Benedict XVI: First Communion at “age of reason”

From CNA:

Benedict XVI affirms first communion for children at age of reason

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 18, 2010 / 06:01 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The Holy Father remembered Pope St. Pius X and reviewed his Church reforms and renewals during Wednesday’s general audience catechesis . Among Pius X many reforms, said Pope Benedict, his decree that set the age of first communicants at "the age of reason" was opportune.  [And there should be First Penance before First Communion.]

The general audience was held in the cortile of the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo as is customary at this time of year. The courtyard was filled with flag, banner and pilgrim scarf-waving faithful.

During the catechesis, Benedict XVI [the "Pope of Christian Unity"] spoke of Pope St. Pius X, who from the time of his ordination at 23 years old, "showed that deep love of Christ and the Church, that humility and simplicity and that great charity towards the most in need, that were characteristic of his entire life."

Although he accepted his election to the papacy with difficulty because he did not feel himself to be worthy of the position, Pope Benedict XVI said, "he left an indelible mark in the history of the Church" through a pontificate that "was characterized by a notable effort for reform, summarized in the motto ‘Instaurare omnia in Christo’ (Renew all things in Christ)."

Pope Benedict pointed to Pius X’s reorganization of the Roman Curia, how he began work to re-examine the Code of Canon Law and his revision of the protocol for priestly formation. He also spoke of the Pope-saint’s work to develop a universal catechism after having witnessed the great need for a reference point of the faith amidst widespread emigration.

"The Catechism called ‘from Pius X,’ was for many a sure guide in learning the truth of the faith for its simple, clear and precise language and for its expositive effectiveness," recalled Pope Benedict.

He was also reminded of the attention Pius X gave to Liturgical reform in an effort "to guide the faithful to a more profound prayer life and to a fuller participation in the Sacraments." Referencing the 1903 Motu Proprio "Tra le sollecitudini," he explained that Pius X asserted through it that "the true Christian spirit has its first and indispensable source in the active participation in the sacrosanct mysteries and in public and solemn prayer in the Church.

"For this," continued Benedict XVI, "he recommended to receive often the Sacraments, promoting daily participation in Holy Communion, (being) well prepared, [!] and anticipating opportunely the First Communion of children to seven years of age, ‘when the child begins to reason’ …"  [Did I mention First Confession before First Communion?]

In marking the 100th anniversary of the Pius X-approved decree "Quam singulari" earlier this month, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments wrote about this very subject in the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper. He suggested that the Church must confirm Pius X’s decree and even possibly contemplate lowering the age further to ensure the graces on children as the reach the age of reason amidst the difficulties of today’s world.  [Some were wondering if the Prefect really was suggestion that the age of First Communion should be even lower.  This seems to clear it up.]

Concluding Wednesday’s catechesis, the Holy Father said: "Dear brothers and sisters, St. Pius X teaches all of us that the base of our Apostolic action in the various fields in which we work must always be for us an intimate personal union with Christ, to cultivate and grow day after day this nucleus of all of his teaching, of all of his pastoral genius.

"Only if we are in love with the Lord will we be capable of bringing men to God and opening them up to His merciful love."


The 1983 Code of Canon Law says:


Canon 914. It is the responsibility, in the first place, of parents and those who take the place of parents as well as of the pastor to see that children who have reached the use of reason are correctly prepared and are nourished by the divine food as early as possible, preceded by sacramental confession; it is also for the pastor to be vigilant lest any children come to the Holy Banquet who have not reached the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed.


NB: This is the canon immediately before the infamous canon 915, which should guide us in the matter of self-professed Catholic politicians who manifestly promote or support abortion.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Tom Ryan says:

    Hasn’t the Archdiocese of Phoenix begun giving Confirmation BEFORE First Communion?

    I don’t know exactly where First Confession falls in but I know they’ve made sure it’s before First Communion.

  2. ssoldie says:

    Can anyone quote the code of canon law of 1917, on the same subject? I know prior to Vatican II, this is what was taught by the nun’s at catechism classes. Where has common sense gone?

  3. Random Friar says:

    @Tom Ryan: Yes! See:

    Essentially, everything got bumped down to 3rd grade.

  4. lofstrr says:

    Funny you should mention 915. I have more confidence in a 7 year old’s reasoning than I have for most of our politicians.

  5. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    Regarding First Confession before First Communion: Many people tend to forget that if a person has reached the age of reason, then that person is capable of sinning mortally. Ironically, the trend in our western culture is to idolize childhood innocence to the extent of refusing to acknowledge the sins of childhood, while at the same time destroying any such innocence through various forms of secular education.

    Hasn’t the Archdiocese of Phoenix begun giving Confirmation BEFORE First Communion?

    As long as they are not postponing the reception of First Communion, this is a great idea. Too many adolescents today have to face the decadence of our society without the strengthening graces of Confirmation. When we postpone Confirmation, we are in effect asking our teens to go to battle only half armed. Instead, Confirmation is seen by many Catholics as a graduation ceremony, or even a personal confirmation of the faith. Indeed, after receiving confirmation many do not see any need for a continual education in the faith.

    Sorry, for the sidetrack, Father Z, but I cannot believe the Pope St. Pius X intended the present situation when he lowered the age for the reception of First Communion. The Holy Sacraments should not be ransomed for the sake of pedagogy.

  6. Flambeaux says:

    I stand corrected regarding my reading of His Eminence’s statement the other day.

    I’m of the opinion that the Latin Rite should adopt the practice of the East in this matter and do it all at the same time during infancy.

