Celebrating First Holy Communion

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | May 13, 2015

First Holy Communion is fresh on my mind since our youngest son received Jesus for the very first time on May first. It is a such a privilege and joy to be a witness to our child's reception of the sacraments and to grow in his relationship with Jesus. mentioned previously that his formation was through an atrium of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. The catechists encouraged the parents to emphasize to our child by example and word that Jesus is the Gift and focus of the First Communion. A party and extraneous gifts should not overshadow the reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. 

My son was able to receive on Friday morning, and then returned to his retreat with his fellow first communicants. The next day we had a celebration with extended family. For my oldest son who received on a Sunday, we weren't able to defer the party since we had visiting family. Having done both, I preferred delaying the party, as it did provide less distraction and stress for both my son and the rest of the family, but I know it's not possible for everyone.

Regardless when the party will be, the next question is what to serve? I kept things simple so the party would not be a distraction. The menu was favorite foods of the first communicant. Dessert was the centerpiece of the party. Traditionally it is a cake. Since this is First Communion season, let's talk cake for the First Communion Celebration. 

Sheet Cake Ideas:

A simple sheet cake with white icing and decorated with symbols of the Eucharist feeds a larger crowd. Some ideas for symbols: 

  • paten and chalice
  • a host with I.N.R.I or I.H.S.
  • The Alpha and the Omega
  • Cross
  • Chi-Rho
  • the image of a dove for the Holy Spirit
  • a small Scripture quote, such "I Am the Bread of Life" or "I am the Vine, you are the Branches. Remain in Me." 
  • wheat and grapes or bread and wine
  • Paschal Lamb

Shaped Cakes:

I went in another direction for our cake. Four years ago, when our oldest son made his First Communion, I could not buy a premade cake. My oldest son has food allergies, so I had to make his cake from scratch without wheat, eggs, and dairy. Using my sister-in-law's idea, we made a host and chalice from two 8" allergy safe round cakes.

Four years later, my younger son requested the same cake design just like his big brother's. Since he has no food allergies, there was more wiggle room for choices of flavor. I decided upon a cream cheese pound cake with cream cheese frosting, both flavored with Cognac, the same combination I use for our family's Easter lamb cake.

If cream cheese doesn't sound appealing, another recipe option is the Four Egg Cake with Butter-cream icing suggested by Evelyn Vitz. Her cookbook, A Continual Feast, has other wonderful recipes and suggestions for family sacramental celebrations.

To the right is a simple diagram for the cutting and icing of the cakes. Bake two 8 inch round cakes. After cooling, cut one cake as in the first illustration. Before assembling, the cakes need a crumb coat to keep the crumbs showing up in the icing. (For a larger crowd, bake a large sheet cake and put the host and chalice on top.)

I kept the icing and colors simple, but made sure the wine showed in the chalice. This was both boys' requests, as realism matters.

Because the cake design is larger, it needed a larger cake board for display. I used a piece of plywood, about 18" x 24" covered with foil paper used for cake decorating (found in any craft store with cake decorating items).

Other Round Cake Ideas:

Other cakes that provide the round, white shape, reminiscent of the Sacred Host received at Communion, are a cheesecake and a carrot cake. Our family has a most delicious carrot cake recipe and always look for an excuse to have my mother bake the cake. Omitting the nuts provide a "whiter" presentation. 

Another option is following the trend of multiple cupcakes, decorated with white frosting and symbols of the Eucharist.

Decorations:

The white theme can continue with the decorations: tablecloths, plates, napkins, and flowers. Because the Sacrament of the Eucharist is one of the sacraments of initiation, I also had his baptismal candle and white garment on display. 

This only scratches the surface, but the intention was to keep the focus on the Gift of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which meant keeping extra distractions to a minimum and preparations low key. In the end, the whole two days were memorable and grace-filled for my first communicant. And that was my original intent.

Further Reading:

The Liturgical Year library has further reading on preparing for Communion and the family celebration: 

Jennifer Gregory Miller is an experienced homemaker, home schooler, and authority on living the liturgical year. She is the primary developer of CatholicCulture.org's liturgical year section. See full bio.

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