GUEST POST: Preparing children for First Communion and, therefore, their first Confession

From a reader:

Thank you for all you do. Your constant reminder to go to Confession is appreciated and I, my wife, and older son go regularly. Although I may sometimes dread the thought, like a good workout, I feel much better afterwards.

My younger son was recently preparing for First Communion and Confirmation. Although first Confession was not part of the “program” (that’s another story) we wanted our son to make is First Confession prior to receiving Our Lord for the first time.

My wife particularly was very diligent in preparing him for his first Confession.

Examination of Conscience – check
Prayer before Confession – check
Ten Commandments – check
7 Deadly Sins – check
Act of Contrition – check

We thought we had it all covered and my son was well prepared for his first Confession yet we left one small detail out.

My younger son has a particularly loud voice and we neglected to tell him to speak quietly to the priest while making his Confession. Unfortunately as a result a good number of the parish know just how many times he slugged his older brother in the past week.

These parents are to be commended!

And the loud voice warning is a a good practical point.

Of course a quick review of my 20 Tips For Making A Good Confession might have helped with that whole loudness thing.

This is really really really important also for adults to take to heart too, especially if you are a little hard of hearing and don’t realize you are speaking loudly.  I have had to quiet penitents make good confession who were perhaps announcing to the line outside the confessional some pretty nasty stuff.

The point the writer made is good.  Tell children to be very quiet.

Many are the times I have slid open the little door to have a youngster roar, in that sing-song staccato kids use when they have memorized something


At that point I usually say with a strong whisper,

” *okay… just whisper and I’ll hear you just fine… we don’t want anyone out there to hear you, do we?* ”

” *no* ”

” *Do you know how to whisper? * ”

” *yah* ”

” *okay go ahead* ”


Repetita iuvant.

I will also add…. “Although first Confession was not part of the “program” (that’s another story)…”


What’s with that?

If it indeed the case that the parish is not providing for children getting ready for First Communion to make their first confession, I think the local bishop should be informed “for his opportune knowledge”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. momoften says:

    I have a 6 year old son that has been pestering our Pastor to go to confession. He had to admit
    he has never had anyone beg him for confession! (yes, he is being worked with, almost ready!)
    Worse he knows the order of events in our household meaning First Confession, First Communion,
    altar boy…which he is certain he can do better than the other brothers on the altar….–sibling rivalry)

  2. lucy says:

    I would also like to thank you for hammering home going to confession. I think it’s very important. We went Friday evening after your prompt. We try to go once a month, but lately we are trying to get there every two weeks. Our FSSP priest told us that would be the best since we are always then ready to receive an indulgence when one is presented, and also for the additional graces to help us avoid sin.

    I am a convert. My husband is a cradle Catholic who attended 12 years of Catholic school during the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s – ’nuff said. When we met and I began RCIA, he hadn’t been to confession in many years. His thinking was that he had not commited a mortal sin. Nevertheless, as we have been attending the traditional Mass for 7 years now, he finally understands the importance of going to confession regularly. I have to say that I didn’t hear much about confession and it’s importance in the RCIA program. We’re so thankful that we have solid traditional priests to help us get to heaven.

  3. Maggie says:

    I’m not entirely surprised that First Confession isn’t always part of the preparation “program” for First Eucharist. At many parishes in my diocese, despite the bishop’s directives otherwise, the child’s first confession is delayed to fourth or fifth grade, even though first Eucharist remains in second grade. The only “explanation” I’ve ever heard for this strange idea is that “children that young can’t really grasp what sin is.”

    Obviously, the writer above proves otherwise; his child is well-prepared and understands what’s going on!

  4. Mrs. O says:

    If the young child has Aspergers/Autism, would it be appropriate to reveal that to the confessor in the beginning of the confession? The reason I mention this, it what may seem obvious to us is something that some have to learn and it takes more than once to do that. Sometimes it takes a life time.

  5. APX says:

    First confession after first communion seems to be the new norm in some diocese. It seems telling the bishop wouldn’t be all that fruitful aside from working up the ladder, as they come up with this loonie business.

  6. The tsunami of sewage that this culture aims straight at even little children makes it imperative that they make their first confession as soon as possible, and before first Communion. Kids these days are exposed to things, even in school, that I’m not old enough to know about; it is foolish to think that they can’t sin gravely as soon as they attain the full use of their reason. In fact, in our sex-and-violence-saturated age, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the sacrament of Confirmation were to be routinely administered to infants in the Roman Rite, as in other rites.

