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First Communion Must Follow Penance

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As children prepare for their First Communion, the church clearly also states that the child must have also celebrated their first Confession, or first penance prior to receiving their first Eucharist.  The Magisterium  is very clear on that however, even though this was all outlined in 1977, there are still some dissenting opinions.

Pope Pius X in 1916 decreed that children were to receive the sacraments of penance and then partake in their First Communion as soon as they reach the age of reason. That is usually 6-7 years old. This became the practice of the church and why our children receive their first Eucharist at such a young age.  The Church has seem great results from going with this but the need for confession is something that we will continue to hear from the Pope.

In 1971, there was an addendum to the Catechetical Directory which said that communion must be preceded by penance. The document said that although the Holy See Judges heard all the discussion it was fitting that now there would be no deviation and that the Church mandated that confession was done prior to First Communion .

The document did recognize that there was some areas that were celebrating the Eucharist first then Penance. They said that the parishes and areas that are doing this could if they let the Holy See know and they were still of one mind with the Vatican. Pope Paul VI finalized the change and by 1973 school year all churches were to be following the new rule.

The move was also based in scripture. St. Paul was the first person to say that you should have a norm established that even applies to children.  In addition this protected the integrity of the Eucharist itself. There should be and examination of conscience prior to receiving Eucharist. The concern is that children cannot clearly do it and need some help. By putting them with a priest to confess to, this allows them to guide the child though the process. This helps the child see and recognize their faults and allows the priest the opportunity to point out what those faults are and how serious those faults may be.

A pastor that is well practiced in hearing confession understand the importance of a child who is receiving their first Penance so that they are fully prepared to receive their first communion. The better prepared the priest confessor is the better prepared the child experience with confession will be and the more prepared to receive the Eucharist they will be.

Additionally the better prepared the children are the more they will recognize the unique nature of these two sacrament and be more apt to participate in them as they get older. The will be better able to recognize Jesus because they received their first communion in a state of grace, that is absent of sin. It also allows the child to gain a keener ability to have sound moral judgment in knowing the difference between good and evil.

The benefits of receiving Penance first are so great that the dissenters cannot mount a compelling argument enough to change the order again.  As a result first communion will always be given after first penance.

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This article was published on Sunday 20 April, 2008.

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