Why did the girls at first communion wear bridal clothing?

While visiting an out-of-town parish, we found that more than 20 children were having their first communion. The girls, about a dozen of them, were dressed as brides. My wife, who is from a country without this custom, was very surprised, and when she asked me why, I realized that I had never learned the actual reason for this. So I thought I would ask why here.

They are not dressed as brides.

They are dressed as first communicants.

The white garment symbolized purity, such as the white garment we receive at Baptism. The veil is a traditional female head covering.

Frequently on their first Holy Communion, boys will dress in their finest suits, and girls will often wear special white First Communion dresses and veils (their dresses should fit the rules of feminine modesty in Church – nothing sleeveless, etc.). Some parishes will say it is a reminder of putting on Christ, as the white garment offered at their baptism. On a mundane, sociological level, a child’s “First Communion” is a rite of passage, an acknowledgement that he has reached the age of reason and is now liable for many of the penalties involved in ecclesiastical censure; it is, in other words, a marker that the child is growing up… Gifts are given to the new communicant (typically Rosaries, prayer books, Bibles, etc.), and a party typically follows the Mass during which he first receives the Sacrament. These mundane aspects of a child’s “First Communion” should never, *ever *overshadow the greater reality! In some parts of the world, a child’s First Communion is turning into a lavish, extravagant, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses bat-mitzvah, with little girls, wearing dresses that cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars, carried about by limousine to parties with expensive ice sculptures and *la-di-da *waiters. It is uncanny to me.

While a child’s First Communion should be memorable and very beautiful, it should, above all, be holy and with all priorities in place. On the more fundamental and profound level, First Communion is an initiation into one of the Great Mysteries. Parents should prepare the child by firmly grounding him in basic catechesis. While it’s the priest’s decision as to whether or not your child is adequately prepared, it is your job as a parent or godparent to do the preparing; it is the parents and godparents who are ultimately responsible for the Catholic education of the child. The child should understand what transubstantiation is. He should know that God, Who created all things – the Sun and Moon and Stars – is able to speak things into reality, and that at the Mass, this is what God, through His priest does. The child should understand that though the accidents of bread and wine remain, what the bread and wine truly become is Sacrament. They will learn all of this best by watching the adults around them, especially parents and godparents.

They do look like brides’ dresses and veils, though. Even in the 1940’s, when girls and women wore headcoverings at every Mass, girls never wore veils that resembled first Communion veils at any other Mass besides their first Communion Mass.

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The veils may resemble those of a bride, in the sense that they are white and made of tulle, but the girls are not “dressed as brides”.

They are dressed as first communicants.

they were not dressed as brides, they were dressed in the traditional white garment that recalls baptism, and veils which are a custom leftover from the time when all girls and women wore headcoverings at Mass beginning with their first communion. Whether or not they wear them today remains a matter of local and cultural customs.

So, a quick question… is it okay for my daughter to use the bridal veil I wore for my wedding for her first communion veil?

Thanks :slight_smile:

I think that is a beautiful idea. Would you need to make it smaller for her though? I assume it’s not some big thing she’d be dragging down the aisle? LOL - :slight_smile:


I remember when I made first communion. I pretended I was a bride. I had a ball with the veil. It was a lot of fun for me, lol

LOL :smiley: no, it’s a very small veil, shoulder length for me


I used my mom’s first communion veil. I was so happy to wear it. I hope to wear her wedding dress when i get married if she doesn’t mind.

We just had this discussion with a certain someone in our household who translated, “This is a special day for you” to mean, “A day in which I am queen of the universe, and oh yes, Baby Sister, you may do all my chores this weekend, starting with making my bed!”

1.) It is a special day for **all **the first communicants. There are four parishes having first communion this weekend. You are one of about 200 kids.
2.) God does not care what you wear to First Communion, as long as it is modest; but He does care about how your heart looks.
3.) You have a nice dress and veil. But your soul and heart should look as nice as the dress and veil.
4.) Change your attitude quickly, or you will be making your first communion in your plain old Sunday dress, ala a famous saint (I want to say St. Julie Brilliart, but I’m not sure. I just told her a famous saint).

This has been a tradition far back to at least the 1700s, from what I can fathom through very brief research, girls in veils and white dresses. They were much plainer, the veil often being gossamer or silk. Remember, not only did all women and girls wear a head covering (NOT always a veil- I am so tired of hearing that innacuracy), but First Communion generally came around age 12 or so, until Pius X changed it to include the age of reason at 7 or so. The white garment goes back even further, back to the days of the Apostles.

In a culture such as ours where more tends to be considered “better” and where there are sadly fewer children brought into the world, excess can be a problem with milestones, even religious ones. There were some very ornate dresses made of white linen and heavy embroidery, long full skirts, some of them made in Mexico and very beautiful.

BTW- We had a really good set of parents in this communion class. Nobody had to wear the white sweaters we keep on hand because of spaghetti straps or strapless dresses!!! Three little girls wore their mother’s dresses (from when they were little girls), and several wore dresses they’d already worn as flower girls in weddings or their older sisters’ dresses. Besides veils, there were also fancy headbands and wreaths of flowers (real and artificial).

Nobody snapped photos outside of the time to do it, and not during Mass.

Only two little boys wore complete white suits. There were several whose parents opted for the boys’ normal suits with white bands tied in a bow around one arm- very quaint and charming. No boy looked as if he’d been out disco-ing all night.

We’re converts so I don’t have dresses or veils to pass on. That’s why I thought the wedding veil would be good. I could also get a regular lace ‘veil’ (mantilla? is that right?) that used to be worn. I have a year to figure it out :slight_smile: I hope this hasn’t sidetracked the OP too much :blush:


The wedding veil idea is lovely, but so is a simple artificial flower wreath from Hobby Lobby or Michael’s- or a real flower wreath from your local florist. It is cinchy to add tulle or illusion or lace after that.

Mantillas are not customary for First Communion in the USA. The veils that look more like bridal veils are more customary in the USA. My mother wore the veil that looked like a bridal veil for her First Communion in the 1940’s, then wore the mantilla at every Mass afterwards, until the rule requiring head coverings was changed.

Remember: Wedding wear only recently became the white gown (historically speaking), past 200 years, IIRC.

White for First Holy Communion is older still.

And veils, mantillas, and wimples were simply normal wear up to the 1400’s (and later in many places).

That’s true. White bridal dress was started by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert. First Communicants in white is really ancient, from when Bapitsm, Confirmation and Eucharist were given at the same time.

I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right. I have a picture of my grandmother and grandfather’s wedding and she’s wearing black (my dad has the dress in a hope chest as well). Looks like they were at a funeral!


the form, shape and material of the headcovering for first communicants (and brides) is mostly a cultural, not religious custom. In some cultures it is a cap, more or less fancy with lace, ribbons etc, in other cultures a veil, in others flowers etc. and is usually a fancier version of the bonnet, scarf, cap or veil worn every day in those cultures. Until about 100 years ago confirmation and first communion were celebrated together in the west, usually at about the age formal schooling ended (12 to 16 depending on the age youth were sent out to work). So the head covering was that assumed by girls of an age to go out in the world of work, whether domestic, farm, or industrial.