QUAERITUR: 1st Communion denied child with cerebral palsy

Remember, if it is Easter, it is time for news stories that make the Church look bad.

I was alerted to this by a reader and it brings up a good question:

Please note this short hit piece dished out at Easter by a Texas TV
station. This little piece contains so much innuendo on proper
disposition to receive, a priest’s authority, canon law, and even
anointing of the sick that it seemed worth passing on for your

Child Denied First Communion
Family Of Floresville 8-Year-Old Fighting For Holy Sacrament

(Excerpt) FLORESVILLE, Texas — It was a religious milestone Irma
Castro spent months preparing her grandson Kevin for, but when it came time for his first communion, he was denied. [The way this is written makes it sound as if this happened in church, during Mass.]

“It hurts and I think it’s a form of discrimination,” Castro said.

Castro was told by Pastor, Father Phil Henning, with the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Floresville, that because Kevin had cerebral palsy and has the mental capacity of a 6-month-old, he didn’t qualify to receive his first communion. [And the priest is right.  And this is why we need continuing catechism for adults, especially when it comes to the sacramental preparation of their children.]

“He said because he was not able to understand the meaning of receiving the body of Christ,” Castro said. [And the priest is right.]

Canon law requires that a child receiving holy communion have
sufficient knowledge” of Christ, but it doesn’t define what level of knowledge is considered sufficient. [Canon Law doesn’t say exactly, true.  But it doesn’t say nothing.]

The Code of Canon Law does not specify everything.  But, in basic, terms the person has to be able to know the difference between bread which has not been consecrated, and “bread” which has been.  Put another way, if a child can’t distinguish between ordinary food and, once told it is consecrated, a Host, then the child can’t be admitted to Communion.

Can. 97.2 there is a presumption of age of the use the reason at about 7, unless circumstances demonstrate otherwise.

Can. 913.1, says that people must be able to grasp something of what the mystery of Christ means.  They must be able to receive the Body of the Lord with faith and devotion.

Can. 913.2 the Eucharist may be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish it from ordinary food.

Can. 914 says that the parish priest must see to it that those who are not prepared and not sufficiently capable, should not come to Holy Communion.

In this case it sounds as it the parish priest did the right thing in the final analysis.  Of course there is nothing in the news piece about the manner in which the priest passed on this information to the parents.

It must be a terrible thing for parents to know that their child may never be able to receive the Eucharist.  But admission to the sacraments is not governed by sentimentality.  We don’t admit children who are incapable of receiving the Eucharist with faith and devotion simply for the sake of avoiding making parents feel bad.

I am frankly not sure that many of the adults going forward for Communion on Sunday could tell you what the Eucharist is, even at the level a 7 year old’s knowledge before First Communion.

Imagine my horror one day when I was asked to explain children about a week out from their First Communion what some of the things in church are.  First, they had never been taught to genuflect.  That got me to the tabernacle.  I explained why we genuflect before the tabernacle: this is where the Hosts are kept, where Jesus can be found when you come into Church, etc.  Blank stares.   Hosts… [crickets] …. Eucharist… [crickets] wafers… [crickets]…. the small round white Host people receive at Communion…  [crickets] ….

Then one little soon-to-be-First-Communicant said, and I quote, “You mean that piece of bread thing?”

Parents: Don’t assume that your children are learning anything in their sacramental preparation.

YOU are the first teachers of your children.  If you don’t instruct them properly to the best of your ability, then you will be help accountable by God for their lack of sufficient preparation.  Do your best.  The parish’s sacramental prep programs are not your surrogates.  That means that you have to know your stuff.

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63 Responses to QUAERITUR: 1st Communion denied child with cerebral palsy

  1. I’m not very surprised by your First Communicants’ lack of knowledge.

    I’m a Confirmation catechist. The children have supposedly had seven and a half years’ worth of Catholic education. Fr. Finigan asked if they knew what the Tabernacle contained. They didn’t have a clue.

    The problem is, if the parents haven’t been taught it, they can’t pass it on. Modern catechetical programs have forgotten that one needs to know the basics, as FACTS, and religion is not all about feelings.

  2. Mark01 says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the child in the story has been baptized, couldn’t the parents be comforted by the fact that he will almost assuredly make it to heaven with or without the Eucharist. With the mental capability of a 6 month old, I would think he would be incapable of sinning.

  3. cwhitty says:

    But Father! What in the case of someone suffering Alzheimer’s or for whatever other reason has lost their faculties to comprehend the distinction between bread and Host?

  4. SimonDodd says:

    Symmetrically, catechists shouldn’t assume that their charges are learning anything at home, and pastors shouldn’t assume that those presented have learned anything from anyone. In a system where everyone acts on the assumption that they need to check/do it themselves, the worst thing that ought to be able to happen is that children will get the same message in slightly different words from different people, which seems like a good thing.

  5. Theodore says:

    My question is, how did this get to the press? Did the parents think that there is a political or public pressure solution to the problem of the child’s inability to understand the nature of the Eucharist?

  6. Jason C. says:

    The Eastern Churches give communion to infants.

  7. Me says:

    CIC 913 is merely ecclesiastical law in the west. This issue should not be pressed beyond what is necessary for a well regulated church.

  8. Arieh says:

    Jason, that is the Eastern Church, this is the Roman Rite we are talking about. We shouldn’t confuse our distinct traditions.

  9. Traductora says:

    I worked as a houseparent in a group home for developmentally disabled (formerly known as “retarded”) adults. They were in the “severe and profound” category. We were told that the general rule for Communion (in addition to baptism and instruction, of course) was that they had to have the understanding of which they were capable, although in some cases, this may have simply meant that it was the understanding that this was something special. And of course they had to be physically capable of taking communion and not spitting it out.

