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Circular 2012-13: Readings on the Age of First Holy Communion

March 26, 2012

Solemnity of the Annunciation

My dear brother priests:

In response to your request for assistance on the pastoral matter of determining the age for the reception of First Holy Communion for children, I am enclosing with this letter some  from church laws, church tradition, statements from some officials of the Holy See and the Popes on the said issue.

The general disposition of the Holy See is that First Communion must not be delayed and that as soon as the age of reason is reached the child must be prepared for First Communion. The age of reason is generally understood as seven years old. Considering that child education begins at six years old in kindergarten, let us consider starting catechesis earlier, before our children are taken over by secularism.

I entrust these reading  materials to you for your pastoral consideration. Let us allow the children to go to the Lord and do not hinder them.

Thank you for your fraternal attention.

 

Sincerely yours,

+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS

Archbishop of Lingayen  Dagupan

 

To read the readings, kindly click HERE.

SOME READINGS ON THE AGE OF FIRST COMMUNION FOR CHILDREN

FROM EARLY CHURCH HISTORY

It is now well established that in the early days of Christianity it was not uncommon for infants to receive Communion immediately after they were baptized. Among others St. Cyprian (Lib. de Lapsis, c. xxv) makes reference to the practice. In the East the custom was pretty universal, and even to this day exists in some places, but in the West infant Communion was not so general. Here, moreover, it was restricted to the occasions of baptism and dangerous illness. Probably it originated in a mistaken notion of the absolute necessity of the Blessed Eucharist for salvation, founded on the words of St. John (vi, 54).

The manner of Communicating infants was by dipping the finger in the consecrated chalice and then applying it to the tongue of the child. This would seem to imply that it was only the Precious Blood that was administered, but evidence is not wanting to show that the other Consecrated Species was also given in similar circumstances (cf. Sebastiano Giribaldi, Op. Mor., I, c. 72). That infants and children not yet come to the use of reason may not only validly but even fruitfully receive the Blessed Eucharist is now the universally received opinion, but it is opposed to Catholic teaching to hold that this sacrament is necessary for their salvation (Council of Trent, Sess. XXI, can. iv).

CHURCH LAWS ON FIRST COMMUNION

The existing legislation with regard to the Communion of children has been definitely settled by the Fourth Lateran Council, which was afterwards confirmed by the authority of the Council of Trent.

According to its provisions children may not be admitted to the Blessed Eucharist until they have attained to years of discretion, but when this period is reached then they are bound to receive this sacrament.

When may they be said to have attained the age of discretion? In the best-supported view of theologians this phrase means, not the attainment of a definite number of years, but rather the arrival at a certain stage in mental development, when children become able to discern the Eucharistic from ordinary bread, to realize in some measure the dignity and excellence of the Sacrament of the Altar, to believe in the Real Presence, and adore Christ under the sacramental veils. De Lugo (De Euch., disp. xiii, n. 36, Ben. XIV, De Syn., vii) says that if children are observed to assist at Mass with devotion and attention it is a sign that they are come to this discretion.

CERTAIN ERRORS ABOUT FIRST COMMUNION PASTORAL PRACTICE: (From John Cardinal Wright)

The Decree Quam Singulari, in treating the age at which children are to be initiated into their post-baptismal sacramental life, had to face (as had a decree on frequent Communion by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, five years before) certain doctrinal and ascetical errors that had become deeply rooted in Catholic life at the opening of the century, at least in some parts of the world.

JANSENISM

One of these was the pretense that a greater discretion is required for first Communion than for first Confession. This, like most of the other errors, was rooted in Jansenism: for example, one was the idea that to receive first Holy Communion requires a nearly complete knowledge of the Articles of Faith and, therefore, an extraordinary preparation. In effect, this means deferring first Communion for the riper age of 12, 14 or even older.

REMEDY NOT REWARD

Another error was the pretense that "the Holy Eucharist is a reward (for virtue), not a remedy for human frailty," a conceit which is contrary to the teaching of the Council of Trent that Holy Communion is "an antidote by which we are freed from our daily faults and preserved from mortal sins. (Cardinal Wright).

