Quam Singulari: Eight Rules

Let’s wrap up QS with its eight prescriptions for the Church:

After careful deliberation on all these points, this Sacred Congregation of the Discipline of the Sacraments, in a general meeting held on July 15, 1910, in order to remove the above-mentioned abuses and to bring about that children even from their tender years may be united to Jesus Christ, may live His life, and obtain protection from all danger of corruption, has deemed it needful to prescribe the following rules which are to be observed everywhere for the First Communion of children.

1. The age of discretion, both for Confession and for Holy Communion, is the time when a child begins to reason, that is about the seventh year, more or less. From that time on begins the obligation of fulfilling the precept of both Confession and Communion.

Note that the seventh year of a child is age six. “More or less” places the age of First Communion at five to seven, approximately the K-2 range. The current US practice of second grade seems to lean on the “more” side of the seventh year, sometimes by as much as twenty-four months. What to make of that? I’d say Catholics are still squeamish about going “too” early.

2. A full and perfect knowledge of Christian doctrine is not necessary either for First Confession or for First Communion. Afterwards, however, the child will be obliged to learn gradually the entire Catechism according to his ability.

3. The knowledge of religion which is required in a child in order to be properly prepared to receive First Communion is such that he will understand according to his capacity those Mysteries of faith which are necessary as a means of salvation (necessitate medii) and that he can distinguish between the Bread of the Eucharist and ordinary, material bread, and thus he may receive Holy Communion with a devotion becoming his years.

This basic understanding would definitely place First Communion at an age earlier than the eighth or ninth year.

4. The obligation of the precept of Confession and Communion which binds the child particularly affects those who have him in charge, namely, parents, confessor, teachers and the pastor. It belongs to the father, or the person taking his place, and to the confessor, according to the Roman Catechism, to admit a child to his First Communion.

5. The pastor should announce and hold a General Communion of the children once a year or more often, and he should on these occasions admit not only the First Communicants but also others who have already approached the Holy Table with the above-mentioned consent of their parents or confessor. Some days of instruction and preparation should be previously given to both classes of children.

The option for a First Communion more than once a year is interesting. Most parishes might split between children enrolled in a school or another faith formation program. Some places hold two or more to accommodate numbers in the church building. But most often it takes place during the Spring.

On some other points, daily Communion is encouraged:

6. Those who have charge of the children should zealously see to it that after their First Communion these children frequently approach the Holy Table, even daily if possible, as Jesus Christ and Mother Church desire, and let this be done with a devotion becoming their age. They must also bear in mind that very grave duty which obliged them to have the children attend the public Catechism classes; if this is not done, then they must supply religious instruction in some other way.

Tighten up the practice of Reconciliation:

7. The custom of not admitting children to Confession or of not giving them absolution when they have already attained the use of reason must be entirely abandoned. The Ordinary shall see to it that this condition ceases absolutely, and he may, if necessary, use legal measures accordingly.

Pope Pius X and his curia seem very bothered by the denial of Viaticum and Anointing to children:

8. The practice of not administering the Viaticum and Extreme Unction to children who have attained the use of reason, and of burying them with the rite used for infants is a most intolerable abuse. The Ordinary should take very severe measures against those who do not give up the practice.

His Holiness, Pope Pius X, in an audience granted on the seventh day of this month, approved all the above decisions of this Sacred Congregation, and ordered this Decree to be published and promulgated.

He furthermore commanded that all the Ordinaries make this Decree known not only to the pastors and the clergy, but also to the people, and he wishes that it be read in the vernacular every year at the Easter time. The Ordinaries shall give an account of the observance of this Decree together with other diocesan matters every five years.

Anyone remember this decree being read? Or your parents or grandparents?

I might fuss about the residual taint of jansenism with the American age of First Communion drifting up to the ninth year, but this was likely the most realistic reform that could have been accomplished at the time. Reworking Confirmation, or moving all the initiation sacraments to infancy is still a struggle today. I imagine it would have been faithfully resisted a hundred years ago. I do think that Sacra Tridentina and Quam Singulari were positive developments that rid the Catholic experience of long-standing but problematic practices. It’s too bad that the Roman focus has drifted to matters more political than sacramental or mystical. I can’t imagine we are living in an age with any sort of openness to exploring the nature of sacramental grace in very young Christians. Likely we need at least another century or two to sort it all out.

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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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