    This seems to be merely a disciplinary matter, since the Orthodox give communion to infants and in fact it used to be permitted in Catholic Eastern Rite churches, although the extension of Latin Rite practices to the Byzantine Rite in the US has pretty much put an end to this.

    But in this case, I wonder about the circumstances. It says the grandmother “prepared” the child, and it sounds to me as if the priest knew nothing about this until she presented the child for Communion. So perhaps we need to know more about the situation.

  10. oldCatholigirl says:

    I wonder if we’re missing more here than the manner in which the priest communicated his decision. The story says the the grandmother, not the parents, spent “months” preparing the child. How could this be, if the child cannot understand anything? How was his level of comprehension determined? These are rhetorical questions here, of course, but they should have been addressed in the newpaper article.
    I, too, would like clarification on the subject of whether Holy Communion may be given to someone with Altzheimer’s, or some other form of severe dementia/senility.

    Mary Conces

  11. Gallia Albanensis says:

    I laud the obedience, but have never understood the rule.

    Many Greek Catholics have licit infant communion, and so we know that communion to the “unreasoned” is not an anathema of its nature. Cannot Our Lord make up the lack of what is missing in the communicant? To Our Lord – infinite, omniscient, and omnipotent – how much different are we all really from a five-year-old?

    It would seem to me from my humble position of unimportance that there needs to be an extraordinary reason to withhold a grace from someone. It’s an evil world. The more graces, and the sooner, the better.

    I wonder how much better I would have turned out if I was fortified with Our Lord 300-to-400 times before I could even *possibly* sin mortally. And does not every licit communion make us more conformed to the heavenly glory and therefore presumably increase our future beatitude? That has been my understanding, anyhow.

    I’m sure there are examples where such could not be done for fear of disrespect to the host, as with a fussing child, but the broad rule we have now strikes me as stingy. I subordinate my opinion, though, to the judgment of the proper authorities.

  12. s i says:

    >>Parents: Don’t assume that your children are learning anything in their sacramental preparation. YOU are the first teachers of your children. If you don’t instruct them properly to the best of your ability, then you will be hel[d] accountable by God for their lack of sufficient preparation.<<

    AMEN! I am a second grade catechist, preparing children for First Confession and First Holy Communion. It amazes me that parents will complain when I send homework home; look at me with shock when I tell them they must work with their child daily to memorize prayers, etc. I get these kids for one hour a week, to teach them the most important things of their life! Really, I should be a supplement to the parents.

  13. Re: Eastern traditions — Well, that would be a perfectly good reason to switch Rites, but it’s not a reason why one Rite should change to be exactly like the other.

    Re: Alzheimer’s, I suspect this is a matter of Communion being a Sacrament of Initiation as well as a continuing Sacrament. Once you’re initiated into a Sacrament (ie, have been accepted for Baptism or received First Communion), you’re irrevocably not the same. To be initiated, you have to meet certain requirements. To continue to share in the benefits of being initiated, the requirements are a lot looser.

    So for someone who’s already received First Communion, it’s easy to receive Communion again when mentally woozy, unconscious, and/or dying (viaticum). For someone who hasn’t received and thus hasn’t been initiated, there’s not the same ease of access. But I’m neither a priest nor a canon lawyer, so that’s just guesswork.

  14. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Don’t you just love it when the non-Catholic [and confused about Its teaching] media finds something with which to embarrass the Catholic Church? And encourages a poorly catechized adult into deeper and more misguided resentment?

    If the grandmother was preparing him, perhaps he does not live in a Catholic household. There is not enough information in the blurb to know what the whole story really is.

    The priest’s position could be arguable but he is taking the safest position. I don’t disagree. Obviously the Latin rite disciplines are what matter here, not the Eastern rite.

    And sheesh, how sadly true that it is possible that MOST Catholics receiving Communion today cannot discern the Body of Christ. There appears to be several generations completely lost to the real Faith.

    The other contributor for the effectiveness of a Sacrament is one’s ability to sin. In this case, I don’t know which takes precedence, the inability to discern the Body of Christ [for Eastern Rite infants does not preclude reception, as Jason noted] or the inability to sin [which takes reason, again, does not preclude infant reception in the Eastern rites]. Sometimes citing the Eastern rites’ ancient practices can give a little context to Latin rite disciplines.

  15. Jason Keener says:

    The priest did the right thing here by following the Code of Canon Law; however, I sometimes think the Latin Church should consider relaxing its rules to allow younger children and the disabled to receive the Eucharist in certain cases. Of course, in the Eastern Catholic Churches, infants receive the Holy Eucharist and are thought to benefit from receiving the Eucharist, even if the infant does not understand its significance. The Eastern approach makes sense to me because the sacraments are more about the mystery of God’s awesome mercy working in our lives than on us having an understanding of what is going on.

  16. diazt says:

    The Eastern Rite comment should be brushed off like that. The reality that they have infant communion illuminates our understanding of our Western Law – Canon law may be different between rights, but theology cannot be fundamentally at odds (Different emphasis, yes. Contradictions, no). The tension here seems to imply that knowledge or rational ability has little or no bearing upon the reception of the sacrament and its graces, thus pointing that the law is in place to insure proper understanding of the mystery not to say reasoning ability is necessary for God’s grace to transform.

    At a certain time, one could be sure that parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, neighbors, and friends were caring for a person in such a situation so as to be sure they understood, to the best of their ability, that this was a mystery and he did not commit a mistake or unintentional blasphemy. In today’s world, you’re lucky if you’re grandma’s a decent Catholic, so this law definitely needs to be followed.

    All this being said, Canon Law is Canon Law. The priest’s hands were tied – obedience is a virtue and should only be broken in the face of blasphemy or mortal danger.

