First Communion: Catholic Facts

First communion is a big event in a Catholic child's life.
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Communion is one of the Catholic Church's seven sacraments, and First Holy Communion is one of the holiest, most memorable events in the life of a Roman Catholic. Since it's the first time a believer receives the blood and body of Jesus Christ, it's a significant, very personal moment that's often commemorated and celebrated with family and friends. A few traditions are important for this experience to be complete in the Catholic Church.

1 Significance

The First Holy Communion is a time when Catholic children first partake of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. They drink consecrated wine and eat consecrated bread, which they believe has become the body and blood of Jesus Christ through transubstantiation. Roman Catholics and Lutherans believe that Jesus is actually present in the Eucharist. According to Pope Benedict XVI, first communion is the moment when an individual understands the importance of a personal encounter with Jesus. It's also symbolic of the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples. Just as the disciples broke bread with Jesus at Emmaus, his followers in the Catholic Church celebrate communion today.

2 Preparation

Children must be baptized before receiving the First Holy Communion, but that is usually done in infancy. A child typically undergoes years of spiritual preparation in the Church before accepting her first communion. She must be at the age of discretion, which has to do more with her mental development than age, though it's typically given at the age of seven or eight. A child usually goes to her first confession a week before she receives her first communion, and she then does penance as recommended by the priest. This is usually a few prayers that she says immediately after the confession. The child is then considered without sin and in a state of grace, which is a requirement for receiving communion. Pope Benedict XVI advised pastors, parents and catechists to bring love and reverence to the task of preparing children for their first communion in his 2012 Regina Coeli address for Easter.

3 Traditional Dress

The Vatican Council has decreed that the sacrament of the Eucharist should be a solemn celebration, and boys and girls must wear appropriate clothing that shows their respect and reverence for the event. Young girls often wear new, fancy dresses with a veil that's attached with a ribbon, ornament or small floral wreath. They typically wear white, which symbolizes purity. Young boys often wear suits in the United States, though the tradition varies in other countries. Swiss girls and boys wear plain white robes with wooden crosses. Scottish boys wear kilts for the event, while boys in many Latin American countries wear a military-style uniform for the celebration.

4 First Communion for Adults

Although most Roman Catholic children experience their First Holy Communion when they are seven or eight years old, others can still participate in the sacrament. If an adult converts to Catholicism or has never had his First Communion, he would participate in a different ceremony called the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This allows him to receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, and he will also be given consecrated bread and wine.

Eric Herboso is a nonprofit social media expert with articles appearing in national print magazines and throughout the blogosphere since 2003. He regularly gives talks and seminars at national nonprofit conventions, helping charities optimize their effectiveness through social media. He is currently working on a graduate degree in applied ethics from Stanford.