ASK FATHER: 1st Communion at another parish because grandparents can’t travel

From a reader…

I am hoping for your wisdom and guidance here. My daughter is preparing for 1st communion (May 2018) at our home parish. However, my parents, living in another state, are not in good enough health to attend the event. Last year they missed the baptism of our son for this reason. Provided she has met all the sacramental preparation requirements is there a means by which she could receieve the sacrament at my parent’s parish? I am tried asking the religious education director but they did not have an answer.

Also, must a 1st communion take place in a specially set mass? Could the sacrament not be received during any mass after which all “mandated” preparation is complete?

GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson

There should be no problem with this – especially if both pastors are reasonable people.

There is no need for First Communion to take place at a special Mass.

The pastor of your parish could write to the pastor of your parents’ parish, explain the circumstances, and ask if arrangements could be made.

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6 Responses to ASK FATHER: 1st Communion at another parish because grandparents can’t travel

  1. That Guy says:

    I would be curious to know why a parent, as the primary instructor of their children, would need to ask permission to allow their child to begin receiving the Eucharist. Is that not their call to make?
    Is there anything in Canon Law that states that a validly baptized Catholic must be vetted by clergy as having been properly prepared to begin reception? If a homeschooling-type family, having well prepared their child, determines that Johnny or Susie is ready, is there any imperative that they even let the priest know that this will be a first communion? All the pomp and circumstance is nice, but I can see good reasons to avoid it, as it seems to make the child the focus, rather than the sacrament. Plus there’s all the paparazzi trying to get their cameras optimally placed to capture that Pulitzer-worthy moment.

    This question is not intended to diminish the valiant effort that catechists (like myself) or directors of religious education make to prepare young souls for the sacraments, but I always stress to the parents of my students that the 75 minutes per week I spend with their children on Sunday pales in comparison to the importance of their own daily examples.

  2. Josephus Corvus says:

    That Guy: In answer to your first question, take a look at Canon 914.

    … It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.

    While I don’t pretend to be able to make an expert reading, it does seem to put a lot of responsibility on the pastor to make sure the child is ready. Just before that quote, it also makes clear that Confession should come first, so I would think he would need to verify that has been done.

    With respect to your comment about the paparazzi. I completely agree. However, that’s why it is good to have a special Mass, since it is difficult to control that “stuff”. The special Mass then only affects those who are there for First Communion anyway. My parish splits up the class and puts some at most of the regularly scheduled Sunday Masses, so the regular attendees need to sit through all that. (Another reason I go to the early Mass, that tend so miss some this.)

  3. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There’s nothing wrong with receiving First Communion “in forma solemni.” If it really is “in forma solemni,” the pomp and circumstance _will_ focus on Jesus, with the kids as adorers humbling approaching Him (and the parents keeping it down to a dull roar until after the Mass).

    First Communion is a great day of great joy. Even that jerk Napoleon Bonaparte, as Emperor of France, said that his First Communion was the happiest day of his entire life. Having a happy occasion be made memorable by prayer and preparation, and framed by unusual solemnity, is not weird or wrong. We don’t encourage people to get married in a five minute ceremony in the priest’s parlor or on the front steps of church, even though that would be perfectly valid and sacramental. We encourage people to have a Nuptial Mass with all the blessings and trimmings, and we don’t worry about the existence of Nuptial Masses going to newlyweds’ heads. Nuptial Masses and First Communions are supposed to help fortify people to live out the Sacraments they receive, and to show some of the eternal truth of what’s going on.

    In the past, private First Communions were a sign that the priest was doing something unusual that was within his powers but disapproved by the bishop*, or that for some reason the kid was not up for big public events. In these cases, they were often really private, as in “Father says Mass for just a few people, and the kid receives.” This preserved the “special” thing about First Communion.

    The Second Council of Baltimore, copying off the Provincial Council of Ravenna in 1855, decided that: “On that day they should receive the Divine Bread with the greatest solemnity, with the whole people looking on, and especially the parents who have had the care of their souls….”

