Thursday 27 June 2019

My First Communion was my Second

It isn't even 8 AM, but I am having a meltdown over a story that Irish parents are paying up to €900 on their children's First Communions.

Let the parents spend their money as they like, I say! 

I'll tell you what is worse than parents overspending on their child's First Communion: forcing weird and unsightly innovations on children about to make their First Communion. 

One is forbidding little girls from wearing their traditional white dress and veil--their BIRTHRIGHT as tiny female members of Christendom--and forcing them and the boys into ugly off-white, heavy, polyester albs.

Another is coming up with dumb experiments like telling the children to make their "First Communion" informally with their family before their official "First Communion," which is what I was told in the 1970s. Thus I had a kind of bifurcated "First Communion", called "First Family Communion" and "First Communion", and it felt very strange.  

How can you have TWO First Communions? But I did, and I felt uneasy about it even then. In fact, my feeling about my real First Communion (with my family and a church full of strangers without fanfare) is negative whereas I have much happier memories of my Second Communion, which the priest may have thought was my First Communion. (I forget if the parish priests were in on the whole "First FAMILY Communion" deal.)

My mother made my lace dress and veil. They were (and the dress still is) very sweet. The veil was cut up ten years ago and used for my wedding veil. So romantic! I cry. And I carried a little rose from the garden, I believe. 

When you give a little girl a super-special dress, you are telling her she is super-special to you. Possibly, when it's a First Communion dress, you are also telling her she is super-special to God. You are definitely signalling that the Blessed Sacrament is super-special. 

Naturally I envied the Italian, Polish and other European kids the tremendous fuss their families made of their First Communion. (I remember them jostling behind the closed grille in the church basement as the professional photographer took our group photo.) The Polish boy's mother asked me to stand beside him so she could take my photo, too. (I think she loved the dress.) Well, my parents took photos too, but we didn't have a feast. (Sigh.) It is very possible that I asked my mother why not, and if so, she definitely said "We're not Italian," which was her answer to several of my "how come we don't" questions. 
I had a Protestant grandmother who lived near us and a Catholic grandmother who didn't. My Catholic grandmother marked the occasion by sending a wonderful gift: a gold cross on a chain. At the time I would have liked a proper crucifix with a corpus (like the Italian, Polish and other European girls wore), but now I would give a lot not to have lost it. 

These memories are over forty years old, which goes to show you how very deep and abiding a Catholic woman's memories of her First (and Second) Communion are. Therefore, let the Irish Catholics spend as much money as they want on their children's First Communions and let it not be an excuse to force ugly albs on them. 


  1. I think what you experienced was one of the last vestiges of an earlier practice. In France, it was common to be prepared for a private first communion (remember most people received Communion outside of Mass). Afterward, the solemn Communion, and sometimes even second solemn, were celebrated after a few months or years by those who had received their first communions with reception of communion during the Mass. These were often offered with a formal retreat. After the decline of the Communion age, the solemn Communion was also combined with confirmation in some places. In some ways, this practice focused the child on the reception of Communion rather than the festivities. But it was overall a much more intense and religious environment.

    I remember the dress I wore, more than any gift or party. I certainly do like seeing girls and boys dressed up for first communion. Having had to photograph such events, however, it’s pretty sad to see the families who you’ve never seen before at Mass looking only for formal pictures. Even if the children have a sense of the sacred, many of their families will crush it before their confirmation which will probably be their last contact with the church anyways.

    1. That is sad, and that's what I saw at my First Communion, too. In my innocence, I assumed they went to some other parish church for Mass---and in many cases that was probably true. I am confused as to why Catholic parents would make such a big deal of First Communions if they themselves never go to Mass. All it does is teach children that their parents are hypocrites, and since it is a very uncomfortable and disloyal thought, they are more likely to think "Catholics-in-general are hypocrites."