I am not so sure I would completely echo Napoleon, but I would certainly agree that my First Communion was a very happy occasion. Of course, what many – maybe most – Catholics remember most about their First Communion Day is frequently the frills: the outfits, the photos, and, of course, the presents. Those are all perfectly nice things, and their significance should not be minimized. They mattered a lot to everyone around me and so also mattered to me. Yet – lover of ritual and ceremony that I already was becoming - what I actually remember most about my First Communion was all the hours we spent practicing beforehand. The Sisters were not about to leave anything to chance! (For us at the time, First Communion, along with First Confession the day before and Confirmation a couple of years later, were significant life-cycle celebrations, for which the parish school faithfully prepared us.) And I remember my mother having to persuade my Aunt to have her babysit for my 3-month old sister, so that both my parents and my grandmother could attend the ceremony. And then came the ceremony itself - an 8:00 a.m. Solemn High Mass! Actually, I remember very little about the ceremony itself. But I do remember how we walked up to the altar, two-by-two, and then how I returned to my pew with my hands held together very piously - something which my father found noteworthy enough to comment on later. Finally, I remember my mother’s dress as she approached the Communion rail right in front of me later on in the Mass. (In those days, when most adults still went to Communion only occasionally, First Communion was one of those rare events when one’s parents would typically go to Communion.)
As for the actual reception of Communion itself - kneeling on the altar step (rather than at the altar rail) to receive the Sacred Host on my tongue, as the priest prayed, Corpus Domini nostri, Jesu Christi custodiat anuman tuam in vitam aetaernam, Amen - that memory is real but much less vivid. Perhaps that is because it merges in memory with so many other subsequent Communions. For many of us in my generation (brought up after Saint Pius X encouraged frequent Communion), that would have typically been once a week (and later in life for those of us who embraced a religious vocation, likely as often as once a day). That's a lot of Communions! So, if the first one merges in memory with all those subsequent Communions, that may be as it should be. As a pastor, I always used to stress when preaching to First Communicants on their big day, the key word to remember about the experience is “first” – the first time they are doing what (hopefully) they are going to be doing many more times, over and over again, at least once each week, all the rest of their lives.
Unlike Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders, which are defining, once-for-all events, and despite the life-cycle significance of First Communion in contemporary Catholic culture, the Eucharist really is meant to be a regularly repeated sacrament. Of course, any sense of that was largely lost for so much of our history, when people went to Communion relatively rarely. At some level, that was always clearly contrary to the plain sense of the liturgy, and to the very nature of the sacrament. As Saint Thomas Aquinas himself explained centuries ago, by Baptism a person is oriented to the Eucharist, so that by virtue of being baptized one is destined for the Eucharist by the Church (Summa Theologica, III, q. 73, art. 3). On the other hand, it may well be that frequent Communion as it evolved in the last third of the 20th-century and since, may have now made the experience something more like a routine for far too many recipients. And that too may well be part of what is broadly, if imprecisely, reflected by that recent research about what many Catholics may or may not believe (or think they believe) regarding the Eucharist.