    I wonder if this has been seen by Mr. Peters. I’m curious what his reading of the event may be.

  17. I am frankly not sure that many of the adults going forward for Communion on Sunday could tell you what the Eucharist is, even at the level a 7 year old’s knowledge before First Communion.

    It is said that the majority of Catholics these days do not believe in the Real Presence. I’m inclined to believe this based on how people act in church. When I was a kid, we got in trouble for whispering in church; nowadays, the inside of the church before and after Mass sounds like a football stadium. I can’t understand how the priests and deacons can look upon this situation with equanimity.

    But I can see how, in such an atmosphere, people can view reception of the Eucharist as just another entitlement that entails no obligations or responsibilities on their part. Sounds to me like the priest did the right thing.

  18. Daniel Latinus says:

    Shouldn’t this matter have been submitted to the bishop’s judgment instead of the media’s?

  19. APX says:

    “It hurts and I think it’s a form of discrimination,” Castro said.
    This thought process rings familiar. It’s not being viewed as a Sacrament, but as a right, and that denying her grandson of this inherrent right, he is being discriminated against.

    That said, Father, your horror is the same horror I feel every day I learn something I should have learned a long time ago.

    First, they had never been taught to genuflect.
    When I was around that age I asked my mom what the elderly men were doing before getting into the pew. She told me they were genuflecting, and that it was something they were used to doing in the past, so they keep on doing it. I just recently started getting into the practice of it.

    That got me to the tabernacle.
    I learned what the tabernacle was in grade 11 Christian Ethics. Up until then it was a foreign concept.

    Then one little soon-to-be-First-Communicant said, and I quote, “You mean that piece of bread thing?”
    Wow, even my unbaptized completely unreligious sister-in-law gets it somewhat. She calls it the “The body of Jesus cracker.”

    Parents: Don’t assume that your children are learning anything in their sacramental preparation.
    See, here’s the problem for me. My mom was the instructor for my sacramental prep group for First Reconciliation and First Communion. My First Communion meant that I finally didn’t have to remain sitting behind in the pew feeling left out and that I was allowed to drink wine at family gatherings. I didn’t really understand the significance of what I was doing. I didn’t even fully believe in transubstantiation until maybe half a year ago or so.

  20. Not nearly enough info to comment usefully on this one beyond what Fr. Z said, imo, accurately. I can say, the rules for “depriving” one of the sacraments, and those for “not admitting” one, do differ somewhat.

  21. Imrahil says:

    I guess – guess – that the preparation has taken place without even the knowledge of the priest about something that is, if anything, a special case. If so, the priest acted rightly.

    If the grandmother was able to do some preparation, it seems that with due informing of the priest not making him face a fait accompli, Holy Communion should be possible under present law. It is in that case enough if he can tell apart the Holy Species from normal bread, or isn’t it?

    If there are any children who have no prospect at all to futurely make that difference, I personally think that the law should be shifted to allow them an exception. (Given the Eastern practice, it does not seem to be a dogmatic matter.) They are, after all, members of the mystical Body of Christ, have not sinned, and Holy Communion is not a prize set on devotion, although It does necessitate devotion in those in any way capable to it. Children in the hour of their early death also should, if physically capable (with the Species of wine if necessary) communicate in my view. (I wonder if there is a law for this?)

    However, while infants may be baptized and in my view as given above receive the Holy Communion in very special circumstances, this doesn’t apply to any other Sacrament. The perfect age in spiritual life which St. Thomas has demanded for Confirmation seems to imply knowledge and actual devotion, although not equal to secular maturity. Extreme Unction is counted among the Sacraments against personal sins.

    In normal circumstances, however, the Roman Rite rules are better than are the Eastern Rite rules.

    As to Alzheimer’s, St. Thomas has answered in the positive stating that those used to have devotion which has, so to speak, not ceased in them.

    However, I cannot understand – that is not an accusation of a sin, but I do cannot understand – how anybody can complain about the Church towards a newspaper.

  22. Imrahil says:

    >>One needs to know the basics, as FACTS, and religion is not all about feelings.

    Amen. (By the way.)

  23. flyfree432 says:

    Our 2nd graders go to Eucharistic adoration before First Communion. They learn who Jesus is in the Eucharist by grade one, latest.

  24. everett says:

    The depressing part about your 1st communicants’ lack of knowledge is how commonplace it is, so much so that people have begun to assume that these children just can’t understand yet. Another example of underestimating peoples’ ability to understand. As a counterexample, my three year old knows to genuflect (though not the word, and he mixes up which knee), knows the word tabernacle (though he sometimes mispronounces it as “nabertacle”) and that its where Jesus is, and knows that when the priest breaks the host after consecration that he’s “breaking Jesus”. We were impressed that on Good Friday when we told him that the tabernacle was empty and Jesus wasn’t inside, he looked up to the crucifix and pointed out that Jesus was on the cross. Children are perfectly capable of understanding if only someone would take the time to explain it and give them the credit they are due.

  25. EWTN Rocks says:

    “YOU are the first teachers of your children.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately Fr. Z, the people who really need to see this important/critical message won’t likely see it. Based on my own experience, these are the same people who believe that sacramental prep, reinforcement of catechism, and other religious/devotional practices such as bible study, the Holy Rosary, Stations of Cross during Lent, etc., (or even reading your blog!) are signs of religious fanaticism, and viewed negatively with raised brows. To top it off, this viewpoint is passed down from generation to generation!

  26. Joe in Canada says:

    It would make sense to me for the laws cited to have reference to a child in normal development. As some commenters have mentioned, the fact that the law is different in the East indicates that this is not in and of itself an absolute theological principle, but for the good governance of the Church. A child with brain damage is not in normal development, and so I would hope the law could be adapted to the child’s actual development. What is described is not a child with an immature development who mistakes the Real Presence. A six month old child receives the gifts of God appropriately for a six month old. It would be inappropriate for a 12 year old with normal development to act like a six month old, but that is not the case here.

