One hundred years ago this month on August 8, 1910, the Church began to encourage early (around age 7) admission of children to Confession and Holy Communion, recommending frequent, even daily reception of the Eucharist.
This centennial anniversary, on August 8, led the Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Canizares to suggest that children could and perhaps should be encouraged to be admitted to the reception of Holy Communion even earlier. Parents, pastors, teachers and catechists will have thoughts on the desirability and practicability of this proposal.
Here are excerpts from the text of the decree approved by Pope St. Pius X, whose feast is celebrated today:
QUAM SINGULARI Decree on First Communion from the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments
The pages of the Gospel show clearly how special was that love for children which Christ showed while He was on earth. It was His delight to be in their midst; He was wont to lay His hands on them; He embraced them; and He blessed them. At the same time He was not pleased when they would be driven away by the disciples, whom He rebuked gravely with these words: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God." It is clearly seen how highly He held their innocence and the open simplicity of their souls on that occasion when He called a little child to Him and said to the disciples: "Again, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven....And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me."
The Catholic Church, bearing this in mind, took care even from the beginning to bring the little ones to Christ through Eucharistic Communion, which was administered even to nursing infants. This, as was prescribed in almost all ancient Ritual books, was done at Baptism until the thirteenth century, and this custom prevailed in some places even later. It is still found in the Greek and Oriental Churches. But to remove the danger that infants might eject the Consecrated Host, the custom obtained from the beginning of administering the Eucharist to them under the species of wine only.
Infants, however, not only at the time of Baptism, but also frequently thereafter were admitted to the sacred repast. In some churches it was the custom to give the Eucharist to the children immediately after the clergy; in others, the small fragments which remained after the Communion of the adults were given to the children.
This practice later died out in the Latin Church, and children were not permitted to approach the Holy Table until they had come to the use of reason and had some knowledge of this august Sacrament. This new practice, already accepted by certain local councils, was solemnly confirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran, in 1215, which promulgated its celebrated Canon XXI, whereby sacramental Confession and Holy Communion were made obligatory on the faithful after they had attained the use of reason, in these words: "All the faithful of both sexes shall, after reaching the years of discretion, make private confession of all their sins to their own priest at least once a year, and shall, according to their capacity, perform the enjoined penance; they shall also devoutly receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist at least at Easter time unless on the advice of their own priest, for some reasonable cause, it be deemed well to abstain for a while."
The Council of Trent, in no way condemning the ancient practice of administering the Eucharist to children before they had attained the use of reason, confirmed the Decree of the Lateran Council and declared anathema those who held otherwise: "If anyone denies that each and all Christians of both sexes are bound, when they have attained the years of discretion, to receive Communion every year at least at Easter, in accordance with the precept of Holy Mother Church, let him be anathema."
In accord with this Decree of the Lateran Council, still in effect, the faithful are obliged, as soon as they arrive at the years of discretion, to receive the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist at least once a year.
However, in the precise determination of "the age of reason or discretion" not a few errors and deplorable abuses have crept in during the course of time. There were some who maintained that one age of discretion must be assigned to reception of the Sacrament of Penance and another to the Holy Eucharist. They held that for Confession the age of discretion is reached when one can distinguish right from wrong, hence can commit sin; for Holy Eucharist, however, a greater age is required in which a full knowledge of matters of faith and a better preparation of the soul can be had. As a consequence, owing to various local customs and opinions, the age determined for the reception of First Communion was placed at ten years or twelve, and in places fourteen years or even more were required; and until that age children and youth were prohibited from Eucharistic Communion.
This practice of preventing the faithful from receiving on the plea of safeguarding the august Sacrament has been the cause of many evils. It happened that children in their innocence were forced away from the embrace of Christ and deprived of the food of their interior life; and from this it also happened that in their youth, destitute of this strong help, surrounded by so many temptations, they lost their innocence and fell into vicious habits even before tasting of the Sacred Mysteries. And even if a thorough instruction and a careful Sacramental Confession should precede Holy Communion, which does not everywhere occur, still the loss of first innocence is always to be deplored and might have been avoided by reception of the Eucharist in more tender years.
No less worthy of condemnation is that practice which prevails in many places prohibiting from Sacramental Confession children who have not yet made their First Holy Communion, or of not giving them absolution. Thus it happens that they, perhaps having fallen into serious sin, remain in that very dangerous state for a long time.
