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Debate: Should the age for first Holy Communion be lowered?

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By on Thursday, 12 August 2010

A girl pictured on the day of her first Holy Communion (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

A girl pictured on the day of her first Holy Communion (CNS/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

This week Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the Vatican official responsible for worship and the sacraments, 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.

So, should the age for first Holy Communion be lowered?

  • Shelton M. James Jr.

    On the contrary, the age of first Holy Communion needs to be raised, in order to ensure a proper catechesis of the child which is fully understood. The alternative is an exacerbation of the current incoherent mishmash of semi-catechetic material, used as a way to get rid of noisy children halfway through Mass.

  • Kerygma91

    Troll! I bet you read the Tablet.

  • CBM

    Rather than lowering the age, I think it should be raised to a stage when the child is mature enough to make a positive decision for her/himself. Today we have a situation where, for many children and families, first communion is often almost last communion. The event (first communion) has been commercialised with families vying with each other for the most expensive and gaudy paraphernalia. It is difficult to choose any age without a degree of arbitrariness but I think early teens would be better with the Sacraments of Confirmation deferred until the point of transition between school and College/employment. Yes all this would mean lower numbers opting in – but there is a good chance that they would do so with more serious intent and commitment than at present.

  • Miles Mariae

    I would be very grateful if someone could point me to the text of Pope St. Pius X's letter that authorized the change. I know the name of the document but can't seem to find the full text anywhere online. It would be worthwhile to see exactly what he said.

  • Raoul3456

    I think the good cardinal is right. Many children are ready to receive our Lord in Holy Communion before the somewhat arbitrary age of seven. It is good for them to receive the graces of the Eucharist from an early age to fortify them for the struggles of adult life.

  • Raoul3456

    Miles Mariae: I can't find the original text, but there's an excellent summary here: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12590b.htm

  • http://twitter.com/Chris_Buckley Chris Buckley

    I was confirmed as an adult by way of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). After having been indoctrinated in RCIA around the whole sacramental theology of confirmation as a completion of what is started in baptism, and a necessary step BEFORE communion, it astounds me that children are admitted to communion BEFORE they have been confirmed.

    As someone who was NOT a cradle Catholic, I have no baggage around this issue at all. It stands out to me as a glaring inconsistency between pastoral practice and doctrine. The question for me isn't “are they too young to receive,” but rather, “why is communion EVER administered BEFORE confirmation?”

  • http://twitter.com/TodaysParish Today's Parish

    The arguments that celebrating the sacraments of initiation should be conditional based on age, mastery of doctrine, or personal maturity misunderstand the theology of the sacraments. Baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist are not celebrations of how much a child knows or understands. They are celebrations of intimacy and union with Christ. To say that Christ cannot be fully united with an infant (or, for that matter, a mentally disabled person) is nonsensical.

    For the first 12 centuries of the church, infants celebrated all three initiation sacraments at infancy. Eucharist was eventually moved to a higher age, not because of a need for a mature acceptance of the sacrament, but because participation in the communion cup was removed from the laity. Up until that time, the infants had been communicated with the Blood of Christ, which became unavailable. The Eastern Rite churches still celebrate all three sacraments at infancy.

    Of course children need proper catechesis. So do adults. Sacraments, however, are not rewards for having successfully mastered one's religious education textbook.

    At the very least, the order of the sacraments should be restored. It was not until the 20th century that the church gave official sanction to the inverted celebrations of first communion followed by confirmation. A post-Eucharist confirmation is almost impossible to catechize about correctly, no matter how mature the child is.

  • http://twitter.com/sweptover Scott Lyons

    Amen.

  • SarahTX2

    OMG, you want even younger children to believe they are eating flesh and drinking blood? Even younger children will have to confess their sins? What sins does a six year old have? Don't you know that when we were in school going to confession at seven years old, we actually made up sins to say in confession? And we laughed and ridiculed the idea that we were drinking blood? The problem you have is that your religion never takes into account how a child thinks. And now you want to cause even younger children to start lying in confession and pretending they believe things that to a child are hideous.

  • EditorCT

    SarahTX2

    How sad that you were so badly taught about the Real Presence and Confession.

    Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiastist, first of the analytical psychologists, argued that a child, no matter how young, could be taught anything, as long as the teacher had thought-through the content carefully. Speaking to small children with traditional Catholic parents, as I do on a regular basis, I have witnessed the truth of this claim.

    In contrast to your impoverished religious instrucion, the great saint, now a Doctor of the Church, St Therese of Lisieux, was taught the Faith so well by her elder sister, that at the ripe old age of 3 years, (she later recounted) her ambition was to love God above all else and to spend her life loving and serving Him.

    What a pity that you lost out on a similarly sound Catholic education. God help you – and those who were charged with responsibility for your young soul. They will pay a heavy price for their neglect, at their judgment.

    Thus, rather than heaping coals of fire on their sorry heads, I suggest you take up the cause of self-education, SarahTX2. Why not begin with the Autobiography of a Soul – the life story of St Therese?

    Go on – you know it makes sense.

  • Cilian

    In the eastern rite churches baptism, confirmation and communion are conferred together. These sacraments are considered sacraments of initiation. My humble theological opinion is that the western rite needs to do the same thing.

  • MartinT

    I don't like to disagree with Cardinal Canizares who seems very sensible in all other respects as well as being a man of great faith. He does though assume that children live in perfect Catholic homes in perfect Catholic parishes where faith and catachesis and practice all go together. This does not happen in practice. Far better to wait a few years when the child can form its own grasp of its faith and have something it will understand – and defend – in its own right, rather than just going through the motions.