Do Catholics Wear A Wedding Dress For First Communion?

by Eucharist, History of the Church

Dressing up for special occasions is a common practice, but on certain occasions, the dress itself carries its own traditions and symbolism. The reception of First Holy Communion is one such special occasion. It is common to see those receiving First Communion dressed up in clothes very similar to wedding dresses and tuxedos. While this may seem odd at first, marriage and the symbolism of that sacrament are in fact what is being invoked by these clothes. The recipients of the sacrament are symbolically marrying God. This marriage to God is spoken of all throughout scripture. Let’s learn from a few of those passages and discover more about the Sacrament of Holy Communion from them.

Genesis and Revelation

As kids, we weren’t we taught to start our writing with an opening that tells the reader the main theme? Then, in the conclusion, we summarize the theme we just wrote about. This is exactly what we find in the Bible. In Genesis, we learn about Adam and Eve, who get married with the words, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Gen 2:23). At the end of the book of Revelation, we see a vision of a heavenly banquet, but not just any banquet – this is the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev 19).

The entire Bible is about a marriage, as it tells the story of God bringing humanity back into union with Him after the fall, creating a loving, faithful relationship of self-gift that sounds a lot like marriage. In fact, by consuming Christ, the recipient and Christ become one flesh. Holy Communion is a spiritual marriage, which is why we wear wedding clothes.

It is important to note here that we don’t use the symbol of marriage to describe our relationship with God because what we do with God is like what we do with one another when we as humans marry. It’s the other way around. Our marriages are supposed to imitate God’s love for humanity, and more specifically the church. Ephesians 5 digs into this if you’d like to read and pray with it. The point though, is that it is spiritual marriage that is primary, and our physical earthly marriages are but a shadow of that full gift of God. So in some sense, we dress at weddings like we do at First Communion because we hope to embody to our spouses Christ’s full gift of love. Our first communion outfits aren’t doing the mimicking, they’re the example.

Let’s look at a passage in the Old Testament. Many refer to marriage in some way, but we will focus on one from Isaiah:

“It will no longer be said to you, “Forsaken,”
Nor to your land will it any longer be said, “Desolate”;
But you will be called, “My delight is in her,”
And your land, “Married”;
For the LORD delights in you,
And to Him your land will be married.
For as a young man marries a virgin,
So your sons will marry you;
And as the groom rejoices over the bride,
So your God will rejoice over you.”

Isaiah 62:4-5

In this passage, the Holy Spirit through the prophet Isaiah foretells of the redemption of Israel, and used marital language to do so. Jesus is the bridegroom, and the Church, which is the New Israel, is his bride. We see this prophecy confirmed explicitly in John 3:29, in which John the Baptist says, “He who has the bride is the groom; but the friend of the groom, who stands and listens to him, rejoices greatly because of the groom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.” John the Baptist recognizes Jesus as the groom who has been promised. 

What does this have to do with First Communion?

Christ coming and marrying His bride, the Church, us, changes our relationship with him. We become God’s children in Baptism. Nothing is expected of a child in terms of the relationship. An infant doesn’t act lovingly, they’re completely self-centered. What a child does or does not do is irrelevant to their identity as the child of their parents. As a child matures, they develop the ability to choose, and as a person becomes developmentally able to choose, they become able to love. Love is a free gift, and as such must be freely chosen. The Roman Catholic Church waits until age seven, when a child is beginning to be able to choose and, therefore, to love, for first communion. A marriage requires a loving choice. The relationship has changed. Obviously, development and growth in love take a lifetime, and we aren’t perfected until Heaven, but First Communion marks a significant step along that path. It is a choice to enter into loving relationship with Christ, and to follow and imitate him, just as one desires to be with their beloved on their wedding day.

The Eucharist And The Mass

Let’s look at one more example from the New Testament that ties together the idea of marriage, the Eucharist, and the Mass itself. In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well. On the spiritual level, this passage is about Christ bringing the nation of Samaria back into relationship with him. As in, spiritual marriage. There are many indicators of this, but for the sake of brevity I will point out just one. Every time you’re at a well in Scripture, there’s a marriage at play. For a Jew in the first century, the moment they read that Jesus met this woman at a well they would be expecting someone to be getting married. In this case, Jesus and the woman have a discussion that leads directly to questions of worship and ends with her going back to the town and bringing the rest of the community to Christ. 

The woman at the well doesn’t just keep Christ to herself. She shares the news of her encounter, and this brings converts. Just as physical marriage produces physical children, spiritual marriage produces new souls in love with Christ. While it’s a bit much to expect a seven-year-old to bring a bunch of converts to the church, this does relate to the Mass. The name “Mass” itself comes from the Latin dismissal during which the priest says “Ite, missa est.” That translates to “Go, she (the Church, and you) has been sent.” After we receive Holy Communion, we are sent to share the good news with the world, just like the woman goes back to town and shares her encounter.

These examples are by no means exhaustive. The core realities of the Eucharist and Holy Matrimony are bound together in the eternal love of God. This side of Heaven, we can be no closer to God than in the Eucharist. Marriage is meant to image that love between spouses, so we wear grown-up Communion clothes when we get married. It is incredibly fitting that people dress in miniature wedding clothes for their First Communion, and it’s a great reminder to all of us of what is really happening when we receive Holy Communion ourselves. 

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