Q — What is “first Communion”?

A — On the surface the question looks very simplistic. In fact it is very profound. Very simply, “first Communion” refers to the first formal occasion when a person receives the Eucharistic gifts, the bread and wine transformed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. If the person is an adult, this usually takes place during the Easter Vigil. If the person is a younger Catholic, baptized in infancy, this usually takes place when they are in second grade, about 7 or 8 years of age. It is a time of great excitement and rejoicing, especially for children. I am particularly aware of this because one of my grandsons, Matthew, made his first Communion just a few weeks ago. It is a time for families to come together, to rejoice and to give thanks, and to give gifts and mementos of the occasion to the first communicant.

Perhaps more profoundly we may say that the very first moment of our communion with our Trinitarian God occurs in baptism. In baptism the person becomes through grace the holy Body of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, enters into communion in and with God. In a very exact and precise sense that is our “first communion.” That is the first sacrament of initiation. Our Roman Catholic tradition, reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, tells us that there are three sacraments of initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. Although the terminology might be confusing, we might say that these are three initiatory sacraments of communion. Growth in communion with our Triune God should be commensurate with the entirety of our lives. It is renewed most especially in the weekly celebration with the rest of the community that is the Eucharist. In this way of understanding, “first communion” takes on a much deeper, mystical significance.