A hundred years ago Pius X lowered the age for First Communion
On the centenary of the Decree "Quam Singulari Christus Amore" of the Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments promulgated by Pius X (8 August 1910), the Pope Beatified in 1951 and Canonized in 1954, we are publishing the following reflection by Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
A hundred years ago, with the Decree Quam Singulari, Pius X, faithfully complying with the teachings of the Fourth Lateran Council and the Council of Trent, established the age of children for First Communion and First Confession at the age of reason, that is, about the age of seven. This measure entailed a very important change in pastoral practice and in the customary idea of that time which for various reasons had delayed this most fundamental event for the human being.
Pius X, the great and holy Pope of piety and of Eucharistic participation, with the desire for ecclesial renewal that inspired his Pontificate, with this Decree taught the whole Church the meaning, time for, value and centrality of Holy Communion in the life of all the baptized, including children. At the same time, he emphasized and reminded everyone of Jesus' love and predilection for children, for as well as making himself a child, the Lord himself expressed love for children with gestures and words and even said: "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven"; "let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven". They are always very special friends of the Lord.
With the same predilection, the same loving gaze and the same attention and special concern, the Church looks at, follows, cares for and is concerned about children. For this reason, like a loving mother, she hopes that her smallest sons and daughters, the first in the Kingdom of Heaven, will soon participate, with the proper disposition, in the best and greatest gift that Jesus left us to remember him: his Body and his Blood, begotten the bread of life. Thanks to Holy Communion, Jesus in person, the Only Son of God, enters into the life of those who receive him and make their dwelling place in him.
There is no greater love, no greater gift. This is a gift of love that is worth more than everything else in every person's life. Being with the Lord; may the Lord be in us, be within us; may he feed us and satisfy us; may he take us by the hand and guide us; may he enliven us and may we remain faithful communion and in friendship with him: this is certainly the greatest, the most gratifying, the most joyful thing that can happen.
Then why postpone for children this encounter with Jesus, given that they are his best friends, those who are loved in a special way by God the Father and the object of the special care of holy Mother Church?
The First Communion of children is like the beginning of a journey with Jesus, in communion with him: the beginning of a friendship destined to last and to be strengthened for the whole
of life with him; the beginning of a journey, because with Jesus, united without being separated, we make good progress and life becomes good and joyful; with him within us we can certainly be better people. His presence among us and with us is light, life and bread on the journey. The encounter with Jesus is the strength we need to live with cheerfulness and hope.
We cannot by delaying First Communion deprive children — the soul and spirit of children — of this grace, work and presence of Jesus, of this encounter of friendship with him, of this
special participation of Jesus himself and of this food of Heaven to be able to mature and thus reach fullness. All, especially children, need the Bread come down from Heaven, because the soul too must be nourished, and our break-throughs, science and technology do not suffice, however important they may be. If we are to grow and to mature in our lives we need Christ.
This is especially important in the times we are living and is especially so for children, whose greatness, purity, simplicity, "holiness", an attitude to God and the love that makes them are, unfortunately, often manipulated and destroyed. Children live immersed in thousands of difficulties, surrounded by a difficult environment that does not encourage them to be what God wants of them; many are the victims of a family crisis.
In this atmosphere the encounter, friendship and union with Jesus, his presence and his power are especially necessary for them. Thanks to their immaculate and open soul, there is no doubt that it is they who are the best prepared for this encounter.
The centenary of the Decree Quam Singulari is a providential opportunity to remember and to insist that children make First Communion when they reach the age of reason, which today seems even to have been anticipated. 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. In the face of what is happening to children and of the most adverse environment in which they are growing up, let us not deprive them of the gift of God: it can be, it is the guarantee of their development as children of God, generated by the sacraments of Christian initiation in the heart of Holy Mother Church. The grace of God's gift is more powerful than our achievements, our plans and our programmes.
When Pius X lowered the age of First Communion, he also insisted on the need for a good formation, a good catechesis. Today we must accompany this same lowering of the age with a new and vigorous pastoral care of Christian initiation. The guidelines provided by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, by the General Directory for Catechesis and by that for children's Masses, are indispensable guides in this new or renewed pastoral approach, to Christian initiation, so fundamental for the future of the Church, the mother who, with the help of the Spirit's grace, generates and enables her children to mature through the sacraments of initiations, catechesis and all the pastoral action that accompanies them.
Let us therefore not close our ears to Jesus' words: "let the children come to me, and do not hinder them". He wants to be in them and with them, for "for to such", and to those like them, "belongs the kingdom of heaven".