is an important tradition for Catholic families and individuals. For Catholics, Holy Communion is 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 the first reception of the Eucharist. This order of the sacraments is practiced universally by all Roman Catholics, whereas Byzantine Catholics (Eastern Rite), for example, 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. Girls often wear fancy dresses and a veil attached to a wreath of flowers or hair ornament. In other communities, girls commonly wear dresses passed down to them from sisters or mothers, or even simply their school uniforms plus the veil and/or wreath. Boys may wear a suit, or tuxedo, or their Sunday best, or national dress.
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 and Austria, girls are dressed up as, so to speak, little brides (though this has been partly replaced by albs in more 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.
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.
During the communist era, dominant societies initiation into the pioneer movement in communist countries that had large Catholic populations was an overt attempt to supplant the Catholic ritual (e.g., the Union of Pioneers of Yugoslavia). In all cases, a child at the age of seven to ten is initiated as a member of a group within which the individuals share certain values and culture.
Children from Holyrood School at England, in 1949.
Counterparts in other religions
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) baptises children at age eight–considered the age of accountability–as directed in Doctrine and Covenants 68:27, and are confirmed shortly afterward. It is in many ways culturally and spiritually equivalent to a First Communion ceremony. Technically, only baptised members need to receive the sacrament (i.e. communion), but in practise young children receive the sacrament along with the rest of the congregation, thus rendering the concept of a "First" communion null amongst Latter-day Saints.
- In Orthodox Judaism, boys receive their first haircut at age three in the Upsherin ceremony. At this time, boys will receive their first Kipah and Tzitzit. This age also marks the time when boys begin learning to recite blessings, and the Shema. The second and more known rite of passage in the Jewish religion across most sects happens at age 13 for boys, Bar Mitzvah, and 12 for girls, Bat Mitzvah. This ceremony is most similar to the concept of First Communion as they symbolize the point in time where the child becomes accountable to God for their own sins and Mitvah rather than their parents. According to the Torah and rabbinic law, a child who has reached Bar or Bat Mitvah has all of the legal rights and responsibilities of an adult.
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