ASK FATHER: No… FATHER ASKS YOU…. 1st Holy Communion traditions

I have recently seen, popping into churches, practice for 1st Holy Communion.  Novus Ordo, of course.  Moreover, I’ve had questions about gifts for 1st Communion.

Moments like this have some customs that die hard because of the memories of parents and grandparents.

I’d like to query the readership about 1st Communion practices where you are.  I’m asking about the Traditional Latin Mass especially, so if there is anything about the Novus Ordo, please specify.  Specify in any case.

What am I looking for?

1) Ideas for gifts for 1st Communicants (for children, for adults).

2) Practices.  For example,…

Do they sit together?
Process in together?
Do the Communicants have a candle?
Is Communion given to them at the rail or in the sanctuary?
Particular dress?  I suppose for girls, it’s common to have the white dress. For boys?

I’ve been looking around online and see pretty widely varying practices.

So, dear readers, what’s up?   You might include the place you are talking about.

Feel free to describe your own 1st Holy Communion from back in 1952 when Sr. Mary Deusdedit was watching like a hawk for any illicit sips of water before Mass.

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  1. Senor Quixana says:

    From my own NO 1st Communion half a century ago to the present, the custom here in the southern parts of the Harrisburg diocese has shifted from participants processing in and sitting together to not processing and sitting with family in reserved pews at the front. Suits are still expected on the boys and dresses (usually the traditional white mini wedding dress) for the girls. It is no longer a special Mass where 1st Communicants from the parish’s Catholic school read the scriptures and prayer of the faithful, but something incorporated into 1 of the Sunday Masses of obligation. There is an adult lector and the only thing the class does is that 2 members present the offertory gifts. There may be some benefit in an emphasis on the domestic church but the sense of occasion is diminished.

  2. Roy says:

    In the Spring of 1965 in Washington DC, boys wore white suits. We sat together and Mother Mary St Anne SHCJ (who celebrated her Diamond Jubilee that year) and our Guardian Angels watched over us. The Parish provided a photographer with each family receiving group and individual pictures. It was a beautiful day, and I and many of my classmates wept when we returned to our places with Him Who suffered us to come to Him. My memory recurs to that blessed hour with much consolation. Laudetur Iesus Christus!

  3. JonPatrick says:

    I have some memories of my First Communion in 1956 at Our Lady & St. Joseph Convent School in Canvey Island UK. Wearing white shirt, tie, and short grey trousers, girls in white dresses, nuns in full traditional habits shepherding us. I still have the photos taken afterwards. I also recall the practice sessions including taking communion with unconsecrated hosts to learn how to take it on the tongue and swallow without chewing.

  4. SuzyQ says:

    At my parish in SE Michigan, the children received the First Holy Communion at a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass. They processed in together and sat together. The Mass was a TLM, so it goes without saying that they received on the tongue while kneeling at the rail. The girls wore white dresses (no bare shoulders!) and the boys wore dark suits and ties.

    When my grandson received his First Holy Communion a couple years ago, it was at a special Mass on a Saturday morning. The children processed in together but sat in a pew with their family. They received from Father while standing, and were accompanied by their parents. The girls wore white dresses and the boys wore dress shirt and tie, though some wore suits.

  5. bookworm says:

    My diocese (Springfield IL) recently switched to having First Communion and Confirmation administered together, at the end of 3rd grade, by the bishop either at the cathedral or during a pastoral visit to a local parish. I’ve seen families gathering at the cathedral on Saturday mornings while in line for confession — those arriving for the event are in invited to take advantage of that opportunity as well.

  6. Josephus Corvus says:

    Way back in the mid-70s, I was at a NO parish (obviously) with goodpriests. (E.g., the pastor understood that the sign of peace was optional and took the option to not do it). The priests actually thought the First Holy Communion was a big deal for the child’s family, but maybe not so much of a big deal the average Mass-goer. The priests also viewed the priesthood has a real vocation, not a 9-5 job. (Sort of like parenthood where you don’t get days / nights off from your kids). Therefore, these priests had a First Holy Communion Mass, maybe at 1:00 PM. Plenty of room for extended families, homilies could be geared toward the First Communicants, regularly scheduled Sunday Masses would not be impacted. Boys wore suits / sport coats and girls wore white dresses, processed in, and sat with their class.