  27. amenamen says:

    The priest did the right thing. The secular TV station attempted to twist this story into something shocking and unjust, but it is clear – even from the facts presented by the TV station – that the child is not prepared to receive Holy Communion.

    The grandmother’s rage and indignation are misplaced. Is she the one who went to the secular TV station with this story? Where are the parents in all of this? What kind of “preparation” was the grandmother giving the child, appropriate for a child with “mental capacity of a 6-month-old?” (However, I wonder if the assessment of the child’s mental capacity is accurate. How certain is that? After all, if the grandmother spent months “preparing” the child, was all of her work completely pointless?)

    Even in the Eastern Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, where an infant is given the Holy Eucharist immediately after Baptism, I do not think that the child receives the Eucharist again until sufficiently catechized, at the age of reason.

  28. priests wife says:

    amen- it is our tradition for the child to continue receiving the Eucharist

  29. Sam Urfer says:

    I’ve heard stories from friends of olden times when sometimes only the children would receive communion at the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, as no adult was properly disposed to receive.

    The priest was probably technically right, but the Canon Law was made for man, not man for the Law. In terms of sacramental theology, babies can be and often have been communed and confirmed, even in the Latin Rite.

  30. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Imagine my horror one day when I was asked to explain children about a week out from their First Communion what some of the things in church are.

    This reminds me of the bad old days when I was giving instruction to the Eucharistic Ministers at a local Catholic college. The director of the program asked me to repeatedly emphasize the doctrine of the True Presence, because many of the students had no true understanding of it.

    I often wonder what the parents of these students, many of whom had paid for four years of Catholic high school, would have thought.

  31. Re Alzheimer’s/dementia: it seems to me that if you have Eucharistic devotion, physical deterioration does not destroy it, although it may render you incapable of expressing it or being conscious of it. The operation of the soul far surpasses our awareness. This is what Dietrich von Hildebrand called the “super-actual”: you do not cease to love or appreciate or be thankful for something, even when you are not focused on it at a given moment; you do not cease to love God even while you are asleep, or unconscious; you do not lose your gifts or your intellect, even though these may lie dormant in an ailing body.

  32. Rob Cartusciello says:

    From my time as a hospital chaplain, I can affirm that not only do >some< patients with dementia recognize the Eucharist, but that for many such patients it is the one thing they recognize best.

  33. marcpuckett says:

    While one defers to Fr Z and Dr Peters’s reading of the Latin Code, I agree with Daniel Latinus’s suggestion (perhaps because I work with people who are intellectually disabled) that the bishop should be consulted when there are doubtful cases in which one’s first judgment is that a person should be denied such Gifts.

  34. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Castro was told by Pastor, Father Phil Henning, with the Sacred Heart Catholic Church of Floresville, that because Kevin had cerebral palsy and has the mental capacity of a 6-month-old, he didn’t qualify to receive his first communion. [And the priest is right. And this is why we need continuing catechism for adults, especially when it comes to the sacramental preparation of their children.]\\

    If Byzantine and other Eastern Christian infants can be given the Body and Blood of Christ, why not this child? It might be best, given the physical disability, give it on the tongue.

    \\“He said because he was not able to understand the meaning of receiving the body of Christ,” Castro said. [And the priest is right.]\\

    The priest is wrong.

    First off, to say there must be mental understanding to receive the Holy Mysteries is the SAME argument used by some heretics to deny Baptism to infants. If it’s wrong in that case, it’s wrong in this one.

    Furthermore, this argument tends towards the heresy of Gnosticism, which says we must have knowledge for God to work in our lives.

    And do ANY of us really understand the Holy Mysteries?

  35. JonM says:

    I figured that this would come up, so regarding Oriental vs. Western practices…

    The Church developed with distinct lines that, parallel to each other, organically adopted appropriate means and modes of worship. Cultural distinctions mean that there are cracks between us and therefore it would seem reasonable that the Holy Ghost would guide each group to best honor, worship, and adore the Divine.

    But this also means that we have to be mindful that trying to apply one means of practice to another Apostolic line could be a distortion of the natural historical deposit of said Church body.

    Of course, if one were to cite Eastern practice in order to bind the West in some way, then I could simply cite our history of worship to bind on the East that Communion must be unleavened, one must kneel, and a child has to be at the age of reason in order to receive. Why? Because that is how the West does it and I believe the Tridentine Latin Mass is the most beautiful liturgy, etc. etc.

    You see, we can play this Tic Tac Toe game and the outcome will not change.

    In some quarters, it is chic to believe that all things Eastern are superior to Latin Rite disciplines. This mentality is simply a wrong road to even start down.

    For a sort of workable secular analogy, just as the Ghostbusters were careful not to ‘cross streams’ we have to be mindful that means of worship in Apostolic lines in Communion with the Church are not necessarily (and often are not) interchangeable parts.

    An important caveat: In schismatic Churches, certain practices are absolutely wrong (sanctioned divorce and remarriage, birth control, concepts of Heaven and Hell and Original Sin.) Some arguably are wrong, but permitted ad duritiam cordis like priestly marriage without perpetual continence (I know, this is a point of contention and so this is sort of in the middle.) And some are, as listed above, legitimate developments that maximize praise of God.

  36. Fr. Basil, but the parish in question is a Latin Rite parish of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and the priest is bound by the canons cited above. Are you really prepared to take the position that the canons of the Latin Rite tend toward the heresy of gnosticism?

  37. pelerin says:

    This story has reached the website of the Daily Mail in Britain resulting in the usual anti-Catholic comments.

