For Roman Catholics, First Communion is a sacrament. It is one of three sacraments of initiation, along with Baptism and Confirmation. (In total, there are seven sacraments in the Catholic Church.) Generally, children celebrate the sacrament for the first time in second or third grade. Some important facts about First Holy Communion include the following:
During First Holy Communion, children receive the Eucharist. For Roman Catholics, they believe the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is called transubstantiation, and it occurs when the priest blesses the bread and wine during each Mass. As the body and blood of Christ are sacred, any remaining Eucharist offerings must be stored in a holy place in between each Mass. Transubstantiation is one of the teachings that separate Catholics from other branches of Christianity.
While other branches believe the Eucharist is a symbol of Jesus, Catholics believe they are receiving Christ Himself. (Non-Catholics can also be blessed by the priest during the ceremony, though they cannot receive the Eucharist.) Seven or eight year old children are able to receive the sacrament because it is believed they have reached the age of reason and are able to make the personal decision to further their relationship with God and the Catholic Church.
In preparation for First Holy Communion, children must prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually for the sacrament. They take classes with other children who will also be receiving the Eucharist for the first time so that they can understand the true meaning of the sacrament, as well as how it fits with Church teaching. These classes tend to meet at least once per week and may continue for a year or two prior to the ceremony.
Also, most children receive their First Penance shortly before First Holy Communion. During Penance, they are able to confess their sins to a priest and receive forgiveness so that they will be in a state without sin when they receive the Eucharist. In this way, they will be spiritually prepared to receive Jesus Christ. Finally, young girls generally wear a white dress and veil to the ceremony, while boys tend to wear a white or black suit and tie. This allows them to recognize the significance and sanctity of the sacrament.
There is often a celebration given after the ceremony. Friends and family are invited to spend time with friends and family. At the end of the celebration, First Holy Communion favors are often given.