ASK FATHER: Can priest forbid 1st Communion at a TLM at another parish? Wherein Fr. Z calls for “remedial everything”.

From a reader…


There’s a family who attends and is members at an Ordinary Form parish, who would like their child to do first communion in the Extraordinary Form. The EF is held monthly at a different parish. The pastor at the OF parish told them no. [ooops! FAIL.] So…

I’ve not before thought about it, but does one have to have permission for one to do first communion *at all*, or simply wait until kids are seven? Everyone does the first communion prep as a matter of course, but this situation has me thinking about canonical requirements.

And so, could the parents simply have their child receive in a TLM quietly, or would that violate something legal? It would of course be a sort of disobedience towards their OF pastor.


First, let’s for now leave aside the muddy issue of parish boundaries and registration in parishes outside one’s parish boundaries, and personal parishes, etc.  Let’s also put aside the issue of First Penance, Confession before First Communion, though the two are usually closely connected.  You are asking about Communion.

It seems that the priest is trying to be diligent about his role as pastor and about a First Communion.  That’s a plus.  Some pastors don’t seem to care one way or another and think that everyone, Catholics or not, manifest public sinner or not, in the state of mortal sin or not, should go to Communion because we are all “welcome”.  Pastors, parish priests, have the obligation of protecting the faithful from error and correcting them when they stray (can. 529). This priest seems to want to do that, though perhaps he is overly zealous.   He would be hard pressed to explain why going to Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form is somehow going astray.

Next, it could be that the pastor doesn’t quite understand his limitations.  Reception of First Communion is not a juridic act.  A person is under no obligation to receive the Eucharist the first time, or any time, from his territorial or personal pastor.  Nor does a pastor, a parish priest, have any authority to forbid his parishioners from receiving First Communion, or any Communion, outside of his parish.

So, it would not be “disobedience toward the OF pastor” to go somewhere else.

BTW… the cynic in me would want to know if the priest objected to 1st Communion only because it was at a TLM or if it was at another place. Also, would that same priest allow an infamous pro-abortion politician to receive Communion who was recently in the news spouting the same?  I would like to know that, too, but I’ll probably never know.

The obligation of preparing children for the Eucharist is primarily with the parents, not with the pastor.  Can. 914 begins with the word “Parentum…” just to drive this point home before anyone get’s bored as they read the rest of the canon.

That said, the pastor of a parish does have the right, under can. 914, to “exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion”.

That applies to what happens at his own parish, not at another pastor’s parish.

Moving along, can. 912 says that “any baptized person who is not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion”.  That probably applies to a 7 year old since can. 1323 says that a child under the age of 16 cannot be subject to a canonical penalty and it is unlikely that the pastor could invoke can. 915 because the child is “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin”.

I’d make a crack about bishops admitting pro-abortion politicians to Communion at this point, but that might take us off track.  Forget I wrote that.

And can. 914 says that once they deemed ready, children should be admitted to Communion “as soon as possible”.  In other words, a pastor better have a really good reason not to admit a child to Communion at his own parish.  He does not have the right to oblige anyone to receive at any time at his own parish.  He does not have the right to forbid anyone from going to Communion at another parish, in this or that legitimate Catholic rite, etc.

Does this suggest that the parish priest, the pastor, has zero role in the issue of First Communion?  No.

It is reasonable for parents to give the pastor – if he desires (and he should) – a chance to assess the child’s readiness (cf can. 914).   The parents have the primary duty, but the pastor also has a duty.

Ideally and normally, parents and pastors work together well and cordially in this path of discernment.  The primary say rests with the parents but the the pastor has the duty to double-check and make sure that the parents are right.   If he assesses that the parents are not right about little Stupor Mundi then he would have to explain why.   This is entirely reasonable, especially in this day when we find that more and more and more nominal Catholics haven’t the slightest clue about what the Church teaches.  Also, many catechetical programs for First Communion prep are abysmal.   More on that below.

If the pastor of the parish where Extraordinary Form Mass takes place assesses that little Stupor Mundi is ready, then he can be admitted to First Communion there with as much or as little hoopla as desired.

After that, it would be good inform the pastor of the home parish.

Could parents simply take their children to church and have them receive without consulting their parish priest or anyone at all?

