ASK FATHER: First Communion without First Confession?

confession childrenFrom a reader…


My daughter called me on the phone and asked me if the First Confession before First Communion is an option. She came home from a meeting attended by parents for first communicants, They were told if the parents wanted the children to go to confession prior to first Communion they would help the parents teach them, If they did not want them to go they they could wait untill the fourth grade for the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Is there a rule for this?

Yes, in fact, there is a rule for this.  But… in the “age of mercy” do “rules” still apply?

It simply makes plain ol’ sense that someone who has attained the use of reason should first experience the Sacrament of Penance before First Holy Communion.   It makes sense if we still believe what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, that is.  I am not so sure these days that everyone knows and believes what the Church teaches about the Eucharist. On the other hand, if your sense of what the Eucharist is has devolved to a thing you get so that you can feel like you belong, so that you can feel good about yourself…. but I digress.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says:

Can. 914 It is primarily the duty of parents and of those who take their place, as it is the duty of the parish priest, to ensure that children who have reached the use of reason are properly prepared and, having made their sacramental confession, are nourished by this divine food as soon as possible. It is also the duty of the parish priest to see that children who have not reached the use of reason, or whom he has judged to be insufficiently disposed, do not come to holy communion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 1457 says, “Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.”

Here is a link to some of the documents regarding this issue

Since Vatican II there has been a great deal of experimentation with switching the order of the sacraments, such that First Communion comes before Penance. The Holy See has tried many times to correct this.

The theological issue at the basis of this dilemma you describe is that Catholics who have the use of reason but are not conscious of serious sin can be admitted to the Eucharist. There are a lot of people who claim that these little darlings have never committed a serious sin. I respond saying: “Yah… right.”  Anyone who remembers being a kid or who has looked into the eyes of even a two year-old while she is testing your limits will not seriously advance the absurd idea that children don’t know how to sin and don’t know when they are doing something wrong.

Frankly, I think that people don’t talk about sin to children because if they did they might have to change their own lives in order not appear to be “inconsistent”… or find your own word.  So, all you parents out there… for the sake of your children and their experience of the Sacrament of Penance… 


The sacrament of Penance is a gift and is not torture. When children see their parents making good use of the sacrament, they will be more inclined to it and be less “afraid”. Also, overcoming some fear is part of life. Moreover, if parents scrub their kids on the outside before important guests come or before going to some important event, all the more reason to have them scrubbed inside too.  And in regard to feat, children… heck, people in general… are less afraid when they know what to do.  Teach children well the nuts and bolts of making a good confession.  Make sure that they memorize how to get started and how to say an Act of Contrition.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The fact that this question has arisen is cause for concern. That strange thing “common sense”, which is increasingly UNCOMMON, clearly dictates that confession comes before Holy Communion. The reception of God Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, clearly requires the recipient of Perfect God to be as close to perfection, as God Himself is. Hence Confession comes first and Communion comes second.

  2. Lepidus says:

    Reminds me of a time I mentioned to our priest that First Confession needs to precede First Communion. He didn’t believe me, so I referred him to Canon 914 as Father Z quoted above. This was after Mass. To his credit, I got a phone call about an hour later. He did look it up and confirmed that I was correct. Unfortunately, he also said that he was the Pastor and will do what he wants. (Basically, that was because he had a history and was not going to make any waves with the extremist Archbishop). Long story short – that Archbishop …ummm…retired, was replaced with another bishop who didn’t want to make waves so he could get his promotion and red hat (extremely successful in that career move – since everyone reading this has heard of him) and finally replaced by a more permanent Archbishop who mandated the correct order.

    [The pastor’s response and policy should be documented and then sent to the Congregation for Divine Worship.]

  3. Sword40 says:

    I was baptized a Catholic in Feb. 1970 at 30 years of age. The baptizing took place just before Mass. Then during Mass I was the first one to receive communion. The Novus Ordo was just promulgated and it was a whole new thing for me. Somehow I stayed Catholic and now attend an FSSP parish.