But worse still is the practice in certain places which prohibits children who have not yet made their First Communion from being fortified by the Holy Viaticum, even when they are in imminent danger of death; and thus, when they die they are buried with the rites due to infants and are deprived of the prayers of the Church.
Such is the injury caused by those who insist on extraordinary preparations for First Communion, beyond what is reasonable; and they doubtless do not realize that such precautions proceed from the errors of the Jansenists who contended that the Most Holy Eucharist is a reward rather than a remedy for human frailty. The Council of Trent, indeed, teaches otherwise when it calls the Eucharist, "An antidote whereby we may be freed from daily faults and be preserved from mortal sins." This doctrine was not long ago strongly emphasized by a Decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council given on December 20, 1905. It declared that daily approach to Communion is open to all, old and young, and two conditions only are required: the state of grace and a right intention....
The Roman Catechism adds this: "At what age children are to receive the Holy Mysteries no one can better judge than their father and the priest who is their confessor. For it is their duty to ascertain by questioning the children whether they have any understanding of this admirable Sacrament and if they have any desire for it."
After careful deliberation on all these points, this Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments, in a general meeting held on July 15, 1910, in order to remove the above-mentioned abuses and to bring about that children even from their tender years may be united to Jesus Christ, may live His life, and obtain protection from all danger of corruption, has deemed it needful to prescribe the following rules which are to be observed everywhere for the First Communion of children....
1. The age of discretion, both for Confession and for Holy Communion, is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Confession and Communion.
2. A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion. Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.
3. The knowledge of religion which is required in a child in order to be properly prepared to receive First Communion is such that he will understand according to his capacity those Mysteries of faith which are necessary as a means of salvation (
4. The obligation of the precept of Confession and Communion which binds the child particularly affects those who have him in charge, namely, parents, confessor, teachers and the pastor. It belongs to the father, or the person taking his place, and to the confessor, according to the Roman Catechism, to admit a child to his First Communion.
5. The pastor should announce and hold a General Communion of the children once a year or more often, and he should on these occasions admit not only the First Communicants but also others who have already approached the Holy Table with the above-mentioned consent of their parents or confessor. Some days of instruction and preparation should be previously given to both classes of children.
6. Those who have charge of the children should zealously see to it that after their First Communion these children frequently approach the Holy Table, even daily if possible, as Jesus Christ and Mother Church desire, and let this be done with a devotion becoming their age. They must also bear in mind that very grave duty which obliged them to have the children attend the public Catechism classes; if this is not done, then they must supply religious instruction in some other way.
7. The custom of not admitting children to Confession or of not giving them absolution when they have already attained the use of reason must be entirely abandoned. The Ordinary shall see to it that this condition ceases absolutely, and he may, if necessary, use legal measures accordingly.
8. The practice of not administering the Viaticum and Extreme Unction to children who have attained the use of reason, and of burying them with the rite used for infants is a most intolerable abuse. The Ordinary should take very severe measures against those who do not give up the practice.
His Holiness, Pope Pius X, in an audience granted on the seventh day of this month, approved all the above decisions of this Sacred Congregation, and ordered this Decree to be published and promulgated....
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In Hope of the Resurrection…
Two of my Jesuit confreres passed away in the last two weeks. Each had experienced a complex journey in becoming a priest and living out their ministry.
I only met Fr. Dick Macdonald on a few occasions but always found him most encouraging and supportive; he had served in Ethiopia, India, among Canada's Native Peoples and, in the last dozen years as a chaplain to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto.
Though he was older than me by a dozen years, I was Fr. Joe Fülöp rector during his seminary formation. His long road to the priesthood is heroic, as was the way he lived it out in illness and suffering.
Please keep these two ministers of the gospel, Christ's priests, in your thoughts and prayers.
Father Richard Macdonald died peacefully on August 6th, 2010 at Scarborough Centenary Hospital, Scarborough, Ontario. He was in the 83rd year of his life and 63rd year of religious life.
Richard "Dick" Macdonald was born in Westmount, Quebec, son of Alain Macdonald and Frances Minton. He studied at both St. Leo’s and then Loyola High School and entered the Society on September 13, 1947 at Guelph, Ontario. He returned to Montreal to study Philosophy at the Collège de l'Immaculée-Conception.
