Cardinal suggests preparing children for Communion even before age 7

So says the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, as reported by CNS.

27 comments

  1. How about we start by preparing their parents to go to confession once in a while? Without a Catholic household, seems kinda like spinning wheels to me.

    1. This probably speaks to the disadvantage of the current catechetical model and general misunderstandings about “earning” sacraments through classroom time.

      If we insist on penance before First Communion, we should at least recognize that as the awareness of sin develops in a young person, there should be at least two additional periods of catechesis as a person approaches adolescence and adulthood. Imagine reconciliation replacing confirmation as the teen sacrament of entry into adulthood.

      1. Todd,

        Your reference to Confirmation as a teen sacrament of entry into adulthood puzzles me. Confirmation, whenever it is celebrated, is the public affirmation of baptism!

      2. I agree with you, Donna, where the celebration of the rite is concerned. However, when Confirmation is prepared in a parish for teens, it is more often viewed as “graduation” from religious ed. All too often, the catechetical experience swamps the liturgical celebration.

  2. Do infants often spit out the Eucharist during Chrismation? I’ve seen Eastern priests communicate infants during the Divine Liturgy. I’ve never seen spitting. The priest places a small drop of the Precious Blood on the baby’s tongue.

    I would prefer Chrismation in the in the Latin rite, but that hasn’t been our tradition for over a thousand years. Maybe we should do confession, communion, and confirmation in one year as soon as a child can be taught what the sacraments mean. Bishops might have to deputize priests to confirm (I don’t see this as a big deal). Why should anyone have to wait for the grace of the sacraments and the fullness of baptism?

  3. To move First Communion up seems meritorius in principle, but dubious in reality, given the state of catechesis in general. Perhaps His Eminence is pointing to a program of renewed catechism through this suggestion?

  4. This is one slight, tentative step in the right direction. It’s nice to see the question at least being opened up a bit.

  5. I’ve been to Orthodox celebrations of the Divine Liturgy where the only people receiving Communion were the priest and various babes in arms; never saw any spitting, but a glimpse at Orthodox forums shows that it sometimes occurs. Most spills of the Eucharist are caught in the red napkins used at the chalice, I would think.

  6. The idea is a positive sign of restoring practice to be in line with sacramental theology. More importantly, maybe before changing the age of admission to the Eucharist, the CDW will consider placing the chrismation (i.e., Confirmation) between infant baptism and the child’s communion where it belongs.

  7. And how does the Sacrament of Penance fall with an earlier age for Communion…I know Communion & Penance have often been said to be desired at the age of reason, which is given as 7…I have a 7-year-old grandson and reason doesn’t enter the behavioral cycle at that age!! There are few adults who really deal with reason!

    1. Reason in this sense refers fairly narrowly to the ability to distinguish between right and wrong in objective terms. Courts rely on the same general sense when they determine whether children can testify under oath.

    2. Penance would fall wherever it’s needed, even if it’s later than First Communion. It’s not the “age of reason” that’s the issue there, but the “age of discretion,” enough understanding to be capable of “mortal sin.”

      If a child has not yet attained that discretion, he or she would not be going to confession before First Communion, but if the child is thus incapable of “mortal sin,” it’s hard to see why that would be a problem.

      In determining how the sequence of initiation sacraments should function, Penance/Reconciliation shouldn’t enter into it. It’s not an initiation sacrament.

      1. Can you point us to a place where a substantial distinction is made between “age of discretion” and “age of reason”. They seem to be used fairly synonomously in the New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (pg. 64): “The law sometime sspeaks of the ‘age of discretion.’ This is to be understood as the age of seven, or a later age at which a person achieves the use of reason if this was not attained by the age of seven.”

        The reason that the age of discretion enters into the reception of the initiation sacraments is that the Code of Canon Law sets the age of discretion as the universal norm for the time of reception of the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Latin Church and also as the time after which grave sins must be confessed, so they’d ordinarily happen at the same time.

  8. There are several issues at steak here. Continued concern for the order of the sacraments of initiation for is certainly one of them. Reasons for lowering the age for first communion should be based on the mere fact that children have a right to communion by virtue of their baptism.

    As we look toward the future, I would like to see a practice where perhaps parents/guardians ask for communion and confirmation for their children, as they do for infant baptism. Sacraments of initiation ought not need to be a matter of age or grade level. My own rich experience with the Catechumenate for children demonstrates this point.

    To support this practice, catechetically, a more adult centered model is in order!

  9. Donna Eschenauer :
    Todd,
    Your reference to Confirmation as a teen sacrament of entry into adulthood puzzles me. Confirmation, whenever it is celebrated, is the public affirmation of baptism!

    No it’s not. It’s this backward understanding of Sacraments that has gotten us in to this mess.

    Confirmation is not about us (or the community) affirming our Baptism. It’s not centered on us at all (well, hardly). It’s about what God the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit, is doing to us.

