Rites of Passage 2: First Communion

July 27, 2015 at 8:33 pm | Posted in 1950s, Catholic Church, Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, Memoir, Religion | 7 Comments
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I had made my First Confession. Now, my First Communion Day had arrived. Like the other kids, I was full of excitement, and more than a little nervous. I was hungry too, because we had to fast from midnight until after Mass. We weren’t allowed to have Holy Communion if we’d eaten; that would have been an awful thing to do. This was the first time I hadn’t been able to eat breakfast before Mass, and it was already nine o’clock.

First Comm catechism

Mum had fixed up my older sister’s white dress for the occasion. I had new white socks, and Dad had freshly whitened my sandshoes. Mum had cut my straight blonde hair short, so it wouldn’t get in the way of the white veil I had to wear – that had been Pauline’s too when she made her First Communion two years before. I felt very special in my white clothes, and I was very careful to keep everything clean.

There wasn’t much room in our little Triumph Safety 7 car when we all piled in. The four of us kids had to squash up in the back seat. Mum held on to my veil, and the elastic and bobby-pins to fit it on with, until we got to the church. I tried to keep my dress from getting crushed, but it was useless. When we got out, I saw that someone’s shoe had made a mark on my clean shoes. I tried to brush it off.

“Don’t worry about that now,” said Mum. “We have to go over to the school with the other children. Sister wants you to line up ready to make a procession into the church. Come on.”

The boys wore navy blue shorts, white shirts and the school tie, navy blue with yellow stripes. They also wore knee-high grey socks, held up with elastic garters, and black shoes. Some parents wanted to hang around and help, but the school headmistress, Sister Mamertus, shooed them off to find their places in the old, white-painted stone church.

“Make two lines,” Sister ordered us. “One for the boys and one for the girls. Hurry up now, we mustn’t keep Father waiting.”

Each girl took the hand of the boy in the other line, giggling.

“Stop that and make your line straight. Remember, Jesus is watching, and you will soon be receiving Him for the first time.”

Thus, suitably chastened and demure, we walked across the grass to the church door. Sister lined us up again so that, when we got into the church, the boys would go to the pews on one side and the girls to the other. Someone must have given Mrs Harris warning, because, up in the loft at the back of the church, she launched into a hymn, though I cannot remember what it was.

The altar was a mass of flowers, and Mrs Harris had probably helped the nuns to arrange them. The first two rows of wooden bench seats on each side of the aisle were decorated at the ends with big white satin bows and flowers. This was to show that the seats were set aside especially for us. It’s a pity the red aisle carpet was worn and patchy, but everything else looked beautiful to me

We joined our hands together in front of us, as if in prayer, and walk to our seats quietly and sedately. Each of us genuflected before we turned into the pew, respecting the presence of the Lord Jesus in the tabernacle on the altar. We tried to keep our heads bowed to show we recognised the miracle that was about to happen. Receiving the Body of Jesus Christ was a momentous thing at any time, but the first time was extra special.

The Mass began and Father Greely, brightly vested and attended by several altar boys, launched into the usual Latin prayers, along with other special ones for us. Later in the Mass, his sermon was all about the importance of this day and the difference it would make in our lives. He reminded the older people of when they had made their first Communion, and asked them to re-dedicate their lives to Christ. Then, the ringing of the bell accompanying his movements, he consecrated the Host. It was time for us to fulfil the preparation we’d been undergoing for the past few months.

Strangely, about the only thing I remember about receiving my first Communion was how the thin wafer of Host stuck to the roof of my mouth; my mouth was dry I suppose, from nerves. I kept poking at it with my tongue, trying to loosen it. I did wonder if I was doing something awful to Christ’s Body, and when the Host did finally come loose, I made sure not to touch it with my teeth. I didn’t want to be accused of chewing His Body! The hymn that Mrs Harris played and the congregation sang was “On Your First Communion Day”.

At the end of Mass, we were presented with a silver medal, which we wore about our neck, and a certificate, attesting that each of us had made out First Holy Communion on that day at St Paul’s church. My sisters still have their certificates, but mine has been lost somewhere along life’s way.

After the priest announced, Ite Missae est (Go the Mass is ended), we processed down the aisle and out of the church. As we had not yet eaten, having had to fast from the previous midnight in order to receive the Sacrament, there was a Communion breakfast after Mass, at the school. There our families joined us to celebrate our special day. I, along with my schoolmates, tucked into the food, enjoying the sandwiches, cakes and cordial more than anything else.

A first communion group

A first communion group

Although I have copies of both my sisters First Communion photos, there isn’t one of mine as far as I know.

© Linda Visman

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