Severely handicapped daughter and Eucharist

My daughter is handicapped. She is 4 years old and in a wheelchair. She is unable to crawl, walk, talk, or even sit up straight, on her own. She suffers from several neurological disorders, as well. We do not have a diagnosis yet, but she will, most likely, be this way for life. I have questions in regards to the sacraments.
In order to receive First Communion, a person must do a First Confession. How will she be able to do a confession, if she can’t talk? Is someone in this condition capable of “sin”? Secondly, how will she receive communion? She is unable to chew. She can eat purated foods and drink liquids, if we do it for her. She has already received the Anointing of the Sick, while she was in the hospital, with the exception of the Eucharist because she is too young for it.
She still has a few years until our church offers the CCD students First Confession and First Communion, but I would like to know what are options are, if her condition does not improve.
Any thoughts on the matter would be appreciated. Are there any documents I can read about this?

I will answer as if you are a parent in are parish who has asked this question. Yes the US bishops have published a document requiring pastors to assure that the sacramental needs of those with disabilities are met. Having said that, what is urgent if your child’s condition is one that, sadly, may shorten her life expectancy, is confirmation. You should ask for that sacrament, along with another anointing of the sick, should she go through another medical crisis, face surgery etc. No special preparation is required. Certainly she should receive it at the age others in your diocese do, and again, there is no required preparation, although she may certainly participate with her peers in any part of their program that she would enjoy and that is possible.

She can be prepared for first communion along with her peers, through RE classes or by arrangements that meet her needs and yours, at the appropriate age, and may receive this sacrament if she is able to understand the difference between ordinary bread and wine and the Eucharistic species which are the Body and Blood of Christ, and evince, even non-verbally, a love for Jesus and the desire to receive him. Some children–and adults–are never able to progress to this stage, nor to the stage where they have an awareness of or ability to choose sin. Neither Eucharist nor confession is required for salvation of such persons. Again she may participate in any RE activities with her peers that she would enjoy, even if the actual perceived learning may be minimal. In my opinion, with such souls the Holy Spirit takes over their “sacramental preparation”. Our pastor has called many children and adults to initiation sacraments whom seem outwardly incapable of demonstrating “proper disposition” for sacraments, but whose love and desire for Jesus are so patent as to inspire the entire congregation.

Other problems that arise are neurological or behavioral, or simply physical, in that the child is simply unable to swallow or consume the sacred species reverently. The sacrament would be delayed until their condition improves. This has happened with several of our autistic children, for instance. We have at least one child who received communion by administration of a small amount of the precious blood on her tongue for first communion. Since there is no requirement for subsequent communions. this was enough in her case.

My advice is to keep in regular contact with your pastor so her needs, and yours are being met, and to discuss this issue with him. Evaluate her situation, with his help and that of the person in charge of the children’s sacramental and RE program, when she is of the normal age, and take advantage of whatever is offered. Do bear in mind that the parish may be willing, but unable to provide a volunteer or staff member qualified to take care of your child’s needs while in the program so you may have to do that. We are blessed here because so many of our catechists and aides actually are the same people who care for our special needs children in the public school setting, but every parish is not this fortunate.

God bless you and your dear child.

My diocese has an Office of Ministry to Persons with Disabilities. The pastor of one of the local parishes serves as the program’s spiritual director. You might want to contact your diocese to see if they have a similar program. It has really worked well in our diocese. A couple of weeks ago, the Office hosted a summer camp and the bishop celebrated Mass for the participants.

My parish has a program that addresses sacraments for kids with special needs - I believe it is from one of the Kennedy foundations. We have had many children receive their sacraments despite their special need or the backward feelings of former parishes. I have met a number of families that were told by previous priests or nuns that their child will never receive their sacraments and they should not bring them to Mass.

I am praying for you and your daughter. It will all work out. You may have to work a little, but it is very possible.

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