I guess so.  Once they’ve been admitted, they’ve been admitted.  I’d want to know why parents did it that way, however.

I don’t think that sneaking about for sacraments is a good idea.

All of these decisions should be done in the light of day with open and cordial cooperation.  And, this is where I bring up the issue of the child making his confession for the first time before First Communion.  Everything the child does for first sacraments should be up front and should also be of note and special.   Unless there is a compelling reason to the contrary, it seems to me that first sacraments and sacraments of initiation should come with a measure of solemnity.

Anyway, the canons covering most of this are HERE.

Above, I promised more.

ANECDOTE:  At a parish where I was assigned many moons ago I was asked to take the First Communion kids through the church and explain all the elements to them.  Great!  That should be fun.

It was fun until I saw that not a single one used the Holy Water coming in, made the Sign of the Cross even poorly, or attempted a genuflection anywhere even after I myself did so as we approached the sanctuary and the tabernacle.   Any kids who had been to church even minimally with minimally practicing parents would try these things, even ineptly.  It’s what they saw adults do, right?

Seeing this, I started to explain a few things.

When talking – in the simplest terms – about the tabernacle and Eucharist within, I saw blank faces.  I asked some basic questions along the lines of “Who can tell me what Communion is?”  Blank.  “Who can tell me what the Eucharist is?” Blank. I wasn’t looking for technical or memorized answers.  Just some notion of what they were there for.  One little boy eventually offered “You mean that piece of bread thing?”

This was the week before they were to receive, mind you.

My head did not explode.

We moved the children along. I then asked the teachers the same questions with hardly better results.

I told the pastor what I found out.  He got mad at ME because I had learned that these kids  under HIS charge were in no way shape or form ready for Communion.  And that was at a parish considered to be conservative.

You can see why some families opt for traditional communities, homeschool and the SSPX.

You can see why some priests, even some thought to be conservative, are nervous about the TLM and all that goes with it, including strong catechesis and personal fulfillment of obligations, duties.

“Conservative” can be a relative term, as faithful young priests rapidly find out.

The whole understanding of cura animarum really needs to be revived, my friends, along with remedial… everything.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    As a convert in the past and a catechist in the present, I humbly second the motion for remedial everything, please God.

  2. Charles E Flynn says:

    Re: “The obligation of preparing children for the Eucharist is primarily with the parents, not with the pastor. Can. 914 begins with the word “Parentum…” just to drive this point home before anyone get’s bored as they read the rest of the canon.”

    Who knew that Canon Law would be forwards-compatible with ever-briefer attention spans?

  3. JARay says:

    It is now a very long time ago but when one of my sons was due to receive his First Communion the PP told me to do the preparation myself and when I considered him ready for the reception of his first Holy Communion I should bring him for his first Confession and then bring him up for his First Holy Communion. This I did.
    It was so simple!
    But that was a very long time ago.

  4. TonyO says:

    along with remedial… everything.

    Back in the 1960’s, my parents saw the writing on the wall at our (perfectly “normal”, i.e. middle-of-the-road) parish and school stocked with nuns: they started a parents’ group, and started teaching us Sunday school in a local banquet house restaurant owned by a nice Catholic (no banquets on Sunday mornings). Using the Baltimore Catechism. Because we sure weren’t getting the faith in religion classes. My older sister was told she could fail religion class if necessary. (Not sure what the priest teaching it was teaching, but doesn’t seem to have been Catholicism).

    Forward 30 years, we were homeschooling for much the same reason. Our local parish was much better than typical, but Fr. made the mistake of bringing in some nuns who had been educated out in wild-and-woody land where Hans Kung is revered and Card. Kasper considered great. No way we were going to entrust our kids to that environment, even if 80% of the time the school was OK. Part of the problem now is that so many of the kids in the school belong to families that either are not Catholic even in name, or are Catholic ONLY in name. But we are still using the Baltimore Catechism – with a lot of supplements in other material.

    About 16 years ago our diocese undertook to create some guidelines for parishes to interact with homeschoolers. They (very intelligently) decided to invite homeschool parents into the drafting process, got LOTS of improvements, and (most importantly) they eventually “got” the message that Canon Law and many other Church documents protect parents as the “primary educators” of their children, and that this has important implications for what families have a right to expect from parishes. Mainly, Fr. Pastor can offer to help educate the kids (including in religion), but he cannot demand it.

