Question about understanding first communion


#1

First Communion is coming up in our parish soon. One of the children has a severe intellectual disability. How is the determination made that the child is capable of understanding what is happening?


#2

You do not need to be intellectually smart to understand things of the spirit!


#3

Pastor's judgment and decision I would think.


#4

One thing that could be said is that the child would most likely never be in a position to put themselves in mortal sin - that has to be a mercy.

In my experience, those with developmental/learning disabilities are the sweetest of people, fully deserving of God's grace and often reflecting it back to others in ways that many so-called 'normal' people would greatly aspire to.

Our Lord said 'suffer the little children to come unto me'... who are we to disagree?


#5

Not to be argumentative, and I don’t want to deny someone from receiving Sacraments, but there is a necessary level of discernment, isn’t there? My understanding is that a child is supposed to have reached “the age of reason.”


#6

Well “age of reason” would be the age of 7, so perhaps the person in question has the intelligence level of a 7 year old. But from what I’ve read in the past, mentally challenged people have to show reverence for the Eucharist and to be able to distinguish the Eucharist from ordinary food. They don’t necessarily have to show the same discernment as other candidates for First Communion. And when in doubt, the priest is suppose to give the benefit of the doubt to the person receiving the Sacraments. A mentally or physically challenged candidate would have to show without doubt that they can not receive the Eucharist.

Why does this situation seem to bother you so much?


#7

My son has Down syndrome. I can tell you from experience that this is a decision between you and your Pastor. The Church has firm guidelines and the ability to comprehend the sacrament is more fluid than some hardline CAF members might think.

I can also say for a fact that sometimes the “least of us” may not be able to recite the catechism questions nor memorize the prayers and recite them beautifully, but they often perceive the true and deeper meaning of the sacraments in a way many of us lack.

Talk to your priest, pray over your child and make your decision when/if the time is right. My child was ready for First Communion by age 8 but due to a texture aversion related to his disability, we had to wait till age 12. And to reduce the anxiety involved in a long build up to a public First Communion with a class, Father agreed that a low-key, no announcement approach was best for our family. Our family had reserved seats in the front row at Easter and my son received for the first time at the end of a short row of new adult communicants. The Pastor of each Church has a lot of leeway in this area, and he has his bishop to consult, as well. The Church stand is to not withhold the sacraments to a person with an intellectual disability in most cases.

After we successfully passed this hurdle (it was dicey), Father made the announcement at the end of Mass, and we were able to have our son stand to short applause and get his picture taken on the altar with Father for his big moment after Mass.

First confession likewise was severely modified due to our son being pretty much non-verbal. Despite being a rural parish with not many people, and our priest having most of his experience in a far flung rural area, he knows exactly what to do with people with developmental disabilities. Trust in your priest and our Church.


#8

My son has autism and mild cognitive impairment (also mild visual impairment). He made his first communion last year. The decision as to whether he was ready was made by us (his parents), the Director of Religious Education, and the Pastor, with guidance from the archdiocese.

In the US, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has published Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments with Persons with Disabilities. This document states that the person must be properly disposed and be able to distinguish the Body and Blood of Christ from ordinary food, and this recognition can be non-verbal (gesture, manner, or even reverential silence). The document also states that cases of doubt should be resolved in favor of the right of the baptized person to receive the Sacrament.

ncpd.org/views-news-policy/policy/church/bishops/sacraments

There are special materials and curricula available to help parents and teachers prepare children with disabilities for First Holy Communion (as well as for Reconciliation). We found these materials very helpful to identify exactly what our son needed to know and to put that information in a simple, multi-sensory format that fit his learning abilities.

It was truly wonderful to see my son take Communion for the first time (and now every week). I cried during his whole First Communion Mass.


#9

[quote="DexUK, post:4, topic:325733"]
.

In my experience, those with developmental/learning disabilities are the sweetest of people, fully deserving of God's grace and often reflecting it back to others in ways that many so-called 'normal' people would greatly aspire to.

[/quote]

I used to belong to a parish where a number of people from the local L'arche community lived. Years later, yes, I miss many of those folks from that congregation, but the ones I miss the most are the ones who were from L'arche.


#10

[quote="PatriceA, post:6, topic:325733"]

Why does this situation seem to bother you so much?

[/quote]

It doesn't bother me at all. I'm just asking so that I may understand.


#11

[quote="on_the_hill, post:1, topic:325733"]
First Communion is coming up in our parish soon. One of the children has a severe intellectual disability. How is the determination made that the child is capable of understanding what is happening?

[/quote]

It is only a small 't' tradition that first communion wait til the age of reason. In the Eastern Church, first communion is received with confirmation and baptism: a few days after birth.

Such a problem for my 6 year old when she could not go to communion but her friends (4 or 5 year olds) who were Eastern Catholic could go up.


#12

[quote="Evan, post:11, topic:325733"]
It is only a small 't' tradition that first communion wait til the age of reason. In the Eastern Church, first communion is received with confirmation and baptism: a few days after birth.

Such a problem for my 6 year old when she could not go to communion but her friends (4 or 5 year olds) who were Eastern Catholic could go up.

[/quote]

Infant Communion used to be practiced in the West as well as the East.

“Those who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are denying that Christ is Jesus for all believing infants. Those, I repeat, who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are saying nothing else than that for believing infants, infants that is who have been baptized in Christ, Christ the Lord is not Jesus. After all, what is Jesus? Jesus means Savior. Jesus is the Savior. Those whom he doesn’t save, having nothing to save in them, well for them he isn’t Jesus. Well now, if you can tolerate the idea that Christ is not Jesus for some persons who have been baptized, then I’m not sure your faith can be recognized as according with the sound rule. Yes, they’re infants, but they are his members. They’re infants, but they receive his sacraments. They are infants, but they share in his table, in order to have life in themselves.” - St Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 174

"Question XVII [to Pope St Leo of Rome]. Concerning those who have been captured by the enemy and are not aware whether they have been baptized but know they were several times taken to church by their parents, whether they can or ought to be baptized when they come back to Roman territory?
"[Pope St Leo of Rome's] Reply. Those who can remember that they used to go to church with their parents can remember whether they received what used to be given to their parents. But if this also has escaped their memory, it seems that that must be bestowed on them which is not known to have been bestowed because there can be no presumptuous rashness where the most loyal carefulness has been exercised." - Pope St Leo of Rome, Letter CLXVII, Ch 3


#13

I know many, many Catholic moms and dads of children with special needs who wish the Catholic Church would switch to infant baptism, first communion and confirmation. Our lives are filled with so many hurdles already - doctors who understand our kiddos' disorder and quirks, getting funding for therapies, finding therapists, constant travel, constant paperwork and fighting to get services, dirty looks from fellow parishioners when our kids can't behave like typical children at Mass (and there's no crying room and no vestibule - so the only other option is a walk in driving rain?), carrying diapers and special foods and even carrying children who would normally be walking and toileting on their own, stomach tubes, IV seizure meds.... oye veh. The list goes on forever.

But in addition, we worry about the hows and what for's of the sacraments. Confession for a non-verbal child? First Communion for a child who gags on any form of texture other than liquid? Confirmation for a child who can't participate in the class doing special projects? Memorizing prayers? Able to read the Act of Contrition?

How wonderful if the 3 biggies were covered at infant baptism! Then we could proceed with confession and education at the child's pace in between all the rest of life. All parents are overwhelmed with their children's needs, but parents of special needs kids carry a burden that is unlike most can imagine. No wonder so few of my fellow parents from our support groups even bother anymore. They are just too overwhelmed to consider how to get through the sacraments for their kids. It is so sad.


#14

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