    Now, it’s tooooo haaaard for the priests / bishops to consider consider an extra Mass, so the same parish has the kids go to whichever one of the regularly scheduled Masses they want and sit with their parents. The homily is aimed at second-graders rather than the congregation, and the priest gives them Holy Communion first. Remember, of course, that this is a NO parish with a flock of extraordinary ministers every week. However, rather than helping with the First Communicants and starting the other aisles, they stand there…and wait…. The head of the parish (oops, I mean the liturgist – piano player) makes sure there is a bunch of extra-liturgical stuff as well.

  7. Deo Credo says:

    At our Church (ICKSP) the communicants process in with the ministers. The communicants carry candles, process in pairs, and are seated girls on one side, boys on the other at the front of the church. They receive communion together prior to the rest of us at the communion rail. Dress is suits for boys and white dress for the girls though there are usually a few boys that dont wear a suit.

    Our local NO churches do about the same, kids process in sometimes with candles, sometimes not. Dress is about the same though there are fewer suits on the boys and more polo shirts.

    I have seen lots of first communion gifts but I’m not sure I know what a “good” one would be. Combat rosaries seem to be okay for boys, assuming the family actively prays the rosary.

  8. Kate says:

    In our TLM community within a NO parish, the children processed in carrying candles with a blue ribbon tied in a bow. (I saw this at the ICK parish in St. Louis, as well.) The girls all wear white dresses, and the boys wear suits. (Interestly, though, when it comes times for Confirmation, the altar boys will wear their cassock and surplice!)

    At our home, we break out their baptismal candle for the celebration of these Sacraments, and it is lit for the meal.

  9. idahocatholic says:

    1) Gifts for kids for Communion: We have 6 children, 5 of whom have received their First Communion, and we have always gotten them a statue (around 8” tall) of one of their patrons. I recently got a friend’s child a scapular and a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel for her First Communion. I’ve also seen children receive their own Bibles, rosaries, etc.

    2) We have seen First Communions in Idaho and eastern Oregon in both the Novus Ordo and the TLM.

    In the Novus Ordo the First Communicants always sit together just because there are so many of them and they want them to receive before everyone else. They also always seem to process in before the priest and other ministers. Candles seem to be optional, but some children have them. It seems like the Spanish-speaking families had candles more often. I’ve never been to a Novus Ordo parish in the area with a Communion rail — the Boise diocese bishop just “disallowed” any sort of furniture for kneeling at Communion anyway — so they just receive around the sanctuary like everyone else. Girls always wear white, usually a veil (though it’s optional), and often gloves. A lot of boys wear white suits, though it variable. The Novus Ordo parishes we used to attend did have a strict dress code for both boys and girls, but it was more about modesty than anything.

    We now attend the local SSPX chapel and the customs are a little different. Depending on how many First Communicants there are, they may or may not sit together. For example, when my daughter had her First Communion in 2020, there were about 10 receiving, and they used both the two front rows with parents sitting behind. This year, however, there were only 3 receiving so they just sat with their families in the congregation. I have never seen them process in with the priests and servers. But I may be remembering incorrectly. A candle seems to be required, ideally the child’s baptism candle. They receive before the rest of the congregation at the altar rail. It seems like both boys and girls are encouraged to wear white, but the boys are variable. One things that is different is that it seems to be expected that girls wear gloves, though it’s not required. They also try to pair May crowning with First Communions, as well as our parish picnic. If they don’t happen on the same week, then the First Communicants have pride of place at the May Crowning and have a reception after Mass.

    I hope that helps!

  10. daughteroflight says:

    Grandma gave all of her grandchildren a St. Joseph NAB Bible with a pack of tabs to insert for the books of the Bible. I still use mine to this day (though a different translation may be preferable…)

    A lifetime supply of blessed scapulars. Loved this present. As a kid I’d go through a scapular a year.

