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Paragraph 1457 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, without qualification,

Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.

On the other hand, in some Eastern rite churches, infants receive the Eucharist. Paragraph 1233 of the Catechism says,

In the Eastern rites the Christian initiation of infants also begins with Baptism followed immediately by Confirmation and the Eucharist, while in the Roman rite it is followed by years of catechesis before being completed later by Confirmation and the Eucharist, the summit of their Christian initiation.

Since infants have not committed any personal sins, it doesn't seem like it would make sense to require them to receive the sacrament of Penance. Should Paragraph 1457 have an exception for infants?

  • Are you aware that Eastern Rite and Roman Catholic are in communion with each other but share a variety of different customs? (Such as some priests being permitted to marry). The question appears to have "apples to oranges" comparisons in it. From your reading did you consider that 1233 is included to show the exception/difference? – KorvinStarmast Jan 21 '17 at 21:19
  • @KorvinStarmast Yes, I'm aware. Still, I'm concerned, because Paragraph 1457 doesn't say that children in the Latin rite must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time. – William Hoza Jan 21 '17 at 22:25
  • William, the Catechism is a teaching tool. The core rules you seek may be found in canon law. – KorvinStarmast Jan 22 '17 at 0:51
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What you quote from the CCC makes reference to 1988 Canon 914, which does make the qualification that only children who have reached the age of reason are bound to make a sacramental confession before First Communion (my emphases):

Can. 914 It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible. It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.

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    The problem I see with this is that although it is the reference used in the Catechism, the Code is the code of canon law for the Latin church. It would be helpful to know what the Code for the Eastern Churches says. – Matt Gutting Jan 21 '17 at 21:11
  • @MattGutting The question is a little bit "apples and oranges." – KorvinStarmast Jan 21 '17 at 21:19
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You state that paragraph 1457 states this without qualification. I don't think this is precisely true. The paragraph states in full:

According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year." [quoting canon 914] Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession. Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time.

Clearly, the point of going to Confession before First Holy Communion is to ensure that the communicant is cleansed of sin at reception of the Eucharist. And as you point out, infants (and in the Latin Church, children under age 7) are incapable of committing sin. The statement in paragraph 1457 therefore can only apply when one's First Communion takes place after the beginning of the age of reason. And in fact, we see this in the CCEO (the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium, or Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches). The CCEO discusses requirements surrounding the Divine Eucharist in its Title XVI, Chapter 3 (canons 698–717). Only canon 710 discusses this situation:

Circa infantium in Divina Eucharistia participationem post baptismum et chrismationem sancti myri serventur opportunis adhibitis cautelis praescripta librorum liturgicorum propriae Ecclesiae sui iuris.

Concerning the participation of infants in the Divine Eucharist after baptism and chrismation with holy myron, the prescripts of the liturgical books of the relevant Church sui iuris are to be observed with the due and appropriate cautions.

(my translation)

There is nothing here about a minimum age (as there is in the Latin Rite Code of Canon Laws, canon 914), nor about the need to make a confession first.

Why then would the Catechism not make a specific statement that this applies only to the Latin Rite Church? A few reasons I can think of:

  • Most Catholics (about 98.6%) are Latin Rite Catholics; offering Eucharist to infants post-baptism and chrismation is decidedly a minority practice.
  • The practice is purely a ritual one, like the other differences between the Eastern and Latin rites; since the Catechism is a teaching document, talking about doctrine and theology, the distinction of practices isn't relevant.
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a general catechism. By that, as it says itself, it is intended "primarily for those responsible for catechesis: first of all the bishops, as teachers of the faith and pastors of the Church." (paragraph 12) The bishops (eparchs in the Eastern Churches), of course, will understand and be able to explain why Confession cannot be required in the case of infants; and the particular catechisms meant for specific groups of the laity will no doubt reflect this teaching.

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