I went to the Catholic Theology Seminar tonight. A lecturer from Liverpool Hope University spoke about his research about how local parishes (particularly inner city Liverpool) handle first communion for kids. As someone who was raised baptist, I was quite unaware of pomp that went with it. In fact the only experience that I’ve had with first communion is watching The Godfather and reading Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes.

The idea of first communion didn’t really develop until the counter-reformation. In 1910 the Vatican moved the age from around 12 to around 7 for several reasons but he thought primarily so it wouldn’t be associated with sexual maturity, especially with the wedding-type atmosphere with parties and clothing. That way kids would be much less likely to be tainted by sin, so the event would remain pure.

He commented on how it was really as much of a family event as it was an initiation into the church’s life. He noted current practices that are in some ways tied to modern “consumer products”. The prime thing is getting “smart” (i.e., fancy) clothes. For girls that means a dress never worn by anyone before. Others noted how people go into debt to fund the related events–parties, big vacations, giving money, etc. (again, much like a wedding). Another person noted seeing kids arrive in limos. It is definitely a very different atmosphere than I would have expected.

His opinion was that ultimately going through the event didn’t help kids to engage more in the life of the church, as a result the religious aspects shouldn’t be reduced but the family aspect shouldn’t be neglected.

On a related note, the Methodist church that we’ve been attending here doesn’t seem to require baptism for taking communion. They say it’s an open table and don’t mention anything that would discourage unbaptised people from taking part. In particular, a friend’s kids here take it without being baptised. It seems that this is a standard practice, but I’m not sure if it is just our local parish.