    A box of common sacramentals – holy water, medals, candles, crucifix. My mom does this as a wedding present.

    Saint books. TAN has a great chapter book series, and of course anyone who grew up with Mary Fabyan Windeatte knows what a treasure she is.

  11. kat says:

    At our chapel (SSPX), children prepare for First Communion in first grade, and in May they get tested (St. Joseph’s First Communion Catechism). They make their first confessions (confessional, with screen) about two weeks before, and then they have a day of recollection with one of the priests the day before First Communion. First Communion is always on Sunday at the Missa Cantata. They process in as a class behind the altar boys and Father, and sit in the first pews. At Communion they all go up to the Communion rail as a class and receive before the rest of the congregation.
    At the end of Mass before the recessional, Father enrolls each child in the Brown Scapular.
    A group photo is taken, and Father also does individual photos with each child, as desired.

    As far as gifts, my own children received things like: Rosaries, Lives of Saints books, scapulars, medals on chains, Bibles, plaques, pictures, money, etc.

    One thing that many of us do, which I did with my six children, is to light the child’s baptismal candle (stored safely after Baptism) when we get home, and the child renews his or her baptismal promises. When I’ve had a priest present at my child’s Communion party, I have him receive those promises. Some people do it at the church by Our Lady’s statue as well. There is also a nice consecration to Our Lady the child can recite.

    Occasionally a child is not ready when his/her class receives, in which case he or she may receive on a different day, with their family, but that is not the norm for most.

  12. kat says:

    N.B. The children make their second confession at the day of recollection, the day before First Communion.

  13. kat says:

    I forgot to add the dress code:
    Girls wear white dresses (no sleeveless permitted), veils, shoes. Boys wear dark pants, white shirt, dark tie, suitcoat if desired, black shoes.

    They do not carry candles.
    They receive at the rail, on the tongue.

    Southeast Michigan.

  14. moon1234 says:

    More of a family tradition for us. First communion for almost all 13 kids has been on Easter Sunday at the TLM. The priests usually give first communion to those who are present BEFORE anyone else, including the altar boys.

    They usually kneel at the altar rail with at least one parent present. After the first communicants are done, then the servers and remaining people receive.

    Have always say in the front pews and this helps to kids too to signal something special is happening.

  15. Sandy says:

    During one of our moves after Navy retirement, I was almost moved to tears finding a box of my old childhood memorabilia. There was my First Communion rosary, a grey metal one, that has an almost military look :) I also treasure the little tiny books of Saints that I loved to read. After so many decades, I so value what I had in my early years, things that most modern children will never experience.

    Dear Father, is “Semper Gumby” alright? We haven’t seen him here in quite some time, and I always valued his comments.

  16. Mike_in_Kenner says:

    Gift ideas: (1) A nice Bible personalized with the person’s name on the front cover, and perhaps the giver could inscribe some note of the occasion inside the front on the page that Bibles often have for these occasions. Specific notes of the people, places, and dates will be appreciated in future years. (2) A nice Rosary, perhaps more jewelry-like for girls, or a Combat Rosary (in gunmetal finish, of course) for boys. Something nice but still practically useable is better. Something not so rare or dainty that people won’t actually carry it around with them and use it. (3) Holy medal(s) of the person’s patron saint(s). (4) Other sacramentals such as crucifixes, small statues, a small wall-mount holy water font for the home, etc. (5) An appropriate hand missal or prayer book.

    For adults, the above gifts can work, but other possibilities include good reference books, such as the Catechism of the Council of Trent, or Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, or the Manual of Indulgences, or similar books.

  17. Gregg the Obscure says:

    We had confirmations and first communions on Sunday at the regular 1030 Mass. Here the traditional order of sacraments has been reinstated: confirmation is to take place before first communion. in this case it was by less than half an hour as both happened at the same Mass. About twenty in all – mostly children, but a few teens and one adult. The confirmandi all sat together taking up two pews. They were already in place when i arrived 25 minutes before Mass. The young girls were all in white dresses and some even had tiaras. Boys’ clothing was more varied, most were in suits – more white suits than dark – but one boy was in a white polo shirt and dark slacks. One little fellow looked especially spiffy in a white suit and a tie with an image of our Lady of Guadalupe. Teen girls – they seem to have been close relatives – wore white blouse and pants. Adult lady wore a brownish dress with a busy geometric pattern that put me in mind of dazzle camouflage. No candles for them. They received after the altar boys but before anyone else in the nave.