  7. Peggy R says:

    Perhaps this reader’s parish is like mine where the First Confession is months before First Communion. The pastor refuses to link the 2 sacraments. He insists they are 2 separate sacraments. He even “corrected” a child on this point in one of those homilies where he talks to the kids. Sigh. He refuses to teach the necessity of confession to be in a state of grace and to receive Our Lord. We teach our children otherwise.

    That said, he does promote confession during Advent and Lent, but he doesn’t place the sacrament very well in the whole scheme of things. I know people in 2nd marriages or shacking up and receiving communion. He won’t teach his flock on this. Sigh.

  8. Nathan says:

    Mrs. O, that’s an interesting idea. Sometimes it is useful for those of us not on the spectrum to introduce our confession with our state in life, so a confessor may be assisted by a simple statement to that effect at the beginning of confession.

    Our Asperger’s daughter is now almost 20, and it really helped her in her first few years of going to Confession to:
    1) Guide her every time through an examination of conscience, walking her through the “checklist” in the old St Joseph catechisms.
    2) Have her write down sins and time since last confession on a card, then destroy it afterwards
    3) Go to the same priest as much as possible. She led the way in this. We also waited in line a bit more than most folks.
    4) Make sure that she could go in as soundproof a confessional as possible, since she had trouble with managing volume.
    5) Be patient and understand that God understood her quirks better than we did (and that He made her for a purpose).

    I don’t recall having any problems with either priests or people in the church at the same time, aside from my occasional public embarrassment when she was a bit louder than I would have liked in making her confession.
    In Christ,

  9. Mom of 3 says:

    When I was a child in Catholic school (mid 1980’s), that’s just how they did it — First Communion in 2nd grade , First Reconciliation in 4th grade. Our teacher said it was because “that’s how the parents want it.” I looked at the website for my old school and that is apparently still how they order their sacramental prep.

    This created a bit of a mess for me because I started going to public school in 3rd grade (but still went to mass occasionally with my family) and then went to a Catholic high school. I continued receiving Communion through my high school years, not knowing it was wrong to receive in a state of mortal sin, or even what a “state of mortal sin” was.

    I returned to the Church and went to confession for the first time after RCIA when I was over 30 years old.

  10. Laura98 says:

    Oh… I remember helping get my daughter prepared for her first Communion and Confession… :) Actually, I’m not sure how much her school did to prepare them. They didn’t exactly keep us in the loop. And getting that kind of info out of a 2nd grader is like pulling teeth.

    Mrs. O: I also have a child with Asperger’s… so I understand your concerns. First it would depend on the child and how the child reacts with in such situations. Is the Priest known to your child, or a stranger? If you know the Priest well, I would probably speak to him about it beforehand. Like all such “social” situations, practice is the key (and I don’t mean your child should confess to you!). But you should have your child practice what he/she needs to say (prayers, etc.) and maybe a “made-up” sin such as “passing papers” or something else innocuous.

    I have found ongoing religious education absolutely necessary as well… so that my daughter understands why Jesus died and what sin is, etc. I can’t recommend the Baltimore Catechism highly enough – it’s simple and clear. Just what kids with Asperger’s/Autism need. It comes in 3 different levels too, so you can start out with simple explanations and work your way up. I don’t know if many Catholic Schools use this Catechism any more. I know my daughter’s old one didn’t – and she had little understanding of what was being taught at the time. I hope this helps you…

  11. happyhockeymom says:

    How early is it possible for a child to go to confession? I have a 5&1/2 year old that I am working through my #0 St Joseph’s Baltimore Catechism for FIrst Communion. He loves it, brings it to me to read, and understands the lessons I have taught him so far quite well. He begs to go to confession when I go. :) I am not totally sure that he understands the difference between a mistake and a sin yet, but if he keeps on at his present rate it won’t be long.

    When it comes to first Communion, I don’t know. He still has a hard time sitting still and following Mass (EF). Any suggestions for helping a restless, little boy with the TLM? I think he needs to at least be able to follow Mass and pay attention before his first Communion. Other parents, what do you think? What have been your experiences?

  12. Papabile says:


    Suggestion: Sit as close to the front as possible. Make sure the child has a line of sight to the altar. Point to the Priest, the elements, and other parts of the altar throughout Mass and in a low whisper ask him what the priest is doing, what are those things, etc. Also, if the altar cannot hold his attention, point to other things like the stations, and the windows and use that as a catechetical time. While focusing on the action at the altar is always desirable, it is not always possible. The other elements can help catechize.

