Early 1900s Catholic First Communion Traditions

I don’t even know where to begin searching the web to find the answer to this question, so I’m starting here first.

Does anyone know anything about First Communion traditions from the early 1900s? I begged for and have now received a studio photograph of two of my great aunts and one great uncle, c. 1918. It is a First Holy Communion pic. My mom guessed the date based on how old each child appears; she knows their birth dates. Anyway, the oldest girl looks to be about 12; the second, also a girl, is about 8 or 9; and the youngest, the boy, looks around 6 or 7. The girls are in these gorgeous Victorian veils that fall to the hems of their dresses. They have on lace-up ankle-high white kidskin boot, and the boy is in a suit.

Why would all three children be making their First Communion at the same time? Obviously it isn’t a staged photo because if the oldest girl had made her First Holy Communion earlier, then the dress wouldn’t fit her at 12. If ALL the children in the family were to make it all at once – well, that doesn’t make sense either, because my grandfather isn’t in the picture and would have been about 5 at that time.

Didn’t they make their First Communion together as a class, then? I’m fairly positive they were in Catholic school. This is would have been in the Jamestown/Little Valley, NY, area – which is in western NY near Erie, Pennsylvania.

Early 1900s I don’t know about. In my time (1960s) and in my parents’ time (1930s) they did do it as a class, so people about the same age would be doing it at the same time. I don’t see any reason for a family to wait until they can all go at the same time – it’s not as if the Bishop had to be present and certify all the kids, and he could only make it around at great intervals.

Are you sure it’s the first communion for all of them? Maybe it’s only for one or two, and the others are dressed up in their Sunday Best for the picture.

What about First Communion for the second girl, Confirmation for the first and nothing in particular for the boy? The ages seem about right for that.

Both girls are dressed nearly identically, with long elaborate veils that, really, could be nothing but First Communion veils. They’re much too long to be chapel veils (unless in this time period, girls were dressed in long, long veils and white dresses just to go to church–which I doubt).

My mother says this is a First Communion picture because there’s no way they would have gone to the expense of purchasing these veils and white boots AND paying for a formal portrait for anything other than a special occasion. And she knew them (albeit as adults) and “cheap” only begins to describe their modus operandi. :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t think girls wore this type get-up for Confirmation at any time, but of course I could be wrong about that.

Is it possible that the family had just converted (to Christianity, or to Catholocism specifically)? If so, then all of the children who are old enough might well be taking their First Communion at the same time (along with baptism, and for the oldest girl, maybe confirmation). Your grandfather, at 5 years old, would still have been too young, and would presumably have taken his a few years later. 6 or 7 is also fairly young for First Communion, but not unheard-of (I think I was 7 when I had my First Communion).

Good hypothesis, Chronos, but no, no chance. Very much the Catholics from the Old Country.

To my knowledge, there’s never been a set age for either First Communion or confirmation. In the 1950s, my sister received First Communion at age 8. She was confirmed shortly thereafter. I also received First Communion at age 8, but at that time, the bishop felt Confirmation should wait until age 13. When we moved to a different diocese, our parish priest was surprised to find I hadn’t been confirmed yet, and I wound up being confirmed at age 11, with a class full of kids several years younger.

Could it be that your grandfather’s family had moved from somewhere where a Catholic church was relatively inacessible? That would be one reason the oldest might have her First Communion (or at least the celebration) delayed.

And in many places, Confirmation WAS a big deal. I was confirmed by my bishop, who seldom came to the parishes. It was definitely a dress-up ceremony.

Keep in mind I think the age to make Holy Communion was older back in 1900-it wasn’t until Pius X that it was lowered to around seven. But I can’t for the life of me remember what it was before-maybe nine or ten?

Communion of Children, from The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917 ed.).

Speaking off the top of my head, here, but I recall that until early in the twentieth century, the Catholic practice was to administer first communion at an older age than at present - twelve might not be too far off the mark. First Communion and Confirmation were administered together. (In fact, Confirmation immediately before First Communion.)

Then the practice changed, and First Communion moved to age 7 or 8, with Confirmation remaining unchanged.

Possibly the photograph shows the elder girl’s First Communion/Confirmation, and the younger two are just dressed up for the occasion.

Another possibility is that the photograph was taken during the transition from one practice to the other, so that the older girl is making her First Communion and her Confirmation, while the younger girl is making her First Communion, and will make her Confirmation in some years’ time. There must have been a period of five years when there were First Communions ever year for both twelve-year olds and seven-year olds.

I trink UDS has hit upon it. Your oldest great aunt probably was making her first communion along with the younger, which is why their parents went to the expense of a portrait. The policy was changed just about that time.

Hey! I said it first!

A bishop normally administers confirmation. It’s more out of the ordinary to be confirmed by a priest.

If this transition-period theory is indeed true, I think we have our answer. My aunts and grandfather are all gone, but it just occurred to me that the little boy in the picture, my Uncle Marv, is still among us. I could contact him if the question still burns.

Thanks to everyone for his or her help!

The other scenario in which children of varying ages would have received First Communion together, (aside from the diocese changing the rules so that several grades of school kids were “caught up” in a single year), would be for the family to have moved from one diocese to another where the rules were different.

The rules governing this sort of event are exactly the sort that are decided on a diocese by diocese basis. When I was a kid in Detroit, the age for Confession and Communion was seven. My cousin who is my age, (living in Indianapolis or Terre Haute at the time), made her first communion at age 6.