VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The prefect of the Congregation for Clergy is reminding priests worldwide about the importance of bringing children to the Eucharist.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos urges priests to do that because he is convinced that, the younger the children are, “the more worthy will be the heart’s reception of the sacramental Christ.”
To allow children to receive the “Eucharistic Jesus” as soon as possible “was for many centuries one of the firm foundations of the pastoral care of little ones in the Church,” said Cardinal Castrillón in a letter to priests, dated Jan. 8 and published by the dicastery on Saturday in the context of the Year of the Eucharist.
The custom “was re-established by St. Pius X in his time,” and “has been praised by his successors, and even more times by our Holy Father John Paul II,” the cardinal wrote.
In 1910, Pope Pius X established in the decree “Quam Singulari” that children could make their first Communion at age 7.
“Together with St. Pius X,” Cardinal Castrillón wrote, “many of us are convinced that this praxis of allowing children to make their first Communion beginning at 7 years of age, brings to the Church great graces from heaven,” not forgetting “that in the primitive Church, the sacrament of the Eucharist was administered to the newborn, immediately after baptism, under the species of a few drops of wine.”
In May 1929, Karol Wojtyla himself benefited from St. Pius X’s decision to reduce the age of Communion, as the now-John Paul II recalls in his recent book “Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way.”
In the book, John Paul II states that that Pius X also “introduced the possibility of receiving Communion before the age of 7, if the child demonstrates sufficient understanding.”
In “Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way,” which Cardinal Castrillón quotes in his letter, John Paul II also notes that “this pastoral decision to bring forward the reception of holy Communion is most commendable. It has yielded rich fruits of holiness in children and in the apostolate among the young, in addition to a flowering of priestly vocations.”
The prefect of the Vatican dicastery for the clergy exhorted: “We priests, called by God to guard the Holy Sacrament of the altar in union with our bishops, can and must first of all take care of the children as the first recipients of this immense gift: the Eucharist.”
He continued: “I think it is one of the greatest joys of the parish priest to hear children’s first Confession, and later, to have them receive their first Communion. The certainty comes to mind spontaneously that the younger they are, the more worthy will be the heart’s reception of the sacramental Christ.
“When the child’s mind arrives at the age of reason — and today that age comes early — it is open and disposed to the reception of the divine light, which makes it penetrate as far as possible, the mystery of God’s love for man.
“Later, faith rises over reason, and this faith — which we have often experienced precisely in our parishes — is so alive in children that they are capable, at times better than us, of expressing with immediate prayer their closeness to the Lord.”
In his letter to priests the cardinal added: “We trust, therefore, that this holy custom, recalled by all the last Popes, of bringing young children to the Holy Eucharist, after having made their first Confession, will be increasingly appreciated and, insofar as possible, followed particularly in this Year of the Eucharist.”