  18. At my current parish, where I am the lame-duck pastor for a few more days, this is how we do it:

    – 11 am Sunday Mass, i.e., last Mass of the day. Everyone in the parish is warned it’ll be First Communion.
    – Generally around the 3rd or 4th Sunday of Easter, although it was Divine Mercy this year, due to lateness of Easter (so as not to conflict with Mothers Day or graduations).
    – Children process in together, but then enter pews where their parents are waiting for them.
    – Girls seem entirely to wear traditional white dresses; boys usually wear shirt and tie, sometimes a suit. No hand-held candles.
    – Readings from the Sunday. Adults read.
    – I usually write my homily for this Mass, then work from that to produce a homily on the Holy Eucharist for the weekend.
    – Two first communicants bring forward gifts.
    – FYI, this Mass is a “high” Mass (Ordinary Form), meaning lots of altar servers (wearing lace! Eek!), lots of incense, torches at the elevation, lots of chant.
    – At Holy Communion, the children with their parents receive first. We have two kneelers set up in the center aisle, right at the step into the sanctuary. (No altar rail, alas.) Each child comes forward with his or her parents; sometimes two children if siblings making first communion the same day. Child kneels between mom and dad (or beside single parent as may be the case), and child, then parents, receive by intinction. Parents who aren’t Catholic know to indicate such with a finger to the lips. Then parents take child back to pew.
    – Immediately following conclusion of Mass, I return with a couple of servers to bless scapulars and invest children in them. Pre-Covid, we had them come into the sanctuary for this. After Covid, we had them remain in their pews and parents placed the scapular on the children.
    – Individual pictures for all involved follow.

  19. Charivari Rob says:

    My parish in 1977 – I recall girls in white, boys dark pants white shirts dark tie blue blazer. My recollection may be a bit hazy, but I think they tended at that time to do large group specific first communion Mass. For example, one mass for the parochial grade school group and one Mass for the public school CCD group. Today, I think that parish spreads it out more class by class into the regular Masses on a couple of Sundays. Back then, we youths in our white dresses and blue blazers sat in our groups in the front pews during the Mass, but went to the back of the church to form a line to go up the aisle to receive with our parents flanking us at each shoulder.

    I recall cards (and probably a little cash in them).
    Also, a St Joseph Sunday Missal, full 3-year cycle, same edition my father as a reader used to do his prep reading for Sundays he was on duty. I still have that to this day.
    Beyond the physical gifts, one memory is the significance that the larger extended family came to our house for luncheon/party (usually, our small household was on the road to their much larger household for holidays and such).
    Some of the parties seem to be bigger or more elaborate these days, to judge by photos that hometown friends share on social media. “Bigger and more elaborate” isn’t necessary, of course – though I was intrigued when one friend dispensed with the old school sandwich platter and sheet cake, and went with a pig roast.

  20. Mama Jean says:

    First Holy Communion! ? Here is a free Catholic website (seriously, FREE! No strings attached..) for children to help them learn about Jesus, truly!! present in the Most Holy Eucharist! Please share with the young families you know:

  21. hwriggles4 says:

    Glad to see posts from 1976,1977. I received First Holy Communion in April 1974. I was at a parish in the Los Angeles area that had an “old school ” pastor. This was Novus Ordo, our parish had four priests (one was Spanish primarily) and the pastor celebrated Mass in Latin at 9:15 am every Sunday.

    We had several practices and our first communion was on Saturday as we were the CCD kids (the Catholic school kids I believe received separately). We went to CCD on Saturday mornings- friends from my generation say that was “normal” in those days for several Catholics who attended public school.