    It has reminded me of a homily I heard many years ago given by Cardinal Heenan of Westminster to a large group of parents and their mentally handicapped children. He explained movingly that their children were incapable of sinning. They were perfect and always would remain so. Their innocence would last for ever.

    I can understand the Church’s insistance that children must be able to understand the importance of the Holy Eucharist and in the case of this little lad he does not need to receive Holy Communion as he is close to God and incapable of sin. It is sad his grandmother has protested but we do not know the whole story.

  38. Dear Fr. Z: (Father, bless!):

    I am afraid that I am going to have to disagree with you on this one. Pity, too, because 99.9% of the time, I am in complete agreement with you.

    And no, I’m not disagreeing with you because I am an Eastern Catholic, and because my home parish and my Eparchy both practice infant baptism.

    I’m disagreeing with you because it would appear that the priest in question in your article was not following the guidelines of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as written in their Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities, issued back in 1995. Those Guidelines state in relevant part:

    “The criterion for reception of holy communion is the same for persons with developmental and mental disabilities as for all persons, namely, that the person be able to distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food, even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture, or reverential silence rather than verbally. Pastors are encouraged to consult with parents, those who take the place of parents, diocesan personnel involved with disability issues, psychologists, religious educators, and other experts in making their judgment. If it is determined that a parishioner who is disabled is not ready to receive the sacrament, great care is to be taken in explaining the reasons for this decision. Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament. The existence of a disability is not considered in and of itself as disqualifying a person from receiving the eucharist.” (emphasis added)

    It does not appear that the priest bothered to get counsel from others in making his decision. (I note in passing that the Archdiocese of San Antonio, which has jurisdiction over Floresville, TX, has a Ministry for Persons with Disabilities; check out http://www.archsa.org) Nor does it appear that the priest took any great care to explain his reasons in either a sensitive or an intelligent manner. Nor does it appear that the priest gave the benefit of the doubt to a parishioner who is never going to get any better, and who is being deprived, permanently, of the sanctifying grace from the mystical Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    While I can’t find any policies of the Archdiocese of San Antonio on the matter, I note that the diocese of Pittsburgh and Duluth have this to say as regards the Eucharist and persons with disabilities: ” Children who are mentally retarded are to be admitted to the Eucharist when they express a desire for the sacrament and in some way manifest their reverence for it. In cases of profound retardation, the Eucharist may be shared without further requirements, as long as the child is able to consume the sacred elements (emphasis added

    I personally think that for once, the USCCB got things right, as well as the Dioceses listed above.

    While rules are one thing, and intelligent obedience of them a better thing, I thought that the application of rules so as to lay burdens on the faithful was the job of the Pharisees, and not that of priests of our Lord.

  39. Sorry, I meant “infant communion” in the second paragraph of my letter, not “infant baptism”. Please correct. Thanks.

  40. Fr. Basil says:

    \\Are you really prepared to take the position that the canons of the Latin Rite tend toward the heresy of gnosticism?\\

    I’m saying the reasons the Priest gave do.

    **ultural distinctions mean that there are cracks between us and therefore it would seem reasonable that the Holy Ghost would guide each group to best honor, worship, and adore the Divine.**

    Which begs the question if in fact the Holy Ghost led the Latin Church to be out of step with the other Catholic and pre-reforation Eastern Churches to deny newly baptized infants communion.

    My point is that the priest has the preceded to be a little easier in his interpretation of this canon, and fulfil the yearning of Jesus to unite Himself as intimately as possible in this life with His little child.

  41. PostCatholic says:

    I can’t tell the difference, and I’m 40.

  42. Fr. Basil says:

    \\My point is that the priest has the preceded [make that “precedent”] to be a little easier in his interpretation of this canon, and fulfil the yearning of Jesus to unite Himself as intimately as possible in this life with His little child.\\

    I forgot my conclusion:

    NONE of the canons are ends in themselves.

    Giving the Body and Blood of Christ to someone who is not spiritually impeded from receiving them IS an end in itself.

    Is there ANYONE here who claims to be able to look into this little boy’s soul and say he IS so impeded?

  43. PaterAugustinus says:

    Really? This makes me sad. Why has the Church had the ancient custom (still preserved in the Eastern Churches) of communing infants? This is why it is not good to tamper with ancient traditions. By changing the custom of communing infants (and confirming them), the idea easily develops that children shouldn’t receive because “they can’t understand.” As if that was ever considered a legitimate concern with respect to this Sacrament! And if children can “understand” the *Mysteries* (nota bene) at that age, why should they be further prevented from their confirmation until they are in High School? All of this reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of Apostolic Tradition regarding the Eucharist and the spiritual capacities of our youngest believers (or those whose mental development will always remain stunted). Again, this is why ancient customs like this should not be altered. Customs like what hymn to sing, and whether to bow or genuflect, sure… but, to not only change the age of first Communion/Confirmation, but go further and state that it is somehow theologically improper to commune the very young (mentally or bodily)… a change like that requires us to believe that the thousands of years of Christian Tradition on so fundamental a point as who can receive the Eucharist and why, was somehow wrong or misguided. And, if on these points, why not many others? Male priesthood? Continence? Vestments? Just the misguided praxis of a less erudite age.

    Catholicism needs to return to the age-old practice on these points, and so end the silly notion that the Eucharist is somehow best kept away from the mentally or physically young.

  44. chloesmom says:

    I’m not suprised about the lack of awareness demonstrated by the students Fr. Z. spoke to. In our parish, the tabernacle is off to the right side of the church, just by the side door. Most people using that door do not genuflect, bow, or otherwise indicate that they were passing in front of Jesus truly present in the Eucharist. That includes the DRE, the person who behaves as if he were the liturgical director, and the children who are being prepared for reception of the sacraments. These kids sometimes attend the Saturday Vigil Mass, and chat continually throughout, with the mums looking on. At Communion time, there’s a lot of chatter in the line, going and returning. It really is sad. I’ve tried to approach the DRE about this situation, but have gotten The Look each time. They just don’t have a clue.

