Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Addendum of the General Catechetical Directory

by Congregation for the Clergy

Description

This addendum of the General Catechetical Directory concerns catechesis for children.

Publisher & Date

April 11, 1971

Vision Book Cover Prints

THE FIRST RECEPTION OF THE SACRAMENTS OF PENANCE AND THE EUCHARIST

Among the tasks of catechesis, the preparation of children for the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist is of great importance. With regard to this, it is held opportune to recall certain principles and to make some observations about certain experiments that have been taking place very recently in some regions or places of the Church.

THE AGE OF DISCRETION

The suitable age for the first reception of these sacraments is deemed to be that which in documents of the Church is called the age of reason or of discretion. This age "both for Confession and for Communion is that at which the child begins to reason, that is, about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on the obligation of fulfilling the precepts of Confession and Communion begins" (Decree "Quam singulari," I, AAS, 1910, p. 582). It is praiseworthy to study by research in pastoral psychology and to describe this age which develops gradually, is subject to various conditions, and which presents a peculiar nature in every child. One should, however, be on guard not to extend beyond the above-mentioned limits, which are not rigid, the time at which the precept of Confession and Communion begins to oblige per se.

FORMATION AND GROWTH OF THE MORAL CONSCIENCE OF CHILDREN

2 While the capacity to reason is evolving gradually in a child, his moral conscience too is being trained, that is, the faculty of judging his acts in relation to a norm of morality. A number of varying elements and circumstances come together in forming this moral conscience of a child: the character and discipline of his family, which is one of the most important educative factors during the first years of a child's life, his associations with others, and the activities and the witness of the ecclesial community. Catechesis, while carrying out its task of instructing and forming in the Christian faith, puts order into these various factors of education, promotes them, and works in conjunction with them. Only in this way will catechesis be able to give to the child timely direction toward the heavenly Father and correct any goings astray or incorrect orientations of life that can occur. Without doubt children at this age should be told in the simplest possible way about God as our Lord and Father, about his love for us, about Jesus, the Son of God, who was made man for us, and who died and rose again. By thinking about the love of God, the child will be able gradually to perceive the malice of sin, which always offends God the Father and Jesus, and which is opposed to the charity with which we must love our neighbor and ourselves.

IMPORTANCE OF EXPLAINING THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE TO CHILDREN

3 When a child begins to offend God by sin, he also begins to have the desire of receiving pardon, not only from parents or relatives, but also from God. Catechesis helps him by nourishing this desire wholesomely, and it instills a holy aversion to sin, an awareness of the need for amendment, and especially love for God. The special task of catechesis here is to explain in a suitable way that sacramental Confession is a means offered children of the Church to obtain pardon for sin, and furthermore that it is even necessary per se if one has fallen into serious sin. To be sure, Christian parents and religious educators ought to teach the child in such a way that above all he will strive to advance to a more intimate love of the Lord Jesus and to genuine love of neighbor. The doctrine on the sacrament of Penance is to be presented in a broad framework of attaining purification and spiritual growth with great confidence in the mercy and love of God. In this way, children not only can little by little acquire a delicate understanding of conscience, but do not lose heart when they fall into some lesser fault.

The Eucharist is the summit and center of the entire Christian life. In addition to the required state of grace, great purity of soul is clearly fitting for the reception of Communion. One must be very careful, however, that the children do not get the impression that Confession is necessary before receiving the Eucharist even when one sincerely loves God and has not departed from the path of God's commandments in a serious way.

CERTAIN NEW EXPERIMENTS

4 In very recent times in certain regions of the Church experiments relative to the first reception of the sacraments of Penance and of the Eucharist have been made. These have given rise to doubt and confusion.

So that the Communion of children may be appropriately received early, and so that psychological disturbances in the future Christian life which can result from a too early use of Confession may be avoided, and so that better education for the spirit of penance and a more valid catechetical preparation for Confession itself may be fostered, it has seemed to some that children should be admitted to first Communion without first receiving the sacrament of Penance.

In fact, however, going to the sacrament of Penance from the beginning of the use of reason does not in itself harm the minds of the children, provided it is preceded, as it should be, by a kind and prudent catechetical preparation. The spirit of penance can be developed more fully by continuing catechetical instruction after first Communion; likewise, there can be growth in knowledge and appreciation of the great gift that Christ has given to sinful man in the sacrament of the pardon they will receive and of reconciliation with the Church (cf. LG, 11).

These things have not prevented the introduction in certain places of a practice in which some years regularly elapse between first Communion and first Confession. In other places, however, the innovations made have been more cautious, either because first Confession was not so much delayed, or because consideration is given the judgment of the parents who prefer to have their children go to the sacrament of Penance before first Communion.

THE COMMON PRACTICE IN FORCE MUST BE HIGHLY ESTEEMED

5 The Supreme Pontiff, Pius X, declared, "The custom of not admitting children to Confession or of never giving them absolution, when they have arrived at the use of reason, must be wholly condemned" (Decree "Quam singulari," VII, AAS, 1910, p. 583). One can scarcely have regard for the right that baptized children have of confessing their sins, if at the beginning of the age of discretion they are not prepared and gently led to the sacrament of Penance.

One should also keep in mind the usefulness of Confession, which retains its efficacy even when only venial sins are in question, and which gives an increase of grace and of charity, increases the child's good dispositions for receiving the Eucharist, and also helps to perfect the Christian life. Hence, it appears the usefulness of Confession cannot be dismissed in favor of those forms of penance or those ministries of the word, by which the virtue of penance is aptly fostered in children, and which can be fruitfully practiced together with the sacrament of Penance, when a suitable catechetical preparation has been made. The pastoral experience of the Church, which is illustrated by many examples even in our day, teaches her how much the so- called age of discretion is suited for effecting that the children's baptismal grace, by means of a well-prepared reception of the sacraments of Penance and of the Eucharist, shows forth its first fruits, which are certainly to be augmented afterwards by means of a continued catechesis.

Having weighed all these points, and keeping in mind the common and general practice which per se cannot be derogated without the approval of the Apostolic See, and also having heard the Conferences of Bishops, the Holy See judges it fitting that the practice now in force in the Church of putting Confession ahead of first Communion should be retained. This in no way prevents this custom from being carried out in various ways, as, for instance, by having a communal penitential celebration precede or follow the reception of the sacrament of Penance.

The Holy See is not unmindful of the special conditions that exist in various countries, but it exhorts the bishops in this important matter not to depart from the practice in force without having first entered into communication with the Holy See in a spirit of hierarchical communion. Nor should they in any way allow the pastors or educators or religious institutes to begin or to continue to abandon the practice in force.

In regions, however, where new practices have already been introduced which depart notably from the pristine practice, the Conferences of Bishops will wish to submit these experiments to a new examination. If after that they wish to continue these experiments for a longer time, they should not do so unless they have first communicated with the Holy See, which will willingly hear them, and they are at one mind with the Holy See.

The Supreme Pontiff, PAUL VI, by a letter of his Secretariat of State, n. 177335, dated March 18,1971, approved this General Directory together with the Addendum, confirmed it by his authority and ordered it to be published.

Rome, April 11,1971, Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord.

John J. Cardinal Wright, Prefect

+Pietro Palazzini, Secretary

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