Thursday, July 30, 2009

Archbishop Nienstedt: First Confession Comes Before First Communion!

If you have young children either in your immediate family or in your extended family, chances are good that you attended a celebration of first Holy Communion this past spring. And even if you did not attend a family member’s first Holy Communion, I would bet that you attended a parish celebration of this sacrament, as many par­ishes appropriately choose to celebrate the sacrament during a Sunday Mass.

Celebrating first Holy Com­mun­ion in this highly public way is quite fitting, as young children are not only receiving the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus for the first time, but also solidifying their ties to the church, which is a public and communal reality.
For this very reason, the church has made it clear that the celebration of first Holy Communion on a Sunday, “the day of the Eucharist,” is the most appropriate way to celebrate the first reception of this Sacrament of Sacraments.

Confession first

The church is even more clear that prior to making their first Holy Communion, children are to celebrate their first confession. This teaching was recently reiterated in “Redemptionis Sacramen­tum,” (paragraph 87).

In our own diocese, as early as 1973, my predecessor, Arch­bishop Leo Byrne, reminded every priest in this local church of the universal church’s mind on this matter in response to the experimental practice of delaying first confession until after first Holy Communion. As the archbishop pointed out at the time, such a delay is clearly not the mind of the church, and he rightly asked that it cease to be practiced in this archdiocese.

One objection to the church’s clear teaching on this matter is that children are not capable of grave sin, and therefore are not obligated to make a confession before their first Holy Commun­ion.

Leaving aside the debatable claim that children are incapable of grave sin, while it is true that sacramental confession and absolution are the ordinary means by which mortal sin is forgiven, we don’t celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation only to have such grave sins forgiven. There is also the constant need to ask forgiveness for the small failures and little betrayals that mark our daily lives.

It is said that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II received the sacrament of reconciliation frequently, as many as several times a month, in fact. It is difficult to believe that either the Holy Father or Mother Teresa often fell into mortal sin. And, yet, they saw fit to come to confession regularly because they knew that they were called to be perfect, as their heavenly Father is perfect.

And quite apart from the forgiveness of actual sin, there is also the powerful grace of the sacrament — grace that is needed if we are to persevere in our daily struggles with sin and temptation, struggles that can slowly weaken us in our capacity to avoid serious sin.

Children need this grace as much as anyone else. Anyone who honestly believes that children do not do things that are wrong has not spent much time with kids.

Instilling good habits

Giving children the opportunity to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation before first Holy Com­munion also helps to establish a habit in our young people, a habit that hopefully will last a whole lifetime.

If we have guests coming over to dinner, it is an act of love to prepare for their visit by tidying up the house and making special preparations. Even more so in the spiritual life, we must strive to prepare well for the visit of the Lord into our hearts. How well we all need to remember this fact, young and old alike.

This, of course, is not to say that every time we attend Holy Mass we are obligated to make a sacramental confession. But as St. Paul reminds us in his first letter to the Corinthians, it is, in fact, extremely important to examine our hearts before we receive our Lord in Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

If we are aware of serious sin, we are obliged to make every effort to approach the fountain of mercy that is confession, so that we may partake worthily in the Banquet of the Lamb. Celebrating first confession prior to first Holy Com­munion helps to communicate this scriptural lesson to our young people.

I urge all of us, young and old alike, to examine ourselves before we approach the table of the Lord. May we have the courage to ask the Lord for his forgiveness before we receive him in so intimate a way as Holy Communion.

And then, with the faith of a little child, we will with clear conscience say “Amen” to that heavenly gift which is the body and blood of Jesus.

God bless you! The Catholic Spirit


Anonymous said...

Okay...drop the other shoe...which parishes are not requiring first confession before first communion?...Anyone know?

Unknown said...

I know it's happening and in more than a few parishes, otherwise the archbishop wouldn't have felt it necessary to write a public letter.

I vaguely recall people mentioning it to me a year or two ago, but since I don't have children, I didn't pay that much attention.

Anonymous said...

This was going on in my parish here in the sudurban twin cities. When I insisted that my child follow the clear teaching of the Church on this matter (in the CCC) I was told I was doing it the wrong way, and they tried to "enlighten" me. My kids went to a priest from another parish, which turned out to be the best thing for my children anyway.

Vianney33 said...

It was happening at my west suburban parish (which we left last month) despite my providing them with documets from the Vatican and our archbishop at the time (Flynn) stating that this is not to be done for any reason. However, I did read the bulleting there three weeks ago and they changed and are doing it correctly. I have a feeling that someone from the archdiocese put pressure on them to do so. Now if the good archbishop would put pressure on the parishes that barely offer confession. You know, the ones that offer it after the Saturday Mass or "by appointment". That is my former parish also.
Things they are a changin.

Anonymous said...

Ray -

Why is St. Edward's not following the Archbishop's directives here and enrolling children in first Eucharist before First Reconcilliation? I wonder if it has anything to do with their direct support of the dissedent group Catholic Coalition for Church Reform?, or their Pastoral ad hominum attacks against Archbishop Neinstedt?
See this from their website:

St. Edward's Church - Bloomington Judy Foster, Director of Sacramental Faith Formation
952-835-7101 Ext. 219
Work Hours: Afternoons and Evenings - Monday - Thursday
Most weekend Masses

Welcome to the parish sacramental preparation information page. Please call the coordinator to register and for information on preparation requirements.

FIRST RECONCILIATION: Reception of the sacrament suggested at 4th grade (older and younger children welcome at the discretion of the parents).
Registration is required. Packets are mailed in May for all children‘s faith formation opportunities including sacramental preparation to families with children of the recommended age for reception of the sacrament.
First Reconciliation Preparation Begins:
PARENTS ONLY: Monday, September 21, 2009 7:00-8:30 pm
Parents & Child: Monday, October 5, 12, 19, & 26, 2009 7:00-8:30 pm

First Reconciliation Celebration: Monday, November 9, 2009 6:30 pm

FIRST EUCHARIST: Reception of the sacrament takes place for 2nd graders (recommended age, parents determine readiness) through 5th graders.
Registration is required. Packets are mailed in May for all children‘s faith formation opportunities including sacramental preparation to families with children of the recommended age for reception of the sacrament. For late registration, call the parish office.
The process is presented in partnership with the parents, home catechesis is a vital element.
First Eucharist Preparation Begins:
PARENTS ONLY: Monday, April 12, 2010 7:00-8:30pm
Parents & Child: Mondays, April 19, 26, May 3 & 10, 2010 7:00-8:30pm
Rehearsals: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 7:00pm
(1/2 hour, readers and gift bearers practice 7:30pm)

First Eucharist Celebrations
Group celebration at all Masses May 15 & 16, 2010 or individual family celebrations at any weekend Mass between May 23 and June 13, 2010.

Unknown said...

There are three comments here by "anonymous."

For the life of me I can't understand what is so difficult about using a name, even if it is fake.

Thanks for the information, Anon. 3.