First Confession and First Holy Communion

Preparation for Christ himself in the Eucharist, and the sacrament of Reconciliation is made available for children at the age of reason (roughly 8 years+, or Year 3) following Baptism.

The course starts in January and continues through to May.

Application forms are available in the Parish Office with applications available between September and November each year.

Note: first meeting is for parents, thereafter the sessions are for the children only.

Venue: Small Hall, St Edmund’s parish

The role of parents

When parents have their children baptised, one of the promises they make – to the child as well as to the Church – is that the child will be brought up as a Catholic. Part of what that means is that the child will be taught what the Faith is about.

In other words, the primary responsibility for teaching the Faith to children belongs not to the catechists, but to the parents. The catechists are volunteers, fellow parishioners, who want to help and support the parents; they do so as an act of Christian love.

The catechists are in turn supported by professionally produced material, by the Parish Priest, by the Parish Catechetical Coordinator, and by the Diocesan Catechetical Service. All of these people want to help, but none of us can do so unless the parents play their part.

So the first question parents need to ask themselves before enrolling their children on the course for First Confession and First Holy Communion is whether they, the parents, are willing and able to commit time to working with their children on the course. Roughly speaking, for every hour the catechists spend with the children, the parents should be prepared to spend a matching hour working with the children at home.

When can a child join the course

In order to receive the Sacrament of Confession, a child must be able to understand the idea of sin and must be able to accept a personal responsibility for his/her actions. In order to receive Holy Communion, the child must be able to understand at least the basics of the Sacrament and this must include an understanding that the bread and wine have become the Body and Blood of Christ. The Church has set a minimum age below which it is unlikely that these levels of understanding will have been reached. In our Diocese, a child must have started Year 3 in Primary School before entering the catechetical course for these Sacraments.

That, however, is a minimum age. The parents have the responsibility of assessing whether or not their child is ready to receive these sacraments. There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in deciding to defer the sacrament for a year or so until it is right for the child; on the contrary, it is a highly responsible decision to take.

You need to consider carefully what your child’s attitude, particularly to the Mass, is. You cannot say simultaneously that your child is ready for the Sacrament whilst also saying that your child cannot be expected to come regularly to Mass every week or to pay attention while he/she is there.

Helping a child to understand the Mass

In my experience, children pick up their attitude to the Mass from their parents rather than from, for example, other children. They need to feel that the Mass is important to their parents, which is one of the reasons that the whole family should be there every Sunday; even at seven or eight years old children know whether the Mass is in practice more important in their home circle than going shopping or going on a picnic – whatever a parent may say to the contrary.

It helps very much if parents break the Mass down into its component pieces and explain what is going on as the Mass progresses. It helps if children have their own abbreviated Mass books with the essential prayers and can read them out at the appropriate moments.

If parents can build this practice in advance, it helps enormously when the child starts the First Holy Communion programme, because the parent can then relate each lesson to particular moments in the Mass.

One last plea

I know that some have the tradition to dress children up in wedding dresses or sailor suits on the day when they receive the sacrament for the first time. Well, okay, if that is the way you want to celebrate something that is well worth celebrating, who am I to try and stop you?

But, please, do not encourage your child to think that the day is about dressing up, or having a party, or being photographed. It is about so much more and we really sow the seeds for children, when they are older, not to take the Faith seriously if we trivialise their first reception of the Eucharist.

— Fr Christopher