Many people hear the term First Holy Communion but do you really know what it is, why people do it and what to do if you’re invited to one?
What is a First Holy Communion?
In the simplest terms, First Holy Communion is a religious ceremony performed in church by Catholics when a child reaches the age of around 7-8 years and celebrates the first time that they accept the bread and wine (also known as the Eucharist). The bread and wine symbolize the body and the blood of Christ. After this special occasion, the child is able to accept the bread and wine at Catholic Mass (church services) and is more deeply initiated into the Catholic Church. It is necessary for the child to have been Baptised (Christened) prior to their First Holy Communion.
Where and when is it held?
The First Holy Communion is held in church within a special First Holy Communion Mass and involves several children (the communicants) receiving the Sacrament at once, in a service that is open to the whole community. The children and their parents will have been preparing for their special day by attending a series of classes at the Church or local Catholic school. They will also have been regularly attending Mass. The First Holy Communion Mass is usually held on a Sunday, and often, from May to July.
Who goes and what to wear?
Family, Godparents, and friends of the family will be invited to celebrate, along with the church-going community that gathers together each week. The child will be dressed up – girls in a pretty white dress and veil, and boys in a suit or suit jacket. Anyone attending should dress appropriately for the church – modestly and smartly but not over-the-top. Sports jackets for men or smart shirt and trousers are perfect, and a pretty dress or a top and skirt for ladies is ideal.
The Mass will last for approximately an hour though this will vary, sometimes up to 90 minutes. It will consist of prayers, hymns, readings, bidding prayers and the actual Communion. These children will receive their Holy Communion first, then any other worshippers will be invited to receive Communion too. If you are not Catholic you can just stay seated at this point.
If the family still have the baptismal candle that was held for the child by the Godparents at their baptism then they are often encouraged to bring that along. The lighting of candles is frequently part of the service.
What happens after the service?
If you’ve been invited to a First Holy Communion, enjoy sharing this special day with family or friends. You won’t be able to take photos in the Church but make sure you get plenty outside after the service for the Communion photo album. The family may even have a professional photographer in attendance.
There is usually a Communion breakfast or lunch for everyone to get together and celebrate. Often the Church will provide light refreshments after the service and then you will all move on to a gathering at home or in a local venue. It is a lovely idea to give a card and a Communion gift that the child can keep to remember their special day forever. Great ideas for gifts for a First Holy Communion are bibles, Communion photo albums, moneyboxes and Communion keepsakes.