First Communion - History of

I’m interested in knowing how the current tradition came about? With the pretty white dresses on 7-8 year olds? Has it always been this age? Is it a newer thing or has it been around since the beginning?

No reason, just curious.

Someone with more wikipedia knowledge will come in and fill in the gaps, but seperating the Rites of Initiation, Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation/First Communion has not always been the practice of the Roman Catholic Church.

In the west up until the beginning of the last century the tradition was for confirmation and first communion to be celebrated at the same time, usually coinciding with the end of the child’s formal academic education and religious instruction. In industrial and agricultural areas this was generally about age 12-14 depending on local customs. The white dress or suit was actually a confirmation dress, and often the same as the child’s “graduation” dress, since in many or most places religious and academic instruction took place together in Catholic schools, or state schools run and taught by religious.

When Pope Pius X lowered the age of 1st communion to the age of reason, about 7, he did not address the age of confirmation, which usually remained the same as it had been, although in the middle of the century, at least in the US, it was often conferred anywhere between about 4th to 8th grade, where 8th grade marked graduation from Catholic school for working class children. As Catholic high schools and high school education for the majority became the norm, the age of confirmation was also pushed back, since the thinking remained that it was a sacrament of maturity and coming of age. Coincidentally, in many places robes for confirmation, similar to graduation robes, were commonly used, emphasizing the prevailing idea that confirmation marked “graduation” from formal religious instruction.

The various cultural accretions surrounding first communion are primarily ethnic and cultural in origin, rather than flowing from the theology of the sacrament: the white frilly dresses, veils, elaborate parties, gifts of money etc. The veil actually had its origin in the fact that when girls matured the assumed head coverings for modesty, and a scarf, shawl, mantle, bonnet, cap or similar head covering was the norm for both peasant, working class or upper class women. The variation in styles were based on custom and class but head coverings were universal until the 1920s or later for girls of marriageable age and women. So the communion veil coincided with the time the girl was becoming a young woman. When the age was lowerd, the veil was retained as part of the costume.

Interesting, thanks. I was always a little jealous of my Catholic friends who got to wear the pretty white dresses for
1st communion. Most protestant churches don’t have the ceremony that goes with it.

I’ve had a lot of Lutheran family/friends complain that they weren’t allowed to receive communion until they were confirmed (in 8 grade) and how jealous they were of Catholic friends who got to do 1st communion in 2nd grade. I think the Lutherans have now moved it to 4th grade for whatever reason.

It is also been a practice (not sure how standard or how it is today) that in the Episcopalian churches you didn’t recieve communion until you were 14ish.

At least in my parish, we confirmed and communed children around 10 or 11. I don’t know how standard that is now.

I recently found my grandmother’s prayer book from her first Communion. She made her first Communion in 1913 at the age of ten. The date was on the prayer book, which also had the order of the Mass in English and Latin.

My mother made her communion at the age of 14 in 1929, She was dressed in white, so I definitely know this was a practice in the US in the 20th century. I also have an oil painting painted in France in the mid 1800’s and the young children all were in white carrying candles. It is beautiful.

Do you know if she was also confirmed at 14 years of age?

No she was confirmed at 16.

That is interesting. I did not know that Catholic high schools were that common in the 1920’s.

My mom graduated from St. Mary High School in 1934 and their school song was The Bells of St. Mary’s.

Here is a link to a Pablo Picasso painting somewhere around 1895 and you can see that the communicant was all in white.

That is a beautiful painting. Do you know what country started the tradition of the white communion dresses and veils?

there is a current thread on white dresses for first communion. this just duplicates that discussion.

In the Episcopal church where I sing, everyone, and I mean everyone, is invited to communion. Toddlers and little children routinely receive.


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