An excerpt from 'Catholic Traditions in Crafts'
Traditions involved with the first reception of the holy Eucharist abound in all Catholic cultures. These have often changed or modified due to the fashion of each particular country and the different ages at which children generally receive the sacrament.
In the United States in the 1950s and ’60s, First Communion classes received the sacrament in elaborate ceremonies with the children dressed all in white. The little girls wore frilly dresses and beautiful veils, making them seem as if they were miniature brides. Today, in most parishes the girls simply dress in their "Sunday best," and veils may be optional.
The exact origin of the wearing of veils for First Communion is shrouded in history. Among the Romans and early Christians, women always covered their head. Among Western Christians, the wearing of the bridal veil is all that is left of the distinctive veil of the married woman, common to many parts of the world and known long before Christianity. Head veils are still customary in many countries, especially where the Muslim religion predominates.
The Christian significance of the veil was its symbolism of marital fidelity. Its association with virginity was a later idea. Before the liturgical changes of the 1960s, all Catholic women covered their heads with some sort of head covering each time they entered the sanctuary. The Fourth Lateran Council in its consideration of Communion by children said only that children must be suitably dressed for the occasion. The tradition of Communion veils probably stems from each of these earlier customs.
If your parish still keeps the tradition of wearing veils at First Holy Communion, there is no need to purchase an expensive one from the store. You can make an inexpensive and very attractive one easily. The same technique can also be used for veils for quinceañeras (the celebration of a young women’s 15th birthday) or weddings.
First Communion Veil
- wire — any type that is easily bendable, yet stiff enough to hold its shape
- plastic bags from the grocery store or produce department — white or clear (cut off colored part)
- 2 yards of 7/16" wide (#9) white floral ribbon (acetate satin)
- 1 yard of 72" wide tulle
- hot-glue gun
- needle and thread
- 2 white silk flowers, 3" in diameter; 1 yard of small pearls; piece of thin white ribbon (optional)
1. Form a circle of wire approximately 5" to 5½" in diameter. Take a plastic bag and wrap it tightly around and around the wire ring until you have used the entire bag; add another bag and continue wrapping until the entire circle of wire is covered and is about ½" thick. Secure with a tiny dot of hot glue. (Careful, don’t burn your fingers! Use the eraser end of a pencil to press the plastic onto the glue.)
2. Hold one end of the ribbon tightly against your padded frame and wrap it through and around the frame; continue wrapping until the entire frame is covered. Wrap the ribbon as tightly as possible. When the entire circle is wrapped with the ribbon, secure the end with hot glue and cut off any excess. Reglue if necessary to make certain the end is stuck down well.
3. Fold the tulle in half, width-wise, six times. You should have a rectangle that is 1 yard long and 4½" across.
4. Fold in half lengthwise. Now your rectangle is 4½" x 18".
5. Place a saucer near the cut end of the tulle and, holding it firmly against the fabric, use a pencil to lightly trace the curved edge to the folded sides of the tulle. With sharp scissors, carefully cut along your line; this will make the scallops at the bottom of your veil.
6. Unfold the tulle and refold it lengthwise so that the top scallops are about 1" above the bottom scallops. Using a needle with doubled thread, make a small stitch to catch the thread about 1" below the folded edge, then baste along the width of the veil, 1½" below the folded edge. You can line the bottom scallops up with the edge of your counter or table to help you keep your basting line straight.
7. Gather tulle along the thread until a line measured from side to side along your stitching is 11". Place a couple of small stitches at the edge to secure. Even out the gathers and pin veil to circle with straight pins, leaving the prettiest, most even part of the circlet in front. The shorter line of scallops should be on top. With a needle and doubled thread, whip the veil into place on the circlet. Remove pins.
Now that you have completed the basic veil, you have many options for the final touches: you can add ribbons, pearls, silk flowers, jewels, etc. In some parishes, all-white veils are mandatory; in others, a touch of color may be added. Whatever you choose to finish your veil, it should be in keeping with the communicant’s dress.
We finished our veil by hot-gluing a yard of tiny pearls around the crown and adding two white silk flowers on one side.
Excerpt from Catholic Traditions in Crafts by Ann Ball, copyright ©1997 by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit Ann Ball's website.