  45. PaterAugustinus says:

    @ JonM:

    The difference, of course, is that this really isn’t a question of using Eastern custom to bind the West, and it isn’t a matter of unimportant and easily changeable customs (like kneeling vs. bowing, etc.); this is a matter of Apostolic Tradition and universal custom for the first millennium and an half, in both East and West. If infants have always been baptized, confirmed and communed in all Christian Churches – except, and that only very recently, in Catholicism – then developing a principle of canon law that those who can’t tell the difference between the Eucharist and normal food must somehow be prohibited from the Eucharist, indicates a fundamental rejection of a basic, Apostolic, traditional understanding of the nature of the Mysteries and the spiritual capacities of even mentally infantile believers.

    Regarding the “schismatic” customs you mention – “sanctioned” divorce, contracepion, etc. – the fact is that educated and pious Orthodox Christians abominate these things, but moder, know-it-all revisionists are busy trying to undermine these things, mostly in an attempt to distance us from “the Latins.” The normative Orthodox sources of doctrine – Fathers, councils, canons, etc. – are all unanimous in their condemnation even of contraception (or, like the most recent Russian statement, at least stop short of openly permitting it, being content to simply draw attention to the marital duty of procreation). Any Orthodox Christian who tells you different, is a modernist who has not really studied the real doctrinal sources, but has rather read publications of such luminaries as Chrysostomos Zafiris and Paul Evdokimov… not serious theologians by any measurement!

  46. Just out of curiosity, why is my original comment “awaiting moderation” for so long? So the original entry drops off the first page and no one reads it, maybe?

    Inquiring minds DO want to know. At least, mine does.

  47. Sam Urfer says:

    Paedocommunion is not an Eastern custom; it is the historical majority report in the Latin West, as well. I am not saying that we need to re-adopt the practice wholesale, but the pastoral consideration of borderline cases like the one in the article must be approached from the viewpoint that the mentally undeveloped have a perfect ability to receive all the sacraments of initiation; indeed, this is the teaching of the Catechism.

  48. By changing the custom of communing infants (and confirming them), the idea easily develops that children shouldn’t receive because “they can’t understand.” As if that was ever considered a legitimate concern with respect to this Sacrament!

    We’re getting into red herring territory here. Nobody has ever been expected to penetrate fully the depth, breadth and height of the mystery of the Eucharist before being admitted to Communion. What is expected is that we understand that we are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. St. Paul said as much in chapter 11 of his First Letter to the Corinthians. A child is expected to be able to distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary food, per the canons cited above. This is not the same as expecting him to be a miniature Thomas Aquinas.

    And let’s not forget one very important issue here: the duty of the priest to prevent, as far as possible, the profanation of the Sacred Species. Who is more likely, for example, to spit the Host out, or take It and throw It away: the person who receives It knowingly and with devotion? or the person who does not in the least understand what he is doing?

  49. ReginaMarie says:

    I’ve posted this before & will offer it again…

    “As a mother will not deny her children food until they understand what they eat, so too the Church will not deny the spiritual food of the Eucharist until a person understands.”
    (St. John Chrysostom)

    “That infant 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.”
    (Council of Trent)

  50. JonM says:

    Regarding the “schismatic” customs you mention – “sanctioned” divorce, contracepion, etc. – the fact is that educated and pious Orthodox Christians abominate these things, but moder, know-it-all revisionists are busy trying to undermine these things, mostly in an attempt to distance us from “the Latins.”

    Definitely, within Eastern Orthodox Churches there is not uniform acceptance of these things. And, it is easy to criticize the Latin Rite for vast pockets of hierarchical support for contraception and a deeply concerning annulment process.

    I don’t know why Canon law was modified to require a communicant to distinguish to some degree the Eucharist from regular bread, so I would really like to hear from those who are informed on this. My suspicion is that the Protestant revolt and wholesale rejection of the Real Presence force the Western Church to require this.

    If that is the case, then I would personally agree that in the right conditions this law could be done away with. But if the status of the Church is any guide, these conditions do not exist.

  51. smad0142 says:

    But could not the discernment St. Paul mandates for reception be provided by the Holy Spirit into the souls of the baptized? After all if Grace builds on nature, then what is wrong with believing that the Holy Spirit makes up for what is “lacking” in those souls who have severe mental handicaps.
    I can tell you from personal experience that my mother who had alzheimers, she passed away on Ash Wednesday, most looked forward to praying and Holy Communion.
    When asked if she wanted to pray or recieve she would always say yes immediately and without hesitation. One of the great joys of my life was giving her Holy Communion the night before she passed.

  52. QMJ says:

    @Miss Anita,

    Your response to PaterAugustinus does not take into account the fact that it was the universal practice of the Church and still the practice in all, but the Roman rite to administer Holy Communion even to infants. (I found the quote from Trent to be particularly enlightening). I also do not think that a reasonable person would disagree about needing to distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary food once someone has attained the age of reason. Certainly, Eastern Catholics and Orthodox take this quite seriously as evidenced in my experience that both Eastern rite children and adults (who began receiving when they were infants) are much better catechised concerning the Holy Mysteries than Romans typically are (at least today). The practice of the Church is that prior to attaining reason one does not need to have the knowledge of which you are speaking. That is the reality of our faith and the practice of our Church.

