Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Correction regarding infant Communion

I mistakenly indicated in an earlier article [here], that the Latin Church permits the distribution of Communion as Viaticum to dying infants. This is not the case.

Rather, the Latin Church encourages priests (and parents) to carefully consider whether perhaps even a young child (below the age of seven) may have a sufficient use of reason to be able to recognize what the Eucharist is and to receive Communion with devotion. If it happens that a young child is able to do so, then he ought to be given Viaticum (when the circumstances of the illness permit).

In every case, the Latin Church maintains the best tradition regarding Communion: The fruitful reception of the Sacrament requires the devotion of the faithful, either present devotion or at least past devotion (in the case of those who are at the point of death and who at that moment lack the use of reason, but who previously had devotion for the sacrament and who are able to receive without danger of vomiting).

The relevant canons from the Code of Canon Law:

Can.  913 §1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.

§2. The Most Holy Eucharist, however, can be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion reverently.

Can.  914 It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible. It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.


James Joseph said...

I am biting the tongue of my keyboard for within me there is a certain not too strong a word for Canon Law.

I accept Canon Law. Indeed, I accept everything my wonderfully glorious, inviolate Church teaches. But, Canon Law is a tough spouse to love. She gives me gray-hair and drives me to drink. Let me state that I understand her intent whilst rolling my eyes.

On that note, the modern conception of the seminary drives me up the wall, too; a wall with many dents in it from banging my head repeatedly.

Alessandro said...

Dear Father,

There was a couple of weeks ago a very similar criticism in Italy towards a priest who denied the First Communion to a child affected by autism. The priest wanted to verify if the child could receive the Sacraments, but at a general proof he refused the not yet consecrated host. At that point, the priest denied him the First Communion, as he wasn't ready to receive Jesus. The parents accepted the decision, while the parents of other children accused the priest of racism and, obviously, the media supported the latter and were silent on the attitude of the child's parents, taking it for granted that they were also defending their child's "right".

This is just to show how there are (fortunately) good pastors under attack by (unfortunately) bad laypeople who believe the sacraments to be "for free", at the disposal of anybody asking for them. Confirmation and Chrismation are just two minor cases: the problem is that laypeople would also liberalize Holy Orders (to women) and Marriage (to gay people). And this is insane...


Mrs. O'Riordan said...

Have you read the story of "Little Nellie of Holy God" - here is a case where Communion was given, but as you say she was very aware of what Communion was "..when Pope St. Pius X was told about Little Nellie, and how she longed for Jesus in Holy Communion, and how lovingly she received Him, he said, “There! That is the sign for which I have been waiting.” - http://www.sspx.ca/EucharisticCrusade/2002April/Nellie_of_Holy_God.htm - Rene

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mrs. O'Riordan,
Yes, I am familiar with the inspiring story of Little Nellie! Very good to tell to children preparing for first communion!

But part of what makes her story so interesting is the very fact that it is so unusual for a child so young to be able to receive communion with devotion.
In other words, she is the exception which proves the rule -- if all children could receive communion at such a young age, we wouldn't think anything special of Little Nellie. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@James Joseph,
I too am not particularly fond of studying Canon Law [note: I love the Law, but I don't like to study it ... I prefer dogmatic theology] ... but, in this case, the Law against infant communion is theologically grounded.

In other words ... look at the dogma and the theology behind the canons. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, we must pray for our priests ... that they hold to the truth no matter the cost! +

James Joseph said...

Fr Erlenbush,

I defintely see what you are writing.

Perhaps, it is my dumbfoundedness as to the fact that we live in a world where such things must, despite their obviousness, be actually written down to ensure good order and discipline.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to explain why the orthodox church gives Holy Communion to little children (babes, infants...)?


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The Eastern practice stems from the idea that the children are in the state of grace -- so they are certainly pure enough to receive communion.
Further, the practice came from an exaggerated emphasis on the necessity of the Eucharist for salvation (as though an infant who died without communion would not be saved) -- not that this is what the theologians of the East taught, but this is what many priests and people believed.

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