  5. Imrahil says:

    They are laypeople. Laypeople are not subordinate to their pastor. They are bound to obey God’s and the Church’s law. Lawgiving, even when it is done, starts at the episcopal level, though. There is not a chain-of-command that rises up from the lay attender through the pastor and goes on.

    That said, if they disobey the pastor they had better prepare to take all their sacraments and sacramentals from the EF chapel in question. I’m not saying their pastor would deny them (though in really abusive cases he might), but there’s a lot of chance that he will not be friendly to them, and people should not underestimate the very real problem that brings with itself.

    Oh, and the old German prayerbook said that parents should bring children to First Communion in private once they’re ready, and they should take part in the parish First Communion all the same (“sollemnizing” that as it were). As far as I’m aware, the rite of First Communion contains no assertion that they have never Communicated before – so perhaps they could just attend both, perhaps even without telling the pastor. The pastor don’t glow for what he don’t know, as we say in Germany.

  6. frjim4321 says:

    It’s valid and licit.

    I would most certainly permit it.

    The right to the sacraments is paramount.

    We have parishioners at the neighboring Catholic grade school. The children make the Sacraments of Initiation with their classmates at that church. Some of my colleagues dig in their heels and force those children to make the sacraments at their home/”sending” parish. I see their point, but it only results in negativity.

    At our confirmation mass there was a child who brought up the bread. He is a classmate of the candidates. For some reason, he was previously confirmed. I thought it was very meaningful that the young man came to the mass of his classmates being confirmed.

    I think that kind of hospitality is the same kind of hospitality involved in writing a letter of permission [Which, as explained, a pastor doesn’t need.] for a second grader to do First Communion in another rite.

    On the other hand, there is an SSPX church in my boundaries. I would not be permitted to write a letter for a child wanting to do First Communion there. [Which would still not be needed.]

  7. Fr. Reader says:

    They might be taught to receive Holy Communion kneeling and in the tongue. This might be problematic for him in the future.

  8. La Serenissima says:

    Thank you, Father for these wonderful insights. Sadly, here in Italy, children who are due to make their First Communion next weekend are seriously unaware of what’s going on.
    As we’ve commented before, unless both parents are WHOLEHEARTEDLY ‘on board’, you never see the youngsters at Mass again, until, of course, it’s time for their Confirmation, after which they don’t come near the church again until PERHAPS they want a church wedding.
    We SO agree with your attitude to a ‘proper’ Liturgical diet. Sadly, there seem very few priests who are prepared to go down the TLM route, in fact, we only know one in our neck of the woods, and surprisingly he got very little support from his then (Italian) parishioners!
    Keep well, Father; your good health is in our daily prayers.

  9. Ave Maria says:

    It could be that the pastor was not comfortable with people going to another parish, especially a TLM one, at all. Back in the early 00s, I was home schooling at the time, and the local parish had a “modern sister” in charge of RE. The age for confirmation was 16, 17, or 18. Some years there were no confirmandi! I and some other home schooling families received permission from the bishop in a neighboring diocese to bring our children there for confirmation and to prepare them at home for the Sacrament which we did. I let my pastor know about this. He may not have been pleased but he did not have a bad attitude about it. So we traveled several hundred miles and the children were confirmed in a parish in the other diocese; my boys were about 12 and 16 then.

    Even before that, with confession two years after First Communion, I got permission for my younger son to have confession only a year after First Communion. (First Communion like going to “Grandma’s for a cookie”). When I taught middle school RE and had a priest agree to hearing their confessions, some had only ever had their First and some had never been to confession. The modernist sister was very displeased with me about this and that was the end of my teaching middle school RE.

  10. Blackfriar says:

    Pope Pius X in “Quam singulari” determined that it was the child’s CONFESSOR who could determine when a child was ready to receive the sacrament for the first time. Here is Cardinal Wright on the subject (writing in the early 1970s):

    The final decision as to when the “age of discretion” might be present, and therefore the possibility and desirability of receiving both sacraments, was to rest not with the parish priest nor any other random priest, sister, teacher, or special consultant of a professional kind; it was to lie with the confessor of the child-a major acknowledgment of the maturity of a youngster, an assumption that he will have already established a spiritual relationship of a most intimate and faithful kind with his confessor or spiritual director. Moreover, it was indicated that the only other consultation that seemed indicated or appropriate, was with the child’s parents.