    Concerning what PaterAugustinus said about practice affecting belief, he is spot on. Another perfect example of this is Confirmation. The idea that Confirmation is someone confirming for themselves the faith they received in Baptism is ludicrous to an Easterner. Woefully, the same cannot be said about Romans. Why? Because the common practice, at least in the United States, is that people receive Confirmation in junior high or high school. This practice combined with dismal catechesis has led to this gross error concerning the sacrament of Confirmation. So too with Holy Communion. Lex orandi, lex crendi.

    One another note, what I am much more interested in is to whom the canons refer. Do they refer only to normal children and adults who have attained the age of reason or do they refer indiscriminately to all the baptised regardless of age and mental capacity?

  53. aspiringpoet says:

    “Cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the sacrament.”

    I am glad to read this as we know now and are increasingly learning that people with mental and neurological disabilities sometimes (who knows how often) understand much more than they appear to. For instance, there have been cases of nonverbal autistic people learning to communicate by unassisted typing – at which point it became undeniable that they had been hearing and understanding much of what was going on around them even though they were unable to communicate normally. If the cerebral palsy physically affects his ability to communicate, as it presumably does, it could make it difficult accurately to assess his degree of understanding. The article is too poorly written to really have any sense of what is going on – did the grandmother/parents disagree with the priest about the mental capacity of their child?

    Imagine how painful it would be to understand what the Eucharist was enough to desire It and yet be unable to demonstrate your understanding adequately, and be refused access. Well, we don’t know that that was the case here, but it’s at least a possibility. If the parents felt their child understood and the priest didn’t, then I could see how there would be conflict, but it’s strange and seems inappropriate to me that it ended up in the news.

  54. Some of what I am going to say has been echoed by others. First of all, Canon 913 – 914 were written primarily with children in mind, not those with neurological disabilities. It continually refers to children, including the passage about “sufficiently disposed”. However, the argument can be made (and has been by many) that the principles established would cover anyone who does not achieve the use of reason. But I continually find it strange that Catholics who insist that Holy Scripture must be read with the mind of the Church – and some passages cannot be taken at “face value” outside of the Tradition – seem to think Canon Law exists outside of time and space itself, and each canon must be considered as an isolated Writ of God, and thereby you should ignore all other church tradition and common sense. (I think of recent efforts to say the Code forbids married deacons from having sex).

    The canons in question are about children! For goodness sake, the same people who shed tears when they found out that Terry Schiavo was being denied access to communion when she was in a vegetative are now saying a person with cerebral palsy is just SOL, as they say.

    The canons do not explicitly cover people with neurological disabilities, and given our Lord’s admonition that eating and drinking his flesh is necessary for eternal life, maybe we can say these are special circumstances requiring pastoral sensitivity. Thankfully, the Church does have the means – the Eastern Church is just as Catholic as the West. The priest dips his little finger in the precious blood and places a drop on the tongue – no danger of it being spit out (heck, he does not even have to worry about thinking it is “special bread” since you are not using the Host), and the person gets to receive the Holy Eucharist – and eternal life.

    I understand why the canons were written the way there were – you do not want a bunch of screaming brats (I speak as a father here, so I know of whence I speak) not knowing what is going on at First Communion. You also do not want a three year old “playing with his food” with no thoughts about what it is. This is what the canons were meant to prevent, not to keep those who are most precious in God’s eyes, and possibly most in need of His spiritual comfort, from receiving Him in Holy Communion.

    This is even ignoring aspiringpoet’s more than valid comment that we have no idea what the capabilities really are of those with neurological disabilities, who very well may perceive much more than they are given credit.

    As a final note (rant almost finished), I would say the fact that the parents went to the press as opposed to their bishop or another Church authority is really in poor taste.

  55. StellaMaris says:

    I think the on-line magazine that reported this was a Mormon one. Go figure. This is just more Catholic bashing. Nothing new. How awful it is to be Catholic—see they even discriminate against the mentally and physically disabled.

    Most Catholics believe they have a “right” to all the Sacraments—whether they believe what the Church teaches or not, whether they are properly disposed or not, whether they go to Mass or not, etc.

    As for poor catechesis, that’s nothing new either. The adults don’t know a thing so how can they teach their children? They can’t.

    I feel sad for the parents and grandparents. If they really understood it all, they would be confident in the knowledge that God’s grace and mercy are infinite and that Baptism is sufficient.

    From the article, it seems that the parents and grandparents understand the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist as a Protestant does—-that they are merely_ signs_ of grace , but not recognizing that they really cause Divine grace. They also seem to be totally unaware that, in order to receive any Sacrament, the recipient must be properly disposed.

    This family apparently was not properly instructed over the years by any priest (which is their job) and now when a good priest tries to properly instruct them, they are angry at him. Bad priests are made out to look good, while good priests are made out to look bad.

    Domina nostra de La Salette, or pro nobis.

  56. Byzcat says:

    In the Byzantine Rites of the Catholic Church this wouldn’t have been a problem. Infants receive Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation at the same time. Perhaps she should consider a change of Rites for the good of her soul and those of her family.

  57. Supertradmum says:

    The Byzantine theology on this point makes more sense. Do any of us really understand the meaning of the Eucharist? St. Joseph Cupertino was mentally challenged and God allowed him to be a priest. I think the Canon Law should be worded differently to include those who cannot grasp the sacramental significance, just as babies received Holy Communion and Confirmation with Baptism in our own Byzantine rites.

  58. III Nuns says:

    This is an issue that strikes home for my wife and I. My only son has a milder version of cerebral palsy. He cannot talk and is 5 years old, but has the maturity of a 2 or 3 year old. I pray that one day he will be able to receive our Blessed Lord and one day be confirmed for full initiation into the church. He does act wild at times during Mass due to his sensory issues and spasticity, but when we stop and ask him where Jesus is……..he knows. He blesses himself in the holy water font, and sometimes blows kisses to the crucifix because Jesus has ‘ouchies’ on his hands, feet and head.

