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from issue no. 08/09 - 2010


“The Church of Christ is everywhere spread through child saints”

by Paolo Mattei

“The centenary of the Decree Quam Singulari is a providential opportunity to remind ourselves and to insist that children make First Communion when they reach the age of reason, which today seems to occur even earlier. The practice that is being introduced increasingly, namely of raising the age of First Communion, is not, therefore, to be recommended. On the contrary, it is even more necessary to make it earlier.” These words are taken from an article that Cardinal Antonio Llovera Cañizares, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote for L’Osservatore Romano on Sunday 8 August 2010. The article of Cardinal Cañizares suggested to us the contents of the feature “Nova et Vetera” for this month: it is an article by Lorenzo Cappelletti, from April 1998, in which, among other things, the eight normative points of the decree Quam singulari, issued in 1910 by Pius X, are set out again. Pope Sarto, who already in 1905, in promulgating the decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus, wanted to invite all the faithful who had reached the use of reason to take frequent communion – a practice that had greatly declined since the “disease of Jansenism” had “spread everywhere” – aimed to regulate the admission of children to confession and communion with the decree Quam singulari.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, also spoke on this important document in 2005, on the occasion of the Year of the Eucharist, in a letter sent to all priests, in which he explained: “There are many who believe, with St Pius X, that this practice of allowing children to receive First Communion at the age of seven has brought great graces to the Church. Moreover we must not forget that in the early Church the sacrament of the Eucharist was administered to infants immediately after baptism, under the species of a few drops of wine. Allowing children to receive Jesus in the Eucharist as early as possible was for many centuries one of the basic principles of pastoral care for the little ones in the Church, a custom which was restored by St Pius X in his time and was praised by his successors” (cf. 30Days, No. 1/2, 2005, pp. 16-18).
The widespread tendency to defer admission to First Confession, Confirmation and First Communion, is perhaps the most serious sign yet of the still widespread and active presence of the heresy of Pelagius, “who now has many more followers than appears at first sight”, said the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1990 at the Meeting in Rimini. Pelagian thought leads in fact to a consideration of the sacraments as a type of award to be granted to persons who go through a long growth in awareness. This is the essence of Pelagianism: to conceive of grace as an awareness of the truth and deny the proprium of grace, i.e. the attraction of charity. It is Augustine himself in De gratia Christi et de peccato originali, who observes that Pelagius recognizes the lesser gift, that is, teaching, the example to be followed to gain awareness, but denies the greater one, that is the gift of inspiratio dilectionis, the attraction of charity. It was precisely against this trend that Pope Benedict XVI warned, when, in 2006, he reminded the priests of the diocese of Albano that “we must not turn Confirmation into a sort of ‘Pelagianism’ ”.
The lowering, as far as possible, of the age for admitting children to First Communion and the other sacraments, may be on the one hand, the reaffirmation of the primacy of grace; and can also prevent parents and children from perceiving the many years of catechetical preparation as blackmail. Faced with the growing number of teenagers who turn away from the Christian practice, would it not be better to rely more on grace than on human means? And would it not be better to hope that even if they turn away – even the youngest son in the Gospel parable went away – the memory of the sacraments remain in them as something beautiful and not as an arduous task on the verge of blackmail? In the memory of the young man in the parable, the father’s house, though distant, remained as a beautiful place to which, in any event, he would always be able to return.
The words of St Augustine can reinforce that hope: “Quacumque in parvulis sanctis Ecclesia Christi diffunditur / The Church of Christ is everywhere spread through child saints” (Enarrationes in psalmos 112, 2).

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