    Whether this rule is still in place after the promulgation of the new Code in 1983 could be considered… my first reaction is that it is not inconsistent with the Code, but rather determines how its provisions are implemented. At any rate, it’s worth thinking about. THe child should have a confessor.

  11. Thorfinn says:

    Yes please, please, please keep in mind that we do need remedial everything! – even those who are committed to learning the faith, for there is so much that has been forgotten. Many don’t know how to pray the rosary. Some don’t know the Hail Mary. Few know what the Angelus is. Many don’t know missing Mass is a mortal sin. Some don’t know the obligation exists at all. Few would consider going to confession after missing Mass. Assume zero, and kindly and patiently work up from there.

    As for the scenario, I think Fr. Reader nails it – some priests seem more comfortable challenging lukewarm parishioners (e.g. to go to Mass more often) vs. being challenged by the practices of those non-conformists striving for holiness. Not unreasonable — I assume the former scenario is what they are prepared for in seminary and which they most often encounter — but obviously not ideal.

  12. Deacon Pat O says:

    N.B. Canon 1323 paragraph 1 states A child who has not *completed* the sixteenth year of age is not subject to canonical penalties for violating a law or precept. (So a child who has not reached their 17th birthday)

  13. Imrahil says:

    Rt Hon dear Deacon Pat O,

    that is wrong. The completion of the sixteenth year of age is what is called the sixteenth birthday. At birth, the first, not the zeroeth, year of a man’s life begins; if there is any zeroeth year at all it is his being in his mother’s womb.

  14. IngridAiram says:

    Thank you very much for this post. It gives me some trust we wille somehow manage to give our children a good and worthy First Holy Communion. Although we are still about 5 years away from our first one (now almost 3), we already worry. The First Holy Communion in our parish (as well as in a lot of parishes in the country) are done during childrens Masses. Mostly still okay, but it is more about being nice, pretty dresses and mostly people never getting into church, with music replacing some of the propers (don’t know if that’s the correct word in English, the usual, obligated texts of the Mass) like the confiteor and Gloria. We try to avoid Masses like this, but it seems to be the norm for this celebration unfortunately. Hopefully things will either be better in five years, or we will let our children do their FHC somewhere else.

  15. Vincent says:


    “The obligation of the precept of Confession and Communion which binds the child particularly affects those who have him in charge, namely, parents, confessor, teachers and the pastor. It belongs to the father, or the person taking his place, and to the confessor, according to the Roman Catechism, to admit a child to his First Communion.” Pius X, Quam Singulari.

    I think you have somewhat over simplified the situation presented by Pope St Pius X. The father (read parents if you will) of the child AND the confessor are responsible for admitting the child to Communion. That doesn’t say that the confessor alone bears the responsibility and certainly doesn’t suggest that the parents are to be ‘consulted’. This is precisely in line with Fr Z’s comments above.

    The Catholic encyclopedia explains: “The decree supposes these to act together, and when they agree on the admission no one may interfere. Where the parents are negligent or indifferent or opposed to their children’s first Communion, the confessor can assume the entire responsibility. Should the confessors oppose the admission of children whose parents know they have begun to reason, the prudent course in practice is to present the children to another confessor, for every confessor has a right to admit a child to private first Communion.”

    Pope Pius X is a great example to bring up as he is very clear that the parents in the example above are doing their Catholic duty and the parish priest is not.

  16. TonyO says:

    Even before that, with confession two years after First Communion, I got permission for my younger son to have confession only a year after First Communion.

    I guess this is a good time to say: NEVER NEVER NEVER put your kid in the hands of a priest who delays First Confession until 2 years after First Communion. This not only defies all logic and rational moral sense, it is completely contrary to everything the Church has ever said about these sacraments, and the priest is being disobedient as well as ignorant and denying your kid the graces he needs.

    So, go somewhere else and get your kid confession before First Communion. Or just put your kid in line and DON’T ASK the priest for confession, just send him in. Or whatever.

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