    Since he only has a few words (that aren’t even complete words) we have often joked that we will need to program all his sins into his speech device for his first confession. But reality sets in when I read an article like this and think he may never have that opportunity. I realize with his disability that he may never commit a mortal sin. He is baptized and that is all he should need for salvation. I would only see the reception of the Eucharist in 1st Holy Communion as part of his initiation into the church, and sealed through Confirmation. Other than that, I would understand why he shouldn’t receive unless he is able to demonstrate that he somehow knows the sacred species is not just the physical appearance of bread and wine, but Jesus. He will never understand it, as 99.99% of the rest of us don’t.

    I have noticed that he does demonstrate more reverence at the Latin Mass, which may be due to the beautiful Gregorian Chant and it’s calming affect. Time will tell, but I know my little buddy carries a huge cross for us and I know he will go straight to heaven.

  59. PaterAugustinus says:

    @ Anita Moore

    “We’re getting into red herring territory here. Nobody has ever been expected to penetrate fully the depth, breadth and height of the mystery of the Eucharist before being admitted to Communion. What is expected is that we understand that we are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ.”

    No, this isn’t quite the point. I didn’t mean to indicate that “since nobody understands the Mysteries, it’s all moot.” Rather, I was saying that these Mysteries, being infinite and beyond the power of discursive thought, indicate that even the best discursive understanding of them is not much different from an infant’s seeming ignorance. We are all expected to understand according to our capacity; we are not all expected to distinguish between the Eucharist and common food. The infant receiving communion is not required to make that distinction. An adult peasant in the ninth century would be expected to make that distinction. A priest would be expected to make many more distinctions. That’s really the point – the Church has always communed those who do not make such a distinction, when they are not of an age (or mental state) to make it. So there’s really no point in making this an issue, in the case of the mentally infirmed who show no significant danger of desecration to the Host.

    @ JonM

    “Definitely, within Eastern Orthodox Churches there is not uniform acceptance of these things. And, it is easy to criticize the Latin Rite for vast pockets of hierarchical support for contraception and a deeply concerning annulment process.”

    That’s very true; that’s why I make it something of a mission of mine, to defend Catholicism to my Orthodox brethren when these abuses, and any of the other standard misunderstandings (“created grace,” etc.) come up. For the record, the canons of the Orthodox Church are somewhat ambiguously worded on the topic of divorce: they mention the concessions for second and third marriages, and the withholding of the crowns at such marriages (for any spouse who is not still a virgin at the time of the wedding)… but, traditionally, these were understood as referring to marriages after the death of a spouse. We must remember that the Christian Tradition has always regarded even a first marriage as something of a concession to human frailty and the cares of this world… so, even widows and widowers were expected to become chaste after their first marriage ended in death. However, further marriages were not forbidden, though they were frowned upon. Over time, the ambiguous wording of these canons was seized upon (especially by Byzantine Emperors), and the abusive precedent of second and third marriages after divorce (rather than death) crept in. I, and many others, regard it as a grave abuse.

    Orthodox bishops in this modern age are very fond of the term “economy,” which is supposed to refer to a bishop fulfilling the spirit of the Canon while disregarding the letter (through less stricture in observing the canonical penalties). Nowadays, one hears tell of bishops “permitting” abortions by “economy,” because otherwise the poor would-be-mother would despair and leave the Church, and that wouldn’t be “pastoral” at all. There is little regard for the duty to uphold the moral law stringently at all times, even if canonical penalties are relaxed in pursuit of real pastoral goals. I hope the abusive attitudes towards divorce will be reformed in the Orthodox Church’s praxis.

  60. BenedictXVIFan says:

    Postcatholic doth protest too much. Literally. You don’t seem truly ‘post’, as in ‘over it’. But that’s ok. Maybe you should start thinking about calling yourself ‘PreRevert’.

  61. Banjo pickin girl says:

    Bernard, it was the URL in your original post that held up the publishing of it I believe.

  62. Fr. A.M. says:

    We should follow what is stated in the canons, and any ‘guidelines’ or statements issued by local bishops’ conferences. They serve the Church – remember the hierarchy does have authority over the administration of the sacraments. It is a reasonable interpretation of the canons to say that any ‘sign’ of reverence or ‘understanding’ (which may be broadly interpreted) on the part of a baptized child who is, for example, mentally handicapped , would be positive indication that that child should be allowed to receive Holy Communion, and indeed, would have a right to receive as a baptized person. These things have to be judged also on a case-by-case basis, in the light of the canons etc. I cannot comment on the case presented here, as I don’t know all the facts. But great sensitivity and kindness is called for, whether or not the child is permitted to receive Holy Communion.

  63. GodsGadfly says:

    Thank you, Mr. Brandt, for posting that illustrative quote from USCCB policy on interpretation of Canon 913. It also bears noting that 913 itself qualifies that children should have “understanding . . according to their capacity,” and I can show you 2 year olds who can recognize that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ.

    The article itself is full of errors, and the grandmother quoted obviously isn’t very well catechized herself.

    What bothers me about this is that we don’t actually hear the pastor’s side, and he may also have concerns about the boy’s ability to physically receive, since CP is a neurological disorder. I am also bothered, knowing how these things work, that it is ruled that the boy has the mental capacity of a 6 year old–how do we know this? Isn’t this like a Terri Schiavo thing? CP is essentially a stroke suffered in infancy or childbirth. Unless they have some kind of EEG or something proving the child’s lack of mental capacity, this can be entirely based upon his ability to communicate (it often happens, even today, that children with communication disorders are labelled mentally handicapped just because they can’t share what’s in their heads through normal channels).

    Ultimately, we’re talking about a discipline of Canon Law, and not only that but an interpretation of Canon Law, and it would just take a statement from the Pope to change it.

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