Most major Christian denominations agree that Holy Communion is one of the most important sacraments required of a practicing Christian. Within the Catholic tradition, Holy Communion, especially one’s First Holy Communion, represents a glorious celebration. Unsurprisingly, many families wish to commemorate this moment in a child’s spiritual maturation with festivities, a party.
“Communion” is a word so often said, that I think we forget its meaning: “communion” comes from the Latin cum (“with”) + mūnus (“gift”) and means literally “joining together.” “Eucharist,” another traditional term for partaking in the host of Christ, comes from the Greek eukharistia, “gratitude, giving of thanks.”
As Jesus awaited his eventual torment and crucifixion, He met with his apostles. In Matthew 26:26, we read: “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'” This rite, the breaking of bread, the giving of thanks, and the eating of Christ’s body and blood (whether really or metaphorically), is what we know today as Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper.
While one’s first Communion is often considered the most important time one will take the host (perhaps because it initiates the physical link between your body and that of Christ, a link which can never be broken except through mortal sin) Holy Communion is repeated in some denominations at every church service.
There are several competing interpretations of the events that take place during the Eucharist.
The Council of Trent, a vastly influential ecumenical gathering of the Catholic Church, was held in the mid-16th century (it lasted 18 years!). Trent was called in direct response to the recent Protestant Reformation, England’s theological reinvention. Spurred on by German priest and academic Martin Luther, the Reformation taught that believers could have a personal connection with God, rather than one entirely mediated by the Church. Trent represented the Catholic Church’s attempt to re-solidify their conservative views in the face of Luther’s liberalism.
Among other things, Trent’s gathering of priests and bishops declared that Christ is “really, truly, substantially present” in the host during the Eucharistic consecration. There is no metaphor, or symbolism, the wine really becomes Christ’s blood, and the bread really becomes His body.
Doctrinally, most other denominations believe along these lines, in doctrines called those of “Real Presence,” although they may not be as stringently mystical as the Catholic Church’s stated view.
Certain Reform Christians, especially those deeply influenced by Calvinist teachings, may hold that the bread and wine are not changed in any objective, physical sense, but that the spirit of Christ can penetrate the communicant faster than any physical food can enter their body.
A child’s First Communion is usually held around their seventh or eight birthday, although in the Eastern Orthodox church, First Communion is usually administered when the child is still a baby. First Communion parties are often held in banquet halls. The newly-initiated communicant wears special clothing. Girls commonly wear dresses and a veil, and boys come in their Sunday best! In Switzerland, both boys and girls wear plain white robes and wooden crosses around their necks.
A first Communion is a joyous occasion! It represents a young person’s entrance into a spiritual community, one whose faith will nourish them for the rest of their lives. It’s also a day to celebrate that young person’s life so far.