WHEN IS THE RIPE AGE FOR FIRST COMMUNION?

As far as age is concerned, the most suitable age seems to be still between seven to eight years, as we have it today, and this for many reasons.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the Vatican official responsible for worship and the sacraments, with the blessings of Pope Benedict XVI suggested that children be allowed to receive first Holy Communion before their seventh birthday.

Today, he said, “children live immersed in a thousand difficulties, surrounded by a difficult environment that does not encourage them to be what God wants them to be”.

A child’s first Communion, he said, was “like the beginning of a journey with Jesus… the beginning of a friendship destined to last and to grow for his entire life”.

But can children younger than seven truly grasp the doctrine of the Real Presence? Is it not more important to ensure they have a firm grasp of its significance?

On the other hand, children develop at different rates. If they are well prepared, it seems sensible for them not to wait unnecessarily. And it is better, surely, for the “journey with Jesus” to start as early as possible. (Cardinal Canizares our essays online service Llovera).

PASTORAL ERRORS ON FIRST COMMUNION

In the precise determination of "the age of reason or discretion" not a few errors and deplorable abuses have crept in during the course of time. There were some who maintained that one age of discretion must be assigned to reception of the Sacrament of Penance and another to the Holy Eucharist. They held that for Confession the age of discretion is reached when one can distinguish right from wrong, hence can commit sin; for Holy Eucharist, however, a greater age is required in which a full knowledge of matters of faith and a better preparation of the soul can be had.

As a consequence, owing to various local customs and opinions, the age determined for the reception of First Communion was placed at ten years or twelve, and in places fourteen years or even more were required; and until that age children and youth were prohibited from Eucharistic Communion.

This practice of preventing the faithful from receiving on the plea of safeguarding the august Sacrament has been the cause of many evils.

It happened that children in their innocence were forced away from the embrace of Christ and deprived of the food of their interior life; and from this it also happened that in their youth, destitute of this strong help, surrounded by so many temptations, they lost their innocence and fell into vicious habits even before tasting of the Sacred Mysteries. And even if a thorough instruction and a careful Sacramental Confession should precede Holy Communion, which does not everywhere occur, still the loss of first innocence is always to be deplored and might have been avoided by reception of the Eucharist in more tender years.

Such is the injury caused by those who insist on extraordinary preparations for First Communion, beyond what is reasonable; and they doubtless do not realize that such precautions proceed from the errors of the Jansenists who contended that the Most Holy Eucharist is a reward rather than a remedy for human frailty.

This doctrine was not long ago strongly emphasized by a Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council given on December 20, 1905.

Daily approach to Communion is open to all, old and young, and two conditions only are required: the state of grace and a right intention. Moreover, the fact that in ancient times the remaining particles of the Sacred Species were even given to nursing infants seems to indicate that no extraordinary preparation should now be demanded of children who are in the happy state of innocence and purity of soul, and who, amidst so many dangers and seductions of the present time have a special need of this heavenly food.

From all this it is clear that the age of discretion for receiving Holy Communion is that at which the child knows the difference between the Eucharistic Bread and ordinary, material bread, and can therefore approach the altar with proper devotion.

Perfect knowledge of the things of faith, therefore, is not required, for an elementary knowledge suffices–some knowledge; similarly full use of reason is not required, for a certain beginning of the use of reason, that is, some use of reason suffices.

FROM SAINT PIUS X

Saint Pius X has deemed it needful to prescribe the following rules which are to be observed everywhere for the First Communion of children.

1. The age of discretion, both for Confession and for Holy Communion, is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Confession and Communion.

2. A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion. Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.

3. The knowledge of religion which is required in a child in order to be properly prepared to receive First Communion is such that he will understand according to his capacity those Mysteries of faith which are necessary as a means of salvation (<necessitate medii>) and that he can distinguish between the Bread of the Eucharist and ordinary, material bread, and thus he may receive Holy Communion with a devotion becoming his years.