    The idea of making the kids sing a party piece, right when they should be meditating on what’s going to happen or what just occurred, is not “in forma solemni,” as far as I’m concerned. If you have to do it, do it right at the beginning so the kids can relax and get on with business. But it’s really the business of the adults to sing on such occasions. (Apparently, this did occasionally happen in the old days, and some theologian named Kosterus advocated strongly against it.)

    Weirdly, the old books do talk about kids sometimes being allowed to receive First Communion up next to the altar, just as some had married couples receive up on the altar steps, and nuns received the veil within the sanctuary rails. So that was a thing before Vatican I, apparently. Probably it would have a whole different feel and method than the way such things were done in the 1970’s.

    But yeah, the old law was that if you had hit “the age of discretion” between ten and fourteen, and if you were Baptized, they had to let you receive Communion. All the “special circumstances” and preparation rules were for being allowed to receive as a younger kid. The US old rules were pretty hepped on preparation, but they actually thought classes should only last between 6 weeks and 2 months, whereas some parishes now are insisting on two and three years of preparation!

    * There was a case where the Bishop of Annecy in France decided that the age of discretion for First Communion was twelve, and a pastor in his diocese wanted to let younger kids receive. The decision at the Vatican was that the pastor could let younger kids receive, but only privately (until they turned twelve). So, no “in forma solemni” for those kids.

  4. frjim4321 says:

    The Catechetical Directory addresses the role and responsibility of the pastor (of course in addition to the parent[s]) in assuring that candidates are appropriately prepared for the sacraments.

    We’ve had baptisms for grandchildren of parishioners, when the child’s parent have moved to another state and most family and friends are around these parts. I do request a letter of permission from the sending pastor, just so he’s aware.

    With regard to First Communion, it’s probably about the same thing, but in that case the child has been prepared with a community of classmates and their families, and if we take the relationship of parish seriously, I could see it argued that that trumps the grandparent relationship in a sense.

    We tend to be pretty flexible here and don’t dig in our heels too much. We have a couple families who are parishioners here but attend the grade school of another parish, and they’ve received their sacraments at the school parish rather than here; their home parish. I could be more insistent about that, and I have colleagues who would make a federal case about it. We sort of just go with the flow.

  5. Imrahil says:

    Almost all what the dear Banshee said, though I tend to think that First Communicants singing is no more wrong that adults singing (i. e., generally not, but of course there are really bad songs).

    Dear That Guy,

    I wasn’t aware of the canon law the dear Josephus Corvus cited; even so, parents would in usual circumstances play the prime rule.

    But even if there were no law at all about the pastor checking whether the child is ready, there’s a simple rule:

    It’s one thing what the parents can theoretically do,
    it’s another thing whether they decide to mess with their pastor.

    What if (and this is not theory) a pastor demands from Confirmands only five attendances at normal Mass, plus another circa 5 attendances at certain specific Masses and other services not all of which even come under Sunday obligation (i. e., allows them to shirk circa 10 Sunday duties during the months of preparation alone, and to replace Sunday Masses by weekday Masses even above that) – but then demands another five hours of different social work, just to make sure they get to know a lot of all the things of social work that is done in the area, and especially for the reason “after all they have to prove they are willing to bear some cost their Confirmation”?

    Is this within a pastor’s rights – say, towards the odd child who actually fulfills his Sunday duty regularly, but really has to revise a lot for school so that he can in the future be of help to the Community?

    I guess not.

    But still, the practical thing to do is in this case: shut up about it, the thing is at least not intrinsically wrong, and let the pastor have his way.

  6. VP says:

    Any Director of Religious Education that could not independently (and immediately) arrive at Fr. Tim’s solution should be appointed a Former Director of Religious Education.

    Speaking as a rookie catechist and not a canon lawyer, at least by tradition and practice an ordained priest determines eligibility to receive any Sacrament. There is an exception for baptism which, according to our pastor, is only in highly improbable, grave emergencies.

    To That Guy’s point, parents (laity) may have an opinion, but do not make the call on eligibility. Same for children or adult converts – the priest may rely on the advice of a suitably trained Director of Religious Education, and not just any catechist. But the determination is his.

    It is worth noting one thing that Amoris Laetitia teaches very clearly: harm results when there is doubt over who decides on eligibility to receive a Sacrament.