    We sat together and received communion at the altar rail and the altar boys would put the platen (I think that’s what it’s called it’s basically a catch plate) under your neck so you didn’t drop the Eucharist. We received on the tongue and had some practices beforehand. Boys wore dark blue pants, dress shoes, long sleeve white shirt, and a blue tie (most of the boys wore bow ties, but I must not have gotten the memo since I wore a blue clip on necktie – similar to what Johnny and Roy wore with their uniforms on special occasions) and the girls wore white dresses with veils. I don’t remember any gifts per se, but the priest was a Benedictine priest assigned to that parish, and our class went to First Confession a few weeks before. I had my first confession with the same Benedictine priest.

    I was glad I celebrated there because that year my dad got transferred and we moved 1500 miles. I know my youngest brother did his first communion during a Saturday evening Vigil Mass with two other boys (I was an altar boy back then – 1980 or 1981) and I don’t think they learned much of anything even though they attended Mass and CCD regularly. Years later I heard my youngest brother’s group was not required to have first confession prior to first communion (oh no, it will scare the kids or what sins does a 7 or 8 year old have were common excuses).

    I did my confirmation at that same parish in 1981 (I had to miss several Boy Scout meetings that year since my troop met on Monday nights) and our confirmation preparation was heavy on social justice. Our confirmation with the auxiliary bishop (I didn’t know back then he was a lib) was more like a “graduation”. I often say I learned more from the Boy Scout Ad Altare Dei program than I did going to confirmation class but I did realize through confirmation that I needed to have a relationship with God.

  22. Philmont237 says:

    I went to one of the better churches in Germany once (St. Boniface in Wiesbaden) for a Corpus Christi procession. They had their First Communicants wear their First Holy Communion outfits (for lack of a better word). The girls wore your typical white dresses. The boys, however, wore white shirts and black pants. Over their shirts they wore surplices with IHS embroidered on the front just underneath the collar. I had never seen that before, and it looked sharp!

    Also, my previous parish was an ICKSP oratory. For First Communion all of the girls wore blue sashes over their white dresses (like how Our Lady of Lourdes appeared). All of the boys wore blue ties with white shirt and black pants. They looked great!

  23. Dick Verbo says:

    Way back in the ‘50’s, we attended an American Department of Defense school, as our father was part of “the Occupation” in Germany. The school, of course, was secular, but we were kept after for religion class, taught by German Benedictine sisters.

    For First Communion, we American children processed as a class into Our Lady of Bavaria Chapel in the Kaserne. Girls wearing knee-length white dresses (with sleeves) and white gloves sat on the Gospel side, and boys in suits, mostly dark, sat on the Epistle side. Shoulder-length white tulle veils had been ordered from the United States, as the German custom is to wear a flower crown, rather than a veil. We of course received at the altar rail.

    I had an enormous decorated candle, but, if I recall, did not carry it lighted in church. I am holding it in photos, and took it home to be burned on anniversaries of the Sacrament, like a Baptismal candle. I do not remember that anyone had a party, just a family breakfast. (We of course had fasted from midnight: “sips of water” were never a problem.) Gifts were rosaries and prayer books from family.

    One Sunday much later, at the German parish in the village where we lived, I wore a white dress and a floral headband to Mass. (This was sort of a “half-hat” covered with artificial flowers, in those days not unknown as a hat for little girls in the US.) I was embarrassed when most of the congregation kindly came up to me after Mass to congratulate me on my “Erstkommunion”. I just said “danke” and did not try to explain.

  24. Rich Leonardi says:

    Diocese of Rochester, 1975 or 1976. Boys and girls wore white and processed in together. I was just coming down with chickenpox, which I probably gave to half of my fellow communicants. I was told later that we were the first “class” to receive communion in the hand. Even then in those pre-degringolade years before Matthew Clark, the DOR was a hothouse of progressivism. I’ll wager that 90% of my fellow communicants no longer practice the Faith. The parish was shuttered about a dozen years ago.