In 1954, he moved to Ethiopia in East Africa to teach English as a regency placement. From there he went to St Mary’s College, Kurseong in the Darjeeling district of North Eastern India where he studied Nepali for a year and then commenced his Theology studies.
After ordination in 1961 in India, he served as an assistant pastor at Our Lady of the Snows Parish, North Point, Darjeeling for a year and then to St. Joseph’s College, also in North Point, where he was professor of English and Moral Science. He served in different ministries in the Darjeeling district, St. John’s Church and Hayden Hall.
In 1979, he returned to Canada and worked at first in Toronto and Pickering. In 1981 he began his ministry with the Native People, first from Martyrs Shrine in Midland and then in 1984 moving to the Manitoulin District. He helped build the church in Little Current, Ontario. He lived and worked in native and non-native parishes, until 1997. At that time he became Chaplain at St. Joseph’s Motherhouse, Bayview Avenue, Willowdale, ON, until 2010. Throughout his life he was recognized as a compassionate pastor and a fine homilist.
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Father Joseph Fülöp was born in Szombathely, Hungary, on June 23rd, 1932. His elementary and high school studies were finished in his home town but, thinking already of priestly vocation, he enrolled in the Norbertine High School of St. Norbert. In 1948, the school was taken over by the State and it was renamed, so Joe graduated in the High School of Nagy Lajos, in 1950. After his graduation he began studies at the Sopron University in 1951, where he earned his geophysical engineering diploma in 1956.
In December of 1956, after the revolution, he left the country and with a branch of the University of Sopron arrived in Toronto. The Sopron Branch, with the help of the Canadian Mining Association and the University of Toronto, completed an English language course and he returned to school. In 1964, he was awarded the B.A.Sc. degree in geological engineering by the Faculty of Mining Engineering, University of Toronto. During the following year he was employed by the Gulf Oil Company in Calgary. In 1965-1967, he obtained a M.A.Sc degree (Soil Mechanics Option) at the Faculty of Civil Engineering, University of Waterloo. Between 1967 and 1971 he worked as a project geophysicist for Huntec Limited and Kenting Limited. From 1971 to 1979 he was an independent geophysical consultant conducting surveys in Canada and overseas.
On January 25th, 1979 he entered the Hungarian Jesuit novitiate in Toronto, and after two years he made his first religious vows. He completed the necessary philosophical studies at the Fordham University, New York; (then) his theological studies took place in Regis College, Toronto, being completed in 1983 with an M.Div. degree. He was ordained priest at St.Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Toronto on November 19th, 1983 by Bishop Aloysius Ambrozic, auxiliary of Toronto. In 1984 he obtained a further theological degree, the M.Th.
In 1984-85, he spent a year of pastoral work in Montreal, at the Hungarian Church of Our Lady of Hungary. In 1985 he was appointed Pastor of St.Stephen of Hungary Church in Hamilton, where he spent 15 years taking care of the Hungarian congregation. On November 21st, 2000 he suddenly was stuck with inflammation of the brain-cortex through viruses, as well as a perforated stomach-ulcer and embolism. After three months of intensive hospital treatment he gradually got better, and moved to the Hungarian parish in Toronto, where unfortunately he was not able to do much pastoral work because of his limited speech. When his illness became more serious, he moved to St.Elizabeth Home in Hamilton, but had to be hospitalized occasionally. Finally, he died in the Home on August 15, 2010, in his 78th year of his life, 31st as a Jesuit, and 27th year as priest.
Visitation will be held at St. Stephen of Hungary Roman Catholic Church (130 Barton St E at Mary, Hamilton) on Tuesday August 24, 2010 from 7-9 p.m., with the Rosary at 7:30 p.m. There, the Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Wednesday August 25, 2010 at 11 a.m. A Memorial Mass will be celebrated in Toronto at St. Elizabeth of Hungary (432 Sheppard Ave. E.) on Friday, August 27 at 7 p.m., and another Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. on Sept. 3, 2010 in the chapel of St. Elizabeth Villa, 393 Rymal Rd. W., with interment following at 3:00 p.m. in the cemetery of St. Ladislaus Church in Courtland, ON.