Quam singulari, a decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments, August 8, 1910, on the age at which children are to be admitted to first Communion, officially promulgated August 15, 1910 (Acta Apost. Sedis, August 15, 1910). The historical facts narrated in the “Quam singulari” prove that (a) it is not a decree inaugurating a new discipline, but one restoring the ancient and universal law of the Church, wherever it has not been observed (Pius X to Card. Abp. of Cologne, December 31, 1910); (b) the custom of giving Holy Communion to infants immediately after baptism, and frequently before the beginning of their rational life, has been modified but never condemned; it is even approved today among the Greeks and Orientals; (c) the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215, can. xxi) has never been revoked or modified, and in virtue of it all are obliged, as soon as they arrive at the years of discretion, to receive both the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion at Easter time; (d) the “testimony of the greatest authority, St. Thomas Aquinas”, interpreting the Council, states that the Lateran decree obliges “children when they begin to have some use of reason” (also Ledesma, Vasquez, St. Antoninus); (e) the Council of Trent confirmed the Lateran decree pronouncing anathema against ‘all who deny “that the faithful of both sexes who have attained the use of reason are obliged to receive Holy Communion every year, at least at Easter time” (Sess. XIII, de Euch., c. viii, can. ix).
Errors condemned by the “Quam singulari “.—(a) A greater discretion is required for first Communion than for first Confession. (b) To receive Holy Communion a more complete knowledge of the articles of Faith is required. This erroneous opinion, demanding with Jansenism (I) extraordinary preparation, thereby deferring Communion “for the riper age” of twelve, fourteen, or even older (“absolutely forbidden”), makes (2) “the Holy Eucharist a reward and not a remedy for human frailty”, which is contrary to the teaching of the Council of Trent that Holy Communion is “an antidote by which we are freed from our daily faults and preserved from mortal sins”. The error assumes (3) what may be false—that riper years and more complete instruction give better dispositions than the innocence and candor of more tender years. As first Communion is not essentially different from any other Communion the extraordinary preparation heretofore demanded is (4) contrary to the “Sacra Tridentina”, which for daily communicants, including children, requires only the state of grace and a good intention.
Abuses following from errors.—(a) Depriving the child from the beginning of its rational life of the right of living in Christ through Holy Communion, a right given by baptism; (b) causing the loss of angelic first innocence in many by those years of deprivation of Christ and of graces, years for many the seedtime for snares and vices, all of which might have been avoided; (c) causing, by the custom of some places, children to live in the state of sin by not allowing them to go to confession until the age determined for first Communion, or of denying them absolution when they confessed (“absolutely condemned” and “to be done away with by ordinaries as the law permits”); (d) denying the Viaticum to dying children who had not received their first Communion, and burying these as infants, thereby depriving them of the suffrages of the Church, to which they were entitled (“utterly detestable”, “ordinaries to proceed severely against these”).
Conditions for first Confession and first Communion.—(a) The age of discretion, which applies equally to both sacraments. This may be judged (I) by the first indication of the child using its reasoning powers; (2) by the child knowing what is right from wrong. No determined age is placed as a condition; the age of seven is mentioned because the majority of children arrive at the years of discretion, that is, begin to reason, about this period, some sooner, some later. (b) A knowledge such as a child just beginning to reason can have about one God, Who rewards the good and punishes the wicked, and about the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. It is not necessary that the child should commit to memory accurate theological definitions, which may convey no idea to the little mind just beginning to unfold. (c) A child must be able to distinguish the Eucharistic from the common bread; that is, to know that what looks like bread is not bread, but contains the real, living Body and Blood of Christ. (d) Children should be taught to receive Holy Communion devoutly. (e) Children should be instructed on the necessity of being in the state of grace and of having a good intention, also (f) of fasting from midnight before Communion.
Obligation of admitting children to first Communion.—When children begin to reason, the obligation of receiving Holy Communion is Divine as well as ecclesiastical. The subject-matter of the decree (a) is therefore a grave one obliging under serious sin, (I) children themselves if they know of and maliciously neglect their obligation; (2) those responsible for the children: father, mother, instructors, rectors of colleges, principals of schools, superiors of communities and children’s asylums, all who have parental responsibility, confessors, and pastors. (b) A grave obligation devolving on all above mentioned is to encourage children after first Communion to approach the altar frequently, even daily, if possible. Those (c) responsible for children should regard as “their most important duty” that the incomplete instruction given before first Communion be continued afterwards by sending the children to the public catechetical instructions, or by supplying their religious instruction in some other way. The formal admission of the child to first Communion rests with the father, or the one taking his place, and with the confessor. The decree supposes these to act together, and when they agree on the admission no one may interfere. Where the parents are negligent or indifferent or opposed to their children’s first Communion, the confessor can assume the entire responsibility. Should the confessors oppose the admission of children whose parents know they have begun to reason, the prudent course in practice is to present the children to another confessor, for every confessor has a right to admit a child to private first Communion.
General Communion.—A public ceremony devolving not on the confessor but on the parish priest, who is required to have yearly one or several of these general Communions, which may be simple or solemn. The simple (a) will admit the (I) little children making their first Communion, also (2) those who have previously approached the Holy Table. The decree requires some days of instruction and preparation for both classes of children when they receive in a body. This can be given as conditions and circumstances permit, attention being paid to the spirit and substance of this provision. Every pastor can arrange a solemn ceremony in which those would participate who had completed a course in Christian Doctrine. Every year during the time the faithful can satisfy their Easter duty, the “Quam singulari” must be read to the people in the vernacular. Every five years in their ad limina, ordinaries will be obliged to report the observance of the decree to the Holy See.
JOHN T. MCNICHOLAS