  4. SanSan says:

    Amen Father.
    Sadly today at morning Mass the 8th graders joined us and Father asked how many attended Mass over the weekend? Maybe 4 hands went up. Father gently told them that they were in sin for not attending Mass on Sunday and need to go to confession before receiving Jesus. So how many received Jesus after his admonishment, more than half. Besides their parents shirking their duties, I look to their teacher for not clarifing this for the students–so that their is no doubt in their mind that it’s a grave sin to miss Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation. The students could go home and share it with their parents.

    Today’s Gospel spoke to those who bring the little ones to sin……mea culpa dear Lord.

    [Father should not have asked that question with a request for raised hands. Furthermore, he can’t say that 8th graders are “in sin” if their parents didn’t take them to Mass. Priests should not tell children to expose the sins of parents publicly.]

  5. Joseph-Mary says:

    Back in the bad old days of the 90s as my children were approaching these sacraments, I got ‘special permission’ for one son to have his first confession a year AFTER his first communion. The other son did not have confession until FOUR years AFTER! When I taught 6th or 8th grade, now into the 2000s, most of the kids either had only been to confession once or some never had. So much for parishes teaching the children….

  6. JustaSinner says:

    This IS the Body of Christ..unless you’re Lutheran or Squishy Catholic, then it kind of, merely, maybe, should, represent, almost, a way of, possibly is something to do with Jesus.

  7. hwriggles4 says:

    Ten to fifteen years ago, when I was a young revert, I helped with Youth Ministry. I was amazed how many kids had not even been to Confession, even though they had had first communion. The newer pastor mandated that ALL the confirmation candidates go to Confession, or they would not be confirmed. I am glad the pastor addressed this.

    Part of the problem was primarily with those who had first communion at other parishes, with Father Anything Goes. I even recall in the late 70s and early 80s when my two younger brothers received first communion, and Father Nice did not have them do first confessions.

    As a kid in the 70s and 80s, Confession was looked like this: Oh, that’s old Church, we don’t do that anymore.” Personally. I didn’t go for at least 13 years (Christmas 1995 was the FIRST time for me after a long absence from confession.)

  8. cl00bie says:

    When our children were first communion age, our pastor explained that children understood the concept of the Eucharist before the concept of sin, so he would give them first communion the year before first confession. And if someone wants to turn him in to the bishop, go ahead.

    I was tempted.

  9. Moro says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t buy the whole “I didn’t know” stick when it comes from clergy. Lay people, yes, but clergy. Come on, after 5 to 8 years of seminary and you don’t know that it is sinful to receive the eucharist in mortal sin? That’s BS, plain and simple. Even in the worst of seminaries you would have heard that at least that WAS what the Church taught.

    These are just priests who are lazy or don’t want to make waves or just be Fr. Nice and not spend time on this so they can have extra time to go to the beach during the week, etc.

    I’m in my 30s and a layman but if by some chance in my 50s or even later, I am single and called to be a priest in some diocese, I’ll do what is necessary and not what is nice. If some bishop wants to get rid of me, he can try. By that time I’ll have a nice pension, so I’ll be able to afford to exert some serious sacerdotal spine if necessary.

  10. mysticalrose says:

    Tsk, tsk, Fr. Z. Your rigidity about the rules . . . you must be leading a double life, you must be hiding something deep within. How you must suffer!

    And clearly, you hate Vatican II.

  11. JabbaPapa says:

    Sword40 :

    I was baptized a Catholic in Feb. 1970 at 30 years of age. The baptizing took place just before Mass. Then during Mass I was the first one to receive communion.

    The adult Baptised need not go to Confession before First Communion, as Baptism provides forgiveness of ALL Sins. Did you commit any mortal sins during that Mass ? I doubt it strongly.

    And anyway, you participated in the general Confession and act of Penance of the Mass itself, prior to Holy Communion.

  12. Fr. John says:

    “there has been a great deal of experimentation with switching the order of the sacraments”

    On that note, how much of a movement had there been in the Catholic Church to restore the sacraments of confirmation and communion their proper order? As I understand it, the practice of giving communion first is relatively recent, barely over a hundred years old.

    I know Pope Benedict spoke positively about restoring those two sacraments back to their original order. Is there much of a movement among traditional Catholics make this change?

    As an Orthodox priest, this seems very anomalous to me.

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