Diocesan News

First Communions Have Evolved, But Christ Is Still at the Center

BAYSIDE  — Georgette Lyons, director of religious education at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Bayside, has vivid memories of her first Communion in 1954.

It took place at St. Leonard Church in Bushwick, where her family were parishioners. “It was a very different time because it was a Latin Mass. We children really did not participate. You just saw the backs of priests. And you heard them praying, but you had no concept of really what was going on,” she recalled.

“The children today participate in the Mass,” Lyons added.

Lyons, who has been religious education director at Sacred Heart since 1996, has seen generations of children receive their sacraments. And each year is like her first Communion, too, because she gets to renew her commitment to Jesus Christ. 

She talked to The Tablet about the changes she has seen over the years.

The language spoken at Mass isn’t the only difference between the 1950s and now. “Back then, you had to fast from midnight the night before. You couldn’t eat anything,” Lyons said.

And unlike today, when youngsters walk up to the altar one by one, Lyons and her fellow baby boomers knelt around the altar railing and received the Eucharist from a priest who walked along the railing accompanied by an altar boy (there were no female altar servers in those days) carrying a paten to catch any Communion that fell.

Marylyn Crum, director of religious education at Immaculate Conception Church in Astoria, is another experienced faith formation educator who shared her memories with The Tablet. 

She had been on the job since 1988 and said she loves the fact that each year is like her first Communion. “If that doesn’t fill your heart with joy, you’re in the wrong job,” she said.

Looking back over the decades, Crum has noticed how fashions have changed over time, particularly in how little girls dress and how families celebrate.

“Years ago, the dresses were short and boys all wore white suits,” she recalled. “Then we went through an evolution in the late 1980s into the 1990s of floor length, bouffant, large dresses for girls that were more like wedding dresses. And the veils had these crystals that reflected light,” Crum said.

But what goes around comes around, she added. “Now it has come back to basically little girls’ dresses — demure dresses, tea length,” she said.

Lyons also took notice of evolving fashion tastes. “We all wore a veil. Nowadays, the children just have to have something on their head. It could be a veil. It could be a wreath of flowers. Some of the girls have crowns, a tiara type of thing. We don’t say that they all have to wear the same,” she explained.

The celebrations after Mass have grown into lavish affairs, both Crum and Lyons said. 

“Today, families rent a limousine and have a party in a catering hall. They treat Communion like a wedding, a very big event,” said Crum, a lifelong parishioner of Immaculate Conception, who received her first Communion in the mid-1950s. “I remember my Communion being a wonderful day but my family didn’t go to a catering hall!” she recalled.

Still, Crum said she doesn’t believe that large celebrations — like parties in catering halls — take away from the meaning of the day. Jesus Christ is still at the center of it all, she said, adding, “Communion is a milestone in a person’s life.”

Big parties do not mean that the spirit of Communion is getting lost in the shuffle, Lyons said. “The sacrament itself is still the Eucharist,” she explained.

There have been positive changes, according to Lyons, who said today’s children have a deeper understanding of the sacrament than her generation did.

“Now when we have Communion, our children are invited up around the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. They are really a part of it and they get to fully embrace it,” she explained.