From 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…
GO TO CONFESSION!
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.