Re: End of "First Communion" Celebrations in US Melkite Greek Catholic Church
In defense of Bishop Samra's statements I will say this: he makes a point from the very beginning that he is responding to a situation that has been brought to his attention by a number of clergy and laity within his diocese. His letter, therefore, is not out of left field.
He also mentions that the official policy of the Melkites since 1967 has been to reinstate the full celebration of infant initiation, which includes Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion. He then goes on to point out the Archbishop Joseph Tawil re-instituted the full Eastern practice in the 1970s, but by 1981 had to reaffirm the authentic Byzantine tradition and officially suppress the Latinized practice of First and/or Solemn Communions. Archbishop Tawil, like Kyr Samra, begged his priests to catechize the faithful on this matter.
Bishop Samra also rightly points out that, as bishop of our Eparchy, it is his responsibility to moderate, promote, and guard the entire liturgical life of the eparchy (as per Canon 199 paragraph 1). I find it sad that for the past 40+ years some priests have been disobeying their bishops, and even the Melkite Synod, when all the bishops are trying to do is restore and promote the authentic tradition of their sui iuris Church.
Finally Bishop Samra also points out that the Congregation for the Eastern Churches itself explicitly addressed this issue in its document Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches of1996. In it the Congregations stated that the competent authorities (i.e. the bishop and his priests) must adopt "measures suitable for returning to the previous practice (i.e. infant Communion) and to elaborate norms that are more conforming to their own tradition."
So Rome, the Synod, and the past several bishops of our Eparchy have all been encouraging the priests to educate the faithful and to return to our ancient and authentic practice for the last 40+ years! The only reasons this practice can be said to have lingered in the Melkite Church are either ignorance or flat out disobedience. I pray that the latter is not the case.