Mentally challenged son and holy communion

My son is 6 years old and has cerebral palsey and some significant learning disabilities. He’s a few years away from his first Holy Communion and a lot can happen with his progress in that time, but I was just curious what the Church’s thinking is regarding his situation. He clearly wouldn’t be cognizant of what is going on and, due to his disabilty, clearly doesn’t commit any personal sin at this point. Would it be determined that he should not receive the Eucharist because he doesn’t understand it? Or maybe that he doesn’t need it since he doesn’t sin? Or maybe he should, indeed, receive it on the tongue with our supervision? Any thoughts?

I would hope your son would be able to receive the Eucharist, but I would suggest you talk to a priest. I’ll remember you and your son in my prayers.

God Bless,

Dear Knute,
Neither cerebral palsey nor a learning disability is an impediment to reception of the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, I saw someone with cerebral palsey recieve today at Mass. You might fight yourself pleasantly surprized by your son’s devotion.
I have noticed that God keeps those with such disabilities particularly close to Himself.
May the Lord Bless you and yours,


You may want to also check with your diocesan offices - some dioceses have special catechetical programs for mentally handicapped children and adults. In my diocese the program is run by the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence. Here’s a couple of links:

Our diocesan program:

Contact info for the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence:

Another group that may have some helpful information is this group:

Faith and Light (associated with the L’Arche communities):

God Bless!

My brother is mentally disabled and there was no problem with him receiving Communion.

It is great to go to Church with him
What he lacks in depth of understanding he makes up for in enthusiasm
With his off-key singing and his hearty “amen” just a beat out of step with the rest of us he makes the congregation smile

And reminds us of less petty concerns

There are still pockets of ignorance out there. Begin early to work with the pastor and others who are responsible for the preparation for first communion to “grease the skids” so that there will not be any problems when the time comes.

As a Catholic your son has a right to the sacraments. If understanding what we were receiving were a requirement, none of us could receive for who can understand this mystery? All the Latin Church requires is that he be able to know that there is a difference between ordinary bread and what he will be receiving. The Eastern Church, of course, doesn’t even require that since we regularly give communion to infants!

Good luck and may God bless you as you deal with this sensitive issue.

Deacon Ed

Thanks to all who have responded. The trouble is, DeaconEd, that, my son doesn’t talk and would not know the difference between ordinary bread and the Eucharist.

Hi Knute,
We have a little boy in our parish that is severely mentally handicapped. He can’t speak but uses a box that has several pictures on it and when he wants water he pushes the button that has a picture of a glass of water on it. His mom works very hard with him to teach him catechism and he has received first communion. The priest has to give him the tiniest sliver of a host because he has problems swallowing and mom has to go up with him and help the priest give it to him. I applaude her for not giving up and being such a concerned mom. I would talk to your parish priest and let him know that you want your son to receive the body of Christ at mass and see what he suggests.

Hi Knute,

Check your message box, I sent you a private message.


[quote=knute]Thanks to all who have responded. The trouble is, DeaconEd, that, my son doesn’t talk and would not know the difference between ordinary bread and the Eucharist.

Don’t be so sure! Even the infants that come to communion in my Eastern Church know the difference. In my Latin parish I’ve heard young children who could barely speak clearly say “I want Jesus too!” I worked with mentally challenged young people for several years, and they often surprised me with what they understood. We used sign language, alphabet boards, and other means of communication. I was always amazed at what could happen in the way of communication, sometimes only with the eyes. CP does render communication difficult – but as a parent you know that communication is not impossible, it just takes time to understand.

Deacon Ed

all children should be brought to the sacraments, that is the primary duty of the parents, and the responsibility of the parish to make the sacraments accessible to all. See your pastor. This does not have to entail CCD. If the child is in danger of a shortened life span, or in immediate danger of death, all the sacraments of initiation should be conferred, including confirmation. the child benefits from the graces of the sacraments whether or not he understands them. The understanding required is that which is possible given his condition. do not underestimate what he “understands.” for these children and all who labor under a mental, psychological or physcial burden, it is the Holy Spirit Himself who instructs and prepares the child for the reception of Jesus, and who moreover does it in an infinitely superior way to that done by the parents or parish. If your parish gives you a hard time, call the office of catechetics in your diocese.

Last night at our HS confirmation with the bishop we included a Down’s syndrome child, brother of a candidate. He is the son of a catechist, received first holy Communion at age 10 and demonstrates very clearly that he understands how special the experience is. He is now 18 and we waited until he could do it with his sister. His disability is of the more profound type, but his entire demeanor and attentiveness showed clearly he knows in his own way that the Holy Spirit is acting in him. He has attended classes for years with his mother as an aide and CCD is the high point of his week. He has done more to witness Christ’s presence in our parish program than many catechists. I could not begin to describe all the ways we have observed this.

We also had a young lady (baptized) who participated for 2 years in RCIA with her younger siblings who were baptized at Easter, when she made her first communion. She was confirmed last night, even though younger than the prescribed age because she is facing a life-threatening illness and needs the graces of the sacrament and help of the Holy Spirit. A third boy with special needs has faithfully participated in CCD for several years with his mother acting as his classroom aide. She herself was confirmed along with him. A 4th young lady was confirmed a year ahead of schedule because of a brain tumor.

Terri Schaivo received communion. :slight_smile:

Hi knute,

Thank you for starting this thread. My 5 year old daughter also has cerebral palsy, so I’ll be watching this thread very carefully.

My daughter seems to have what appears to be an even better idea of what the Eucharist is, than do many adults. She refers to it simply as ‘Jesus’.

Feel free to contact me, anytime.

My prayers are with you, and your child.


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