Sacraments Are A Community Experience
Sacraments are the unique way in which Catholics experience and celebrate our encounter or communion with Jesus Christ. By their nature, sacraments are ecclesial or common events which flow from and lead to the Church, which is the living Body of Christ on earth. Since our relationship with Jesus is experienced most fully on the local level in parish communities and on the personal level in families, the parish and the family constitute the best location for both immediate preparation and celebration of the sacraments.
What's Necessary to Celebrate the Sacraments
Three components are necessary for children to celebrate the sacraments of Reconciliation and First Communion in a meaningful way:
• Active participation in the community of faith, experienced both in the home and in the parish. This is the first and the most important component.
• Continuing catechesis or instruction in a systematic and comprehensive faith formation program which helps a child reflect on their experience. This catechesis may take place in a Catholic school, a parish religious education program, or in an approved home-study process. Because this reflection on the child’s experience is so important, we generally recommend that a child be enrolled in a systematic faith formation program for the equivalent of one year prior to preparing for the sacraments of Penance and First Communion.
• Immediate preparation for celebrating the sacraments. This preparation includes reflection on the child’s experience in the faith community and the home, as well as a basic understanding of how and why Catholics celebrate these sacraments. This preparation takes place in the home, under the guidance of the child’s parents, and in the Catholic school or religious educatoin program.
When Should Children Celebrate the Sacraments?
The exact age at which children or youth celebrated Reconciliation or Communion for the first time has varied over the years. In more recent times, it became a custom for children to celebrate these sacraments for the first time around the age of 7 or 8, which for children enrolled in formal catechesis usually means second grade.
The fact is, children should celebrate these sacraments when they are best prepared to do so in a meaningful way. For many this may be around the age of 7, but for others it may be later.
Key to the immediate preparation for these sacraments is the the direction provided by parents. This preparation can occur at any time after the child has begun participating in the faith community and has had an opportunity to reflect on his or her experience in a systematic program of faith formation.
What Should a Child Know to Celebrate Sacraments?
In order to celebrate Reconciliation in a meaningful way, your child should:
• Know the basic difference between right and wrong;
• Understand the difference between wrong things we choose to do on
purpose (which we call sin), and bad things which happen by accident;
• Understand that God loves and forgives us, even when we choose to do
• Know how to go to confession and desire to do so.
In order to celebrate First Communion in a meaningful way, your child should:
• Know that Jesus is the Son of God, who was sent by God to show
people how much God loves us.
• Know some of the Bible stories which show how much Jesus loved
and helped people.
• Know that Catholics believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist.
• Know how to receive Communion and desire to do so.
The average second-grade child quite capable of celebrating Reconciliation and Communion in a meaningful and joyful way, although every child’s understanding of the sacraments will be shaped by the child’s age, intellectual ability, personal maturity, and religious experience.
You may generally assume that your child is adequately prepared unless there are particular signs which indicate that it would be a negative or confusing experience.
If you have specific questions or concerns, feel free to discuss them with your child’s teacher, your pastor, or a faith formation leader.
The Parent's Role in a Child’s Preparation for Sacraments
There are two factors in particular which will determine the success or failure of a child’s preparation: the parent's own attitude about the sacraments, and the parent's personal participation in the church. ˙
Generally, the Church assumes that a Catholic parent is a registered member and is actively involved in the spiritual and sacramental life of the parish. Active participation usually includes Sunday Mass, personal prayer, an effort to grow in faith, respect for Catholic religious, moral and social teaching, and involvement in the parish, as time and circumstances permit. ˙
Regular parish participation is important for your own spiritual growth and for the life of the faith community. It is especially important for your children, who learn more by what they see than from what they hear. ˙
A child’s preparation for the sacraments is a good time for parents to re-evaluate their own relationship to the Church.
If you have concerns about your relationship to the Church, take this opportunity to discuss it with a pastor or a member of the parish staff. Church laws or common attitudes which seem to exclude people are often misunderstood. It is almost always possible to reconcile an individual’s status in the Church and to heal painful experiences from the past. ˙
If you actively participate in the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church, are positive about your child’s preparation for the sacraments, and place a high priority on your role in the preparation process, your child will understand how important the sacraments are to you. This will make the celebration of Reconciliation and First Communion both important and memorable for your child.