4. The obligation of the precept of Confession and Communion which binds the child particularly affects those who have him in charge, namely, parents, confessor, teachers and the pastor. It belongs to the father, or the person taking his place, and to the confessor, according to the Roman Catechism, to admit a child to his First Communion.

5. The pastor should announce and hold a General Communion of the children once a year or more often, and he should on these occasions admit not only the First Communicants but also others who have already approached the Holy Table with the above-mentioned consent of their parents or confessor. Some days of instruction and preparation should be previously given to both Cialis Online Pharmacy Overnight U.S. Delivery . Indian Cialis Pro . Maquipucuna is the generic viagra in the usa closest pristine rainforest to Quito. PerfectВ  classes of children.

6. Those who have charge of the children should zealously see to it that after their First Communion these children frequently approach the Holy Table, even daily if possible, as Jesus Christ and Mother Church desire, and let this be done with a devotion becoming their age. They must also bear in mind that very grave duty which obliged them to have the children attend the public Catechism classes; if this is not done, then they must supply religious instruction in some other way.

CARDINAL CASTRILLON HOYOS, Jan 8, 2005

Pope Saint Pius X, a great Pope canonized by the Church, dedicated no small attention and pastoral effort to children. On August 8, 1910 he issued the Decree Quam Singulari, in which he established that children could receive First Holy Communion at the age of seven.

Important to the pastoral care of children is allowing them to approach the Eucharistic Communion, after they have received the necessary preparation in their parishes to learn the primary and fundamental elements of the Christian faith, without their having to wait unduly long. The age of discretion comes individually, around seven years, when common bread can be distinguished from the Eucharistic bread, the true Body of Christ. Few are unconvinced, together with Pope Saint Pius X, that the praxis of allowing children First Holy Communion at the age of seven has brought great graces to the Church. The rest must not fail to remember that in the early Church, the Sacrament of the Eucharist was administered to babies immediately after baptism, under the species of a few drops of wine.

To allow children to receive the Eucharistic Jesus as soon as possible has been for many centuries one of the strong points of the pastoral outreach to the smallest members of the Church. The custom reestablished by Pope Saint Pius X in his time has been praised by his Successors, including our own Blesses John Paul II. Canon 914 completely sets forth the Papal thought: «It is primarily the duty of parents and of those who take their place, as it is the duty of the parish priest, to ensure that children who have reached the use of reason are properly prepared and, having made their sacramental confession, are nourished by this divine food as soon as possible. ( Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos)

BLESSED JOHN PAUL II

For how many children in the history of the Church has the Eucharist been a source of spiritual strength, sometimes even heroic strength! How can we fail to be reminded, for example, of holy boys and girls who lived in the first centuries and are still known and venerated throughout the Church? Saint Agnes, who lived in Rome; Saint Agatha, who was martyred in Sicily; Saint Tarcisius, a boy who is rightly called the "martyr of the Eucharist" because he preferred to die rather than give up Jesus, whom he was carrying under the appearance of bread.

"My predecessor Saint Pius X gave a touching testimony to his pastoral love for children by the changes he introduced regarding the reception of First Holy Communion.  Not only did he lower the age for approaching the Eucharistic Table (I was able to take advantage of this in May, 1929), but he also introduced the possibility of receiving Communion before the age of seven, if the child demonstrates sufficient understanding.  This pastoral decision to bring forward the reception of Holy Communion is most commendable.  It has yielded rich fruits if holiness in children and in the apostolate among the young, in addition to a flowering of priestly vocations." (John Paul II, "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way," Rome 2004, p. 103). 

POPE BENEDICT XVI

At Castel Gandolfo on August 18, 2010, Pope Benedict reiterated the pastoral directive of Saint Esomeprazole interaction escitalopram solubility water descontinuar – cheap esomeprazole in internet coupon no script vermont. п»ї. 20 января, 2014 – 17:06 — Pius X on the age of First Communion. "For this," continued Benedict XVI, "St Pius X recommended receiving the sacraments often, promoting daily participation in Holy Communion, (being) well prepared, and anticipating opportunely the First Communion of children at seven years of age, ‘when the child begins to reason’ … "

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