First Communion is a Catholic ceremony in which individuals receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist for the first time. This rite usually takes place during the Easter season for children who are 7 or 8 years old (typically first-graders). Adults who have completed the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) to enter the Catholic Church can also take part in First Communion after receiving the sacraments of baptism and confirmation.
Individuals taking part in First Communion (communicants) approach the altar during Mass, where the priest offers the host (known to Catholics as the body of Jesus Christ). The communicant either receives the host and places it gently on his or her tongue and lets it dissolve or opens his or her mouth for the priest to place the host on the tongue. Then, the communicant may choose to drink wine (known to Catholics as the blood of Jesus Christ) from the communion cup.
Catholics (and some Protestant denominations) believe that Jesus Christ is actually present in the Holy Eucharist, which recalls The Last Supper when Jesus broke bread and shared wine with his disciples, saying, "This is my body" and "This is my blood." First Communion participants are considered to be taking a seat at the Lord's table for a holy meal as a member of God's family. Also, the Eucharist is considered a sacrificial meal in that communicants are "fed by the flesh and blood of the Lamb slain for us." When communicants receive Holy Communion, they are also giving their entire selves and lives to God.
First Communion Dress
Children participating in First Communion usually wear white to symbolise purity. Many girls wear white dresses, with a veil attached to a headpiece, as well as white gloves. A mother, grandmother, aunt or sister may hand down their First Communion dress for the communicant to wear. Some boys choose to wear all-white suits or regular-coloured suits (navy blue, brown, black) with a tie and dress shoes.
After taking part in First Communion, the communicant is usually honoured with a party. This celebration may take place at the communicant's home or at a public location, such as a restaurant. Family and friends from far and near often join in the celebration. Some families hire a professional photographer to capture the day's events. The party may also feature a First Communion cake for guests.
First Communion Gifts
Family and friends who share in the celebration of the individual's First Communion sometimes present him or her with religious gifts, such as a rosary, a Catholic prayer book, a Catholic Bible, or a religious statue. Another traditional First Communion gift is money.
Parents, godparents and the priest can determine whether the child is adequately prepared to receive First Communion. He or she should understand the concept of transubstantiation, or the change in substance from bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The communicant usually receives the sacrament of confession before First Communion. Some signs that a child may be ready for First Communion are good behaviour during Mass, taking a greater interest in Mass and understanding key points of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Non-Catholics attending Mass typically should not receive Holy Communion, largely based on the Bible scripture 1 Corinthians 11:29, "For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself." Also, the traditional body posture when walking up to the altar to receive Holy Communion is to fold the hands as in prayer. Non-Catholics attending First Communion Mass as guests of the communicant are sometimes able to receive a blessing from the priest during Holy Communion; these individuals should cross their hands in front of their chests to request a blessing.