  25. Animadversor says:

    I received my first Holy Communion at the age of eighteen at the same Mass at which I was baptized and confirmed, which I believe is the custom, and indeed more than a custom. I think that I received just after the celebrant and the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion. As I think was appropriate, the celebrant himself communicated me. As far as dress is concerned, I remember enough about the suit that I wore not to want to the describe it to you. As a gift, I received a briefcase, which I thought rather surprising, but it was useful enough.

  26. Elizabeth D says:

    I buy Catholic books for several years for the kids’ book shelf at our Adoration Chapel and I am also a catechist. I have found that there is one ideal Catholic book to give as a gift for 2nd through 4th grade First Communicants and that is _Tell Me About the Catholic Faith_ by Ignatius Press/Magnificat. Also if you know a family that IS NOT doing what they should to instruct their kids in the Faith and you give them just one book, this is probably the book to give!

    This is a big, wonderful, beautiful, fun book chock full with all kinds of different interesting information, stories from the Bible and saints’ lives, beautiful illustrations. I like the comic book style short lives of saints. It has a lot of catechetical value and goes beyond what normal catechetical instruction gives, such as a bit of Church history and a map showing how many Catholics there are in the world, and how many of other religions. Best of all, kinds really like it, as I know from observing numerous kids reading it at the Adoration Chapel. I wish I would have had this book when I was a child as it’s the kind of thing I would have pored over repeatedly. Like many “Magnificat” children’s books, this was originally from France and has been translated into English.

    I like this book so much I ordered 100 copies of it from Ignatius Press at their bulk discount rate, for my parish to give to all 1st Communion children (will last multiple years).

  27. TempusFugit33 says:

    Our youngest son will be our first child to receive First Holy Communion and Confirmation at the same Mass. It will be a NO Mass, although several of the children receiving sacraments attend the TLM every Sunday (our family included). Of course this will be a NO because of TC…

    Our son will be wearing a dark suit. The children will process in and out. No candles. They sit in the front pews with their Confirmation sponsors behind them. Families sit throughout the rest of the church. Father has (rightfully) insisted that First Communion is received kneeling and on the tongue at the altar rail.

    I have found some wonderful Catholic vendors on Etsy. Since he already has many of the typical First Communion gifts, we opted for some non-traditional items. He will get a poster for his room with the virtues and opposing vices set in beautiful artwork, a St. Michael the Archangel t-shirt, and an embroidered fabric holy card of his patron Saint.

    His First Holy Communion will be a vast improvement from mine in 1988. We had the parish guitar, flute, and tambourine band, felt banners, and “communion bread” made by one of the parishioners. I remember it was fluffy and crumbly. I don’t even know if it was truly valid because it was not a standard host. It hurts my heart to think about that day, knowing what I know now.

  28. Suburbanbanshee says:

    First Communion was a big day back in 1977. Our preparation was big on coloring and crafts, but we did learn the basics and we did have First Confession beforehand.

    Dark suits for boys, white dresses and veils for girls. I think some girls had gloves. No candles. I loved my white dotted swiss for looks, but it turned out that kind of nylon gave me a rash. All little red dots, right where the dotted swiss was dotted. So I spent at least ten minutes of my First Communion party having a baking soda bath…. And this is why you have a small family party, not some huge do.

    Anyway, it being the height of the 1970’s, of course they had us come up and stand around the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. But honestly, I don’t remember most of the cringy stuff, and I do remember processing up with my classmates to receive the Lord. We did sit separate from our families, I’m pretty sure I remember that. We were up front, and then our families were in back.

    A lot of First Communion Masses these days, they make the kids stand up in front of the congregation and sing a special song. Which is usually terrible. And it distracts the kids, so that they can’t meditate on what’s about to happen. If they were singing in the pews, at least they might meditate while they sing.

    Presents — I got one of those little missal/prayerbooks with the little metallic printed cross on the front, and a fake leather cover. I had a white one, and my brothers had black ones. I also got custody of my rosary that Great-Aunt Louise made for me when I was born, and some other little gifts.

    Our archbishop sent us all a present, which was a picture of Our Lord. I still have it, and it’s up on my wall, even though our archbishop was Bernardin. I try to remember to pray for his soul.

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