When a Baptized Child Enters the Church

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


When a Baptized Child Enters the Church

ROME, 23 OCT. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university. 

Q: Recently I was asked to bring a 10-year-old child into the Catholic faith who was baptized as an Anglican. In the RCIA ritual there doesn't seem to be any section for children who have been baptized to be brought into the Catholic faith, so I simply used the general section "Reception of Baptized Christians into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church." This seems to indicate that confirmation should take place, but as the child was not of the age when we normally confer confirmation (around 12) I omitted this part of the ritual. Was this correct, or should I have gone ahead with the confirmation? In printing a certificate for the family, should I refer to the ceremony as "Reception into the Full Communion of the Catholic Church" or simply "Reception into the Catholic Church" — since the child in not receiving confirmation has not been fully initiated? — J.D., Leeton, Australia 

A: According to canon law: 

"No. 889 §1. Every baptized person not yet confirmed and only such a person is capable of receiving confirmation. 

"§2. To receive confirmation licitly outside the danger of death requires that a person who has the use of reason be suitably instructed, properly disposed, and able to renew the baptismal promises. 

"No. 890 The faithful are obliged to receive this sacrament at the proper time. Parents and pastors of souls, especially pastors of parishes, are to take care that the faithful are properly instructed to receive the sacrament and come to it at the appropriate time. 

"No. 891 The sacrament of confirmation is to be conferred on the faithful at about the age of discretion unless the conference of bishops has determined another age, or there is danger of death, or in the judgment of the minister a grave cause suggests otherwise." 

Even in the case that complementary legislation exists, Canon 843.1 foresees that sacred ministers may not deny the sacraments to those who are not prohibited by law from receiving them and request them spontaneously. In a reply of Aug. 29, 2006, we examined how the Congregation for Divine Worship used this canon in favor of an 11-year-old girl who was denied confirmation based on diocesan policy for an older age. 

Generally speaking we can say that with respect to the possibility for receiving first Communion and confirmation, the Church considers the age of reason as sufficient.

This explains in part the absence of a Rite of Christian Initiation for older children. In the eyes of the Church they can be considered as adults. Therefore, when children who have reached the age of reason are baptized or received into full communion into the Catholic Church, it should be the general policy to give them full initiation with confirmation and first Communion. 

Some bishops' conferences have made this practice explicit. Several years ago, for example, the Spanish bishops recognized a relatively new pastoral problem for that country. Following popular trends, some parents had deferred baptizing their children. On reaching the age of first Communion these children, who often participated in catechism class, began to express a desire to share the same process as their companions. 

After deliberating, the bishops decided that these children should participate in a special catechetical program. The program would lead the children to receive all three sacraments of initiation in a single celebration, rather than their being baptized and receiving first Communion with their companions. 

This policy is in line with the mind of the Church. In other words, if a child who has reached the age of reason is sufficiently aware so as to be able to freely desire and receive baptism, then it can be reasonably presumed that he or she is also ready for the other sacraments as well. 

With respect to the certificate, I would say that our reader could preferably use the first formula. Even if the child is not yet confirmed, he is in full communion with the Church. Otherwise, we could infer that baptized Catholics who are yet to be confirmed are somehow not in full communion with the Church.

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Follow-up: When a Baptized Child Enters the Church [11-6-2012]

Following our Oct. 23 comments on receiving a child into the Church, a reader wrote: "My grandson was baptized by a Maronite priest — his father being of that rite — and confirmed at his infant baptism."

This was perfectly legitimate. According to Canon 29.1 of the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches:

"A son or daughter who has not completed fourteen years of age is ascribed by virtue of baptism to the Church sui iuris to which his or her Catholic Father is ascribed; or if only the mother is Catholic, or if both parents are of the same mind in requesting it, to the Church sui iuris of the mother ...."

That the child received confirmation is also common practice in these rites and hence, also perfectly legitimate. 

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