    And I do wish more of our ordinaries would put Confirmation in its proper place relative to Communion.

  7. Flambeaux says:


    Many people also forget that knowledge and intent are essential elements of mortal sin. Even in our debased culture many people, even adults, lack the proper formation necessary to form the necessary intent. This is even more true for children just coming into the use of reason.

    Let us not overstate the situation with ideas that are just as pernicious and incorrect as the idealization of childhood innocence.

  8. MikeM says:

    In the Archdiocese of Chicago, I didn’t have my first confession until two years AFTER my First Communion. I had since realized that was a bad idea, but didn’t know until now that it’s actually a canon law violation.

    Nothing needs to be done to rectify that now… does it?

  9. Ernesto Gonzalez says:


    Agreed, but this uncertainty is all the more reason to introduce children to confession, as a viable option, at the age of reason. We should always remember the revelations of Our Lady at Fatima, albeit private, concerning Jacinto and Amelia.

  10. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:


    Does this mean that Holy Communion can and should be withheld children who can not use reason, even at older ages (say, from Cerebral Palsy, mental retardation or something similar)?


  11. irishgirl says:

    Enresto-there’s no ‘Jacinto’ in your mentioning of Fatima. You probably meant ‘JACINTA’ , right?

    ‘Amelia’ was the friend of Lucia’s family, who died sometime before the first appearance of Our Lady. When Lucia asked Our Lady where Amelia went to after her death, she was told, ‘Amelia is in purgatory until the end of the world.’

    Some people, when they read those words, thought that it was cruel for a young child to be given such a severe sentence. Later on, when a priest asked her, Sister Lucia said that ‘Amelia was EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD [my emphasis], and for one mortal sin a soul is condemned to hell forever.’

    That said-and I hope I didn’t go off topic-in view of the kind of world we live in and all the occasions of sin out there to ensnare the souls of not only adults, but especially children, confession should be introduced as soon as possible…at the age of reason.

  12. Ernesto Gonzalez says:


    Thanks for the correction!

    I was thinking of Blessed Fransico Marto (not his sister Jacinta), who was informed that he would have to say many rosaries to get to Heaven. At the time he was only 9.

    I would be much obliged if you could provide a source for the age of Amelia. I’ve read so many differing accounts from ages 13 to 18.

    Thanks again!

  13. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    That’s Bl. Francisco Marto

  14. Henry Belton says:

    Thank you B-XVI. In 1975 my first communion class received first communion without reconciliation; a week before, my mother took me to a local shrine and explained to the priest that it was my first confession.

    “Faith communities” seem to be increasing the age requirements for the sacraments; unfortunately the extra time may not be well spent in the religious ed programs (lots of touchy feely fluff and not much catechism).

  15. irishgirl says:


    Ah, I see…you were referring to ‘Francisco’…easily done when one’s brain and one’s fingers are not in sync!

    The words of Sister Lucia’s is in one of my books on Fatima, which are of course at home. I’ll have to scrounge it up. It was in a footnote.

  16. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    I have often said that no one at any age can truly comprehend the Mystery of the Eucharist. There exists in the Latin Rite today a break in sacramental harmony with the Rites of Reception into the Church. I too believe that Holy Baptism, Holy Chrismation, and Holy Communion should be conferred all at the same time and to infants, which is the practice of the rest of the Catholic Church. Holy Confession can come later, at the age of reason. It is wrong to forbid the little one’s from the Eucharist.

  17. PaterAugustinus says:

    In the Eastern Rite, and formerly in the Latin Rite, and today in the Orthodox Churches (of either rite), baptism, confirmation and communion are all administered at once, to infants (or to the new convert). Is there any place in today’s Latin Rite (in Catholicism) where this is still done? Is there ever any talk of restoring this practice?

    I’m curious as to when the custom began, of deferring communion until the age of reason. Was this part of a rapproachment with Protestants in the Counter-Reformation? Is it older than that? More recent?

  18. I will draw everyone’s attention to this letter from CDW on the subject of confirmation and the age of reason.

    The bishop of a diocese had established the age for confirmation in the diocese at around 15-16 (sophomore in high school, and parents of an 11-year old requested she be confirmed. The bishop refused. CDW said he had the right to establish an age older than the age of reason for confirmation as a general rule, but if a person at the age of reason presented themselves properly prepared for the sacrament, then it should not be denied them.

    Of course, I would say if they are properly prepared to receive the Eucharist, then of course they are properly prepared to receive confirmation. I remember I once had a DRE tell me that you had to put off Confirmation until high school, because “little kids couldn’t understand what it meant.” But she must have thought they could have a firm grasp on the mystery of the Eucharist, because first communion was in 2nd grade.

  19. leonugent2005 says:

    I believe all the sacraments should be withheld until the child actually learns to speak the language the devil hates.

  20. Jordanes says:

    Even Baptism, leonugent2005?

    And by the language the Devil hates, do you mean Basque, or perhaps Breton?

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Chris Garton-Zavesky,

    Children with Down’s Syndrome and other problems are allowed to receive First Confession and First Communion according to their ability. This was true even in the pre-Vat II Church. Remember that St. Joseph Cupertino was mentally challenged, but given tremendous mystical graces, as have other saints less than capable of mature adult reasoning. The emphasis on “reason” has always been taken in context, until very recent times, when it is being used as some sort of excuse for withholding the sacraments until almost too late-such as the 15-16 rule mentioned above, which is out of line with the theology of the Sacrament of Confirmation-a Sacrament of Initiation.

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