Eastern-Rite Children and Holy Communion

Author: Father Edward McNamara


Eastern-Rite Children and Holy Communion

ROME, 23 NOV. 2010 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: A family of Eastern-rite Catholics recently moved into the area and are attending the Roman Catholic parish here as there are no parishes of their rite available. Their child received first Communion as an infant and continued to receive Communion regularly. Now they are attending of necessity a Latin-rite Mass. Should the child abstain now from receiving Communion until she reaches the age of discretion? — M.C., Louisiana

A: I think we need to distinguish between pertaining to an Eastern rite or Church and assisting at a Mass of a different rite.

Canon 112 §2 of the Code of Canon Law is quite clear: "The practice, however prolonged, of receiving the sacraments according to the rite of another ritual Church sui iuris does not entail enrollment in that Church."

Canon 383 §2 also places responsibility for the pastoral care of Eastern Catholics in the hands of the local bishop: "If he has faithful of a different rite in his diocese, he is to provide for their spiritual needs either through priests or parishes of the same rite or through an episcopal vicar."

The situations foreseen in this canon are those of small groups of Eastern faithful unable to attend their own rite.

This corresponds to the right of the faithful presented in Canon 214 "to worship God according to the prescripts of their own rite approved by the legitimate pastors of the Church."

When the number of Eastern faithful merits it, the exercise of this right is guaranteed by the establishment of an exarchate for each particular rite. In some cases the exarch exercises pastoral jurisdiction over wide swaths of the country. For example, the increase in immigrants to the United States from the Indian Malankar Church led to the establishment of the Apostolic Exarchate of United States of America, Faithful of the Oriental Rite (Malankarese) last July.

Based on the canonical principles mentioned above, especially Canon 214, I would say that there is no reason why the child cannot continue to receive Communion in accordance with the practice of her own rite.

If doing so occasions pastoral difficulties, such as incomprehension on the part of children preparing for first Communion, then a pastoral solution could be found that takes these difficulties into account without depriving the Eastern child of a means of grace that she has partaken of since baptism and confirmation.

That this is the approved practice in the United States is confirmed by the 2001 letter of an American bishop to an Eastern-rite parent in a similar situation:

"God's blessing to you. This letter is in response to your e-mail which followed our conversation regarding your children not being allowed to receive communion at […]. I apologize for the delay. I appreciate that this is a matter of serious concern to you and your family. Eastern Catholics in communion with the Catholic Church have the right to receive communion in our Church and are to be welcomed to the Eucharist in all the parishes in the Diocese ….

"In his Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Eastern Rite, Pope Paul VI, on November 21, 1964, says: 3. These individual Churches, whether of the East or the West, although they differ somewhat among themselves in rite, that is, in liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline, and spiritual heritage, are nevertheless, each as much as the others, entrusted to the pastoral government of the Roman Pontiff, the divinely appointed successor of St. Peter in primacy over the universal Church. They are consequently of equal dignity, so that none of them is superior to the others as regards to rite and they enjoy the same rights and are under the same obligations, also in respect of preaching the Gospel to the whole world (cf. Mark 16,15) under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff.

"In his 1995 apostolic letter, Orientate Lumen, The Light of the East, Pope John Paul II wrote, 'A particular thought goes out to the lands of the Diaspora where many faithful of the Eastern Churches who have left their countries of origin are living in a mainly Latin environment.' The Pope continued, 'I particularly urge the Latin Ordinaries in these countries to study attentively grasp thoroughly and apply faithfully the principles issued by this Holy See concerning ecumenical cooperation and the pastoral care of the faithful of the Eastern Catholic Churches, especially when they lack their own hierarchy.' As Bishop of the Diocese […], I understand that in this big diocese it is not always possible for the faithful to attend their own church on Sundays though this is considered first choice. When Eastern Catholic families like yours celebrate the Sunday obligation in one of our Latin Catholic Parishes they are welcome to the Eucharistic table.

"The Committee on the Relationship between Eastern and Latin Catholic Churches of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their work Eastern Catholics in the United States of America, in 1999, explains that in the USA, 'It is the normal practice of the Church that Catholics celebrate the Lord's day by participating in the celebration of the Eucharist in a community of their own church. Nevertheless, where there is diversity of Churches in the one place, the faithful worthily celebrate the resurrection of Jesus by attending the Eucharist in any of the autonomous ritual Churches."

"Holy Communion may be received in any Catholic Church. Since sacramental initiation in the mystery of salvation is perfected in the reception of the Divine Eucharist, children of Eastern Catholic Churches who have not received the Eucharist at the time of their Christian initiation, should receive their first Holy Communion in their own autonomous Church.

"May God bless you for your continued commitment to Our Lord Jesus Christ and our Christian faith. Thank you for sharing with me your concern in this matter."

* * *

Follow-up: Eastern-Rite Children and Holy Communion [12-7-2010]

Related to the question regarding Eastern-rite children receiving Communion (Nov. 23), a question on file addressed the situation of those unable to receive.

The reader wrote: "Twice I have heard a priest preach a homily in which he chides the congregation for joining the Communion procession (the moment at which everyone lines up to receive Communion) if their intent is not to receive Communion. He says it is not acceptable to approach with one's arms crossed over one's chest, seeking only a blessing, for a blessing is given to everyone present at the end of Mass. He also says it is not acceptable for children to be in the line if they are under the age at which they may receive; if they must come for practical reasons, their parents have the responsibility to make it evident that their children are not there to receive. He says that joining procession for any reason other than to receive Communion detracts from the sacred nature of the procession, causes confusion for the minister, and often creates a need to have a clarification conversation, which should never happen at the moment when Communion is being distributed.

"I was always taught that, on the contrary, it is a beautiful thing to approach in the Communion line even if you cannot receive, for it is a moment during which you may receive a special blessing. I also was taught that children are welcome and encouraged to approach, even if they are too young to receive Communion, again because of the special blessing they can receive. Could you please provide some clarification? Thank you."

We wrote on several occasions as to whether it is appropriate to impart blessings at the moment of communion (May 10 and 24, 2005; March 24 and April 21, 2009). As we observed, the situation is confused with contrary indications being given even by bishops. We also pointed out that the Holy See seems to be tending toward a negative view of the practice but has yet to publish a definitive decision.

Whether or not a blessing is imparted, I personally would not agree with the priest that young children should not accompany their parents in the line to receive Communion.

I say this, first of all, because this is not a solemn or structured procession but simply an ordered approach to the altar in which ideally the faithful randomly leave their pews and go to the nearest point of administration of the sacrament.

In places where the communion rail is still in use there is really no procession as such. In many large parishes the sacrament is administrated from several places resulting in sundry simultaneous processions.

The second reason why I believe that they should not be discouraged is because I think that, for children, the example of seeing their mother and father reverently receiving Communion is probably a more efficacious catechesis than many academic lessons.

In order to avoid confusion with respect to children who are close to the age for first Communion, the priest is correct in saying that it is incumbent upon parents to make it evident that their children are not going to receive.

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