First Communion in Early Twentieth-century Italy: a Rite of Passage within Childhood

Paolo Alfieri*

*Corresponding author

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


In traditionally Catholic countries, First Communion has widely functioned as a key rite of passage. In the modern age, and in particular during the eighteenth century, children were not admitted to the sacrament of the Eucharist until adolescence or even until the age of twenty. The ceremony thus represented a rite of passage that marked the transition to adulthood. A reversal of tradition came in some pastoral experiences of the nineteenth century and was officially established by the decree Quam singulari Christus amore –ordered in 1910 by Pope Pius X – which set the age for receiving Holy Communion at around seven years. First Communion still retained the form of a rite of passage, albeit without the adultist religious language surrounding Confirmation and without the pessimism about childhood that had been inherited from the past. The new educational outlook initiated by Pius X was also confirmed by his successors. Analysis of official Church pronouncements, devotional literature for children, and selected religious images – examined with an interdisciplinary heuristic approach – allows to shed light on a key shift in the Italian Catholic educational imaginary over the first half of the twentieth century, when Communion was seen as a typical childhood experience, in accordance with the changes underway in the upbringing and socialization of children and with the educational theories that valued children’s spontaneity and experience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-67
Number of pages17
JournalHistoria Scholastica
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • 20th century
  • First Communion
  • History of childhood
  • History of religious education
  • Italy


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