Thursday, May 15, 2008

First Holy Communion Breads

My sons haven't made their First Holy Communion yet, but many of my numerous nephews and nieces have. Each celebration has been unique, but after the Mass it always involves family, food, and dessert. Since receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is the climax and pinnacle of this day, the rest of the celebration should never overshadow the main event.

So in thinking of ways to celebrate this occasion, I keep thinking that simplicity and familiar and favorite foods are the main course, with just a few highlights or symbols sprinkled throughout. As mentioned in this post, I like highlighting the accidents of the Eucharist, bread and wine, to remind us of the Eucharist throughout our celebration. And since the Feast of Corpus Christi (or Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) is two Sundays away, some of these ideas can be double duty!

So many traditional customs from around the world draw in bread symbolism in their celebrations. One example is the traditional Polish Oplatek, which is a wafer, similar to what is used for the Eucharistic host, broken and shared at the Christmas Eve meal in Polish families. This custom comes from the old papal custom eulogia, which consisted of loaves of bread blessed by the pope and distributed (or here). The act of sharing the one Oplatek reminds us of the Mass. While this isn't Christmas, sharing one loaf or wafer with everyone would provide beautiful symbolism.

Incorporating wafer type foods in our meals is also another extension of the First Communion. See Wafer making and , or Ostia Italian WafersPizelles or Italian Wafers are another type of "wafer" cookie and making them could be a wonderful family activity (or buy them already made). I like mine without anise, if you please.

Decorative breads, or symbolic pastries, as inspired by the Sicilian custom of a St. Joseph Altar made for St. Joseph's Day would be perfect as decorations for your First Communion party.

There are numerous shapes to make, but here is an example of Sheaf of Wheat bread or Vegan Sheaf of Wheat. My sister made some of her own edible decorative breads out of her favorite French bread recipe, and followed the directions for the sheaf out of My Little House Crafts Book by Carolyn Strom Collins.

French Bread

1 1/3 cups warm (not hot) water
2 1/4 teaspoons (one packet) active dry yeast
3-4 cups all-purpose or high-gluten flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Place water and yeast in large mixing bowl. Allow yeast to dissolve. Stir in 2 cups of flour and salt. Dough will be very sticky. Gradually stir in more flour until dough is workable by hand. Turn out onto floured surface and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until dough is smooth and springy. (This takes about ten minutes.) Return to bowl, cover with damp dishtowel, and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Punch dough down. Let rise a second time until doubled.

Punch dough down. On floured surface, form dough into two long loaves and place in French bread pan. Or divide dough into three sections; shape each section into a long cylinder; braid; place braid as loaf or wreath on baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Slash tops of loaves (not braids) with sharp knife or razor, about 1/2-inch deep. Bake at 400 degrees 20-30 minutes, or until golden. (You may place a few ice cubes at the bottom of oven -- the steam makes the outside of the loaves crispy.) Suitable for freezing. Makes 2 loves.

Nota Bene: Do not skimp on the rising! The longer rising times enhance the flavor.

The dough may be formed into rolls, wreaths, braids, baguettes, pretzels -- experiment!

Another St. Joseph Altar custom is the symbolic pastries, which are not edible.
Symbolic pastries are vital to an altar as they represent the objects that are sacred and holy in the life o the Holy Family or the church. Examples – Spata (or spada, Monstrance – the pastry centered on the altar which holds the host), heart, basket, fish, staff, chalice, cross, palm, among other symbols. These so easily tie into First Holy Communion, or save this idea for the feast of Corpus Christi, which will be next Sunday.

Some examples of symbolic pastries and recipes can be found at ItaliansRUs, ThankEvann or Catholic Culture. The one below incorporates the fig filling, which gives the background contrast.

Symbolic pastries

By Carla Booth and Anna Mae Fresina

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

5 lbs all purpose flour
1 lb. Can Crisco shortening
5 strings figs (plain) finely ground
3 ½-4 cups water – enough to form a firm dough

Make a well in the middle of the flour. Pour melted warm Crisco and water into the well. Mix until firm dough is formed. Knead dough until firm. Roll out as thin as possible – large enough to cut out desired shape. Cut out the desired shape with a sharp knife. Place this layer in the baking pan. Dried fig is placed on dough in the shape of the symbol being made. Fill figs high for sturdiness. Cut another shape from the dough to place over the figs and bottom layer of dough.

With real care and artistic skill, cut out leaves, vines, flowers, etc. through the top layer to expose figs. The top layer is similar to a piece of “cut work.” Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Then up to 425 degrees for 4-5 minutes.

Anna Mae confides that she places a stick through the back of her pastries for firmness and to keep them from breaking.

From Spirit of Independence: The St. Joseph Day Celebration
And you might enjoy reading some thoughts from my favorite Liturgical Cookbook author, Florence Berger. These are selections from her cookbook, Cooking for Christ, printed in 1949. They aren't directly related to First Holy Communion, but continue the thoughts on how bread brings our thoughts back to the Mass.

May your family's First Holy Communion and celebration be filled with grace and joy! Pin It


  1. Those breads are just gorgeous!

  2. Those are wonderful ideas! The breads look so great! Thanks for sharing this!