Quam Singulari 4-6: Lateran IV to Trent to 1910

Let’s review the Church’s view of the history of Communion in the High Middle Ages. Clearly, a degree of rationalism predated the Enlightenment, as reason and knowledge were judged to be proper prerequisites for the reception of Communion. In the West, thirteenth-century Christianity had a bigger challenge: convincing the laity they could and should receive the Eucharist at all:

This practice later died out in the Latin Church, and children were not permitted to approach the Holy Table until they had come to the use of reason and had some knowledge of this august Sacrament. This new practice, already accepted by certain local councils, was solemnly confirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran, in 1215, which promulgated its celebrated Canon XXI, whereby sacramental Confession and Holy Communion were made obligatory on the faithful after they had attained the use of reason, in these words: “All the faithful of both sexes shall, after reaching the years of discretion, make private confession of all their sins to their own priest at least once a year, and shall, according to their capacity, perform the enjoined penance; they shall also devoutly receive the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist at least at Easter time unless on the advice of their own priest, for some reasonable cause, it be deemed well to abstain for a while.”

It was reiterated in the 16th century:

The Council of Trent, in no way condemning the ancient practice of administering the Eucharist to children before they had attained the use of reason, confirmed the Decree of the Lateran Council and declared anathema those who held otherwise: “If anyone denies that each and all Christians of both sexes are bound, when they have attained the years of discretion, to receive Communion every year at least at Easter, in accordance with the precept of Holy Mother Church, let him be anathema.”

Which brings us to the situation as discerned in 1910:

In accord with this Decree of the Lateran Council, still in effect, the faithful are obliged, as soon as they arrive at the years of discretion, to receive the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist at least once a year.

And this remains to the present day, one of the definitions of a “practicing Catholic,” namely that this one-a-year minimalism be observed. It might be, at root, the main cause for the modern phenomenon of “C&E Catholics,” those who worship in larger numbers on the two main Christian festivals.

I don’t know that the Church will ever see a spiritual renaissance outside the motivation of catastrophe. But it would be great to be able to urge participation from a sense of positive motivation, rather than legislation.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Quam Singulari 4-6: Lateran IV to Trent to 1910

  1. Liam says:

    What I wish for is good documentary evidence about the decline of participation between Late Antiquity and Lateran IV (and a geographical comparison within the Western Church and also to the Eastern and Oriental Churches). What I’ve read seems more speculative than solidly factual.

  2. David D. says:

    “And this remains to the present day, one of the definitions of a ‘practicing Catholic,’ namely that this one-a-year minimalism be observed. It might be, at root, the main cause for the modern phenomenon of ‘C&E Catholics,’ those who worship in larger numbers on the two main Christian festivals.”

    If true, it would seem that today’s half-assed Catholics have swapped out annual confession for an extra communion.

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