    However, as was mentioned elsewhere, I heartily agree that the Sacraments should be re-ordered to what they are supposed to be.

    Donna, respectfully, I don’t think that, after Baptism, the parents have very much at all by way of asking for the Church to give Sacraments. They (not the parish, haha) should be forming their children to have a desire to ask for the Sacraments themselves.

    As for where Reconciliation fits in, the Eastern Rites have a great model, imho– they receive Communion at an early age, but as they approach the Age of Reason and First Reconciliation, they abstain for a time, that they might better appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.

    1. Chris, please allow me to defend my statement: I thought that we had moved beyond the idea that Confirmation is a sacrament of adulthood, hence, my puzzlement at Todd’s statement.
      The revised Rite of Confirmation (1971) aims to reestablish the unity of Christian initiation and Confirmation’s link to Baptism.
      History reveals that the anointing, after immersion in water (which may have taken place in a baptistry – a space removed from the assembly), took place in the midst of the assembly. This anointing, therefore publicly affirmed what just happened through baptism.
      My reason for bringing this up was that for too long we invented a theology of Confirmation that misses the mark. I didn’t intend to take us off the track. The initial conversation was on lowering the age for First Communion. However, in light of this proposal, it does add to the controversial, ongoing discussion regarding the restored order of the sacraments of initiation. Keep in mind that the order of celebrating the sacraments of initiation was disturbed when Pius X first lowered the age for First Communion in 1910!

      1. I see! 🙂

        I think that the multi-tiered organization makes it difficult to follow who said what, when. I don’t think you had responded to Todd yet, when I wrote mine.

        It seems that, if we are taking both the restoration of the Order of the Sacraments of Initiation and the Cardinal’s proposal for receiving communion at a younger age, then we are indeed looking at something similar to the Eastern rites, yes?

    1. Well, in juridical terms, yes. For example, in the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

      Canon 213. The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the sacraments.

      Section 1 of Canon 843. Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.

      Canon 912. Any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion.

      1. Good!
        When in doubt go to the source. For example, the Code of Canon Law, or the Rites of the Church should always be consulted before relying on commentaries.

      2. WEll, now that that right has been established, what is the “Church” doing about staffing parishes in order that we can fulfill our right to Eucharist?? It still seems that there is more emphasis on a celibate male priesthood than on the need for community celebration of the Eucharist…

      3. Well, Lynne, of course the understanding of rights in the legal culture Anglosphere is different than the understanding of rights in the civil/Roman/code legal culture. Multiculturalism and all that….

    2. According to the tradition, the baptized have a responsibility to receive the sacraments. (As Thomas Aquinas puts it, we are “deputed” to the worship [especially the eucharistic worship] of God by those sacraments that imprint a character, preeminently baptism – ST III, 63,1.) As such, from a moral perspective, we have a right to [what we need in order to] receive the sacraments. (If you have a personal responsibility to do something, you have a right to fulfill that responsibility, according to most understandings of human rights.) Hence the Canon Law statement.

      I should add that technically, people are dispensed from this responsibility until they reach the age of reason. Hence, one assumes, they do not necessarily have the right by this argument. But if the reason for dispensation was mistaken, the responsibility would still hold. Some people also argue that there are other reasons to affirm this right of children.

    3. I knew that someone would have the answer. I’m looking forward to my canon law classes for this reason! 😀

  10. Donna wrote: “Sacraments of initiation ought not need to be a matter of age or grade level.”

    Heartily agree. In my experience some of the most liturgically rich celebrations of the sacraments of initiation have occurred in unusual circumstances, mostly in one parish that is very sensitive to these issues in a way that benefits both those receiving the sacraments and the whole community.

    One particularly striking instance was the baptism of several children of a family, all of early grade school age. It was the most joyous baptism that I have ever witnessed.

    As most baptisms in this parish, it was done at Sunday liturgy. The baptismal font is made for adult immersion. Most adults are baptized by immersion in bath robes; infants by immersion in the nude. These young children were baptized in bath robes by having a pitcher of water poured over their heads as they leaned over the baptismal pool.

    They were absolute joy as they danced around their seats and the baptismal font before and during the celebration.

    It had all the spirit of children splashing in pools and dancing around sprinklers. That brought forth the imagery of “waters of joy” “springs of salvation” and “living waters” that we normally don’t contemplate at infant (innocence and new life) and adult (conversion) baptisms.

    The pastor and I joked afterwards that maybe he had stumbled on the “right” age for baptism!

  11. A good commentary on the initiation of already baptized children is:
    Duggan, Robert D. and Maureen A. Kelly. The Christian Initiation of Children: Hope for the Future. New York: Paulist Press, 1991.
    This work points toward a vision that does not presume grade level to be the criteria for the celebration of sacraments. Using the RCIA as a guide, the vision favors flexibility, discernment, and family readiness.
    I find this prophetic!

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