Wednesday, June 19, 2013
The Age of Need
This week a little girl at our parish received her First Holy Communion. Next to me sat my little seven year old girl who will wait another year to receive. Because that is the rule. She must go through the process. She must be in second grade. She must have her two years in the system. Instead of focusing on the sweet girl across the aisle and her special day, I found myself brooding over what we (the bureaucratic arm of the Catholic Church) have done with Sacramental preparation. We have taken the basic requirements for eligibility and made them burdensome to the young and innocent.
So what is actually required for reception of the Sacraments of Confession and Communion? There is a developmental component and there is a catechetical component.
First, the developmental piece of Sacramental preparation.
The Age of Reason is the term used to describe the determining age for First Holy Communion and First Confession. Most people see it as a term of "readiness"; although this is true, it is not its primary meaning. It is actually a term of "neediness".
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia Age of Reason is the "period of human life at which persons are deemed to begin to be morally responsible."
In other words, it marks the point at which the child is capable of sin.
Of course, anyone who has entered into a battle of wills with a two or three year old can attest to that child's ability to "make wrong choices", to "break rules" or to wreak havoc in any number of willful ways. But we also know that they are often just responding to a desire or felt need.
Case in point:
(sorry for the ads…can't help it)
This very cute kid is capable of much mischief, but he isn't sinning….yet.
Many of us also know five year olds who can plot and plan a similar heist that they know full well is wrong. Knowing it is wrong, and choosing to do it anyway, is the definition of sin. In other words, the five year old has reached the Age of Reason.
When a kid has reached the Age of Reason we are NOT saying that he is WORTHY of the sacrament. Or READY for the sacrament.
What we ARE saying is that he is morally responsible for his sinful actions, and thus in NEED of the remedy, the Sacraments.
There is nothing magic about turning seven that makes a child "morally responsible". That development happens gradually and at different times for different kids. You can't MAKE it happen anymore than you can MAKE a baby able to roll over on day 150, or a toddler able to speak on his first birthday. Most parents see that they provide the nurturing environment and the child will do these things when they are ready.
This is also true about reaching the Age of Reason, yet we treat kids as if their moral culpability can wait. We don't leave the 4 month old laying on the couch because "He won't reach Rolling Over Age until 5 months." And we don't ignore the words of the 11 month old because he hasn't been enrolled in the Talking Class yet.
However, we leave the already sinning child to develop habits of sin without the remedy to fight the sin problem. We allow them to feel shame, hide that shame, and learn not to bring it to Confession right away. We leave them without the means to fight their blossoming sin problem.
It seems to me that the developmental character of the milestone we call "Age of Reason" calls for an individualized approach to the reception of the sacraments. In my opinion, the default preparation for First Sacraments should begin with the parent presenting their child to the parish priest when that child reaches the Age of Reason.
"But, most parents won't/can't/don't know how to/don't have time/don't care/etc.?"
"Present them to the priest? And THEN what?"
I hope to answer those questions soon.
What do you think about the Age of Need? Do you know a kid who needed Confession long before he was allowed to go?