  13. MissOH says:

    I remember attending a parish and helping with CCD in the upper grades and hearing that first confession was in 4th grade though first communion was still in 2nd. Luckily, our bishop at the time did correct that. The parish we attended when my son was in 2nd grade help first confession in December which would give the children some time to get used to going to confession. Praise God that was stressed in our parish with confession available 7 days a week and the priests encouraged frequent confession (at least monthly). Our current parish also has first confession for the 2nd graders several months early to help foster a “comfort” with the sacrament. It is also offered frequently- 6 days a week in English and once a week in Spanish (though there is no issue if someone needs to go in English). It is a great blessing.

  14. Bea says:

    When one of my sons was ready for First Communion the “Catholic” nun-principal was going to have them make their First Communion before Confession. I objected at the parent-preparedness meeting and said this practice had ended a few years back with the Holy Father’s intervention that “the time for experimentation” was over. She simply said if I/we preferred we could privately take our son to make his First Confession. The other parents gave me “the look” : How dare I question the nun, after all she’s the “expert” isn’t she?
    Ahhh, well, our son did the right thing but I always worried about the children of the other parents who went along with the “expert”

    On another note as to loud confessions and good and Holy Priests: My father was hard of hearing and had recently returned to the Sacraments. When our eldest was born I stayed at my parents house and to my surprise, our pastor came to call on us. “As long as you’re here” I asked him “could you hear my father’s confession. He’s hard of hearing and reluctant to go to confession because he raises his voice in the confessional” “ah” he replied “I’d already thought of that” It dawned on me that his purpose was not to visit a newborn and her new mom but to bring my father this sacrament, What a wonderful priest he was. One of my sons is named after him.

  15. Bea says:


    What we did (we didn’t have EF, though) was to have them follow the Mass in the missalette as we pointed out just what point we were at. They couldn’t read at that point in time but it made them feel they were participating and following the Mass. We would give a little explanation of what was going on. Most especially the Consecration, telling them how this was the most important part of the Mass.

    Like papabile said, we would always sit in the front. I remember when I was a kid we sat in the back and all we saw was the backs of people. I had no idea what was going on.

  16. Inigo says:

    I remember the time I was prepared for first confession and communion. I was seven years old, youngest in the parish first communion group, all other kids were at least ten years old. We had to take a final exam before we could go to confession. The exam was at the parish, all the children and their parents were in a big assembly room with our parish priest, and every child had to pick a card with a question. There were all sorts of things: recite the Our Father, or the Apostle’s Creed, explain “what” we recieve in the Eucharist etc. I got the Ten Commandements. As I was saying the commandments I remember I hesitated after the 5th, because I didn’t really get the concept behind the word adultery (my parents didn’t really go into detail about it because of my age), after a small pause I continued. I recited the whole thing in one breath, loud and clear. After I finished, the parish priest stepped next to me, he put his hand on my shoulder and said to the other kids: “If somebody knows something, this is the way to say it!”
    It’s stuff like this kids need.

  17. Kathleen10 says:

    In our area I have heard of Confession coming after the First Holy Communion, and it makes no sense. As a parent, I couldn’t go along with that.

    My nephew was just prepared beautifully for his First Holy Communion. Couldn’t have been better preparation! Only problem? He thinks he’s done, and doesn’t need to go to Mass. He seems to think he graduated.

    As far as having a child with any disability, I would let Father know ahead of time. Not only that, but I would provide an index card with a short (short!) list of how to best speak with your child.
    As in:

    Jack needs to hear short, easy sentences.
    Please speak somewhat slowly.
    If Jack gets frustrated, try saying, take a deep breath Jack. (his strategy)

    Having a heads up on communication and strategies will help make sure the interaction is most likely to be fruitful and positive.

  18. Kathleen10 says:

    I should add, this is helpful in any situation because we can never assume people know and understand what is involved in any disability. They often don’t, and you are paving the way for communicative success by providing tips about how to communicate with your child.
    Helpful in many situations.

  19. Supertradmum says:

    happyhockeymom, my son made his First Confession at five and then a year later, at six, made his First Holy Communion. When the child is ready should be the answer to when a child receives these sacraments. At our parish, the parents did the prep, with a few meetings with the priest. Nice. Same with Confirmation. It was done privately with a priest, who tested my son, who was older-13-than I was at Confirmation, simply because of family moving to another country and having life interrupted a bit.

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