I’ve always wondered What the church’s stance on students with severe learning handicaps and when they receive their First Holy Communion? What about marriage would the Church perform the marriage of persons with Down Syndrome, or other major cognitive disability? I also ask, because I volunteer at a center for children and YA with disabilities near my school, and parent asked me.
Marriage requires adult free consent, and is a sacrament given by each spouse to the other.
The other sacraments are able to be given to people with cognitive differences.
There are special ed classes for the sacraments for those with needs like you mentioned. One would have to call their diocese to see where they are located since these types of classes are offer in particular parish to cover a wide area. A former parish I attended use to be the site of special needs catechism. Thank- you your work in this area.
The Church operates with certain presumptions. First, it is presumed that children attain the use of reason at the age of seven (canon 97.2) and if they have this capacity, they are to be given Holy Communion (canon 914). I put up a long blog post on this topic, feel free to check it out for a lot more background: anotherbrickinthelaw.blogspot.com/2013/10/welcome-to-blog.html
Marriage is similar but the Church requires more than the simple use of reason. While the presumption is that 14 year-old girls and 16 year-old boys have the capacity to marry (c. 1083), the parties have to demonstrate an understanding of the basic nature of marriage, an ability to engage in some sort of critical evaluation of the decision to marry a particular person, and have the freedom to carry this evaluation out.
For any Sacrament, if a person is not prohibited by law from receiving it, is properly disposed, and asks for the Sacrament at an opportune time, it should be administered (c. 843.1). Unless there is sufficient evidence that a person has not attained the use of reason or has the capacity to marry, the Sacraments should not be denied. You mentioned “severe” and “major” problems–each person has to be evaluated and there shouldn’t be a “one size fits all” sort of approach.
You might find this document from the USCCB helpful: ncpd.org/views-news-policy/policy/church/bishops/sacraments
My son with down syndrome just went to the regular catechetical classes - most kids with learning disabilities these days are integrated to a greater or lesser extent in school and cope just fine in a regular setting with a little help.
good for him and you. This was at a former parish we attended that did have a special needs catechism classes but for not just for the parish but vicariate wide. God bless you and your son.