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August 11 , 2010

First Communion

Ritual, Church and Popular Religious Identity


One of the most carefully prepared liturgies of any Roman Catholic parish's year is the celebration of 'First Communion'. This is the ritual by which seven- or eight -year-old children are admitted to the Eucharist for the first time. It attracts the largest congregations of any parish liturgy, and yet is frequently marked by tension and dissent within the parish community. The same ritual holds very different meanings for the various parties involved - clergy, parish schools, regularly communicating parishioners, and the first communicants and their families. The tensions arise from dissonance between the parties on such key issues as expected patterns of Church attendance, Catholic identity, dress and expenditure, and family formation. The relationships and discontinuities between popular and 'official' religion is at the heart of these tensions. They touch upon deep-seated anxieties concerning the future viability of the very structures and patterns of parish life during the current period of falling Church attendance and parish closures.

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