“Let the little children come to Me,
and do not forbid them;
for of such is the kingdom of God”
Children are the heart of God’s heart, “in heaven their angels always see the face of the Father who is in heaven” (Mt 18:10).
The “face of the Father” is destroyed in them by sin; for this reason, Jesus addresses dreadful words to those who cause children to sin: “it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Lk 17:2).
Jesus urges Peter to feed His lambs, even before feeding His sheep (“Feed my lambs” Jn 21:15); in other words, His children. The chief Shepherd addresses this invitation to the whole Church: bishops, priests, parents and educators whose duty it is to guide God’s flock. This legislates Can. 914 of the Code of Canon Law.
Children and the Eucharist
The most important food children need for their nourishment is the Eucharist, which is essential to enable the life of Grace, given at Baptism, to grow and become stronger: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn 6:53, 56).
The early Church understood the meaning of this mandate and gave the Eucharist to children after Baptism, as the Orthodox Church still does. For various reasons, among which the influence of heresies, the age of Eucharistic Communion was established between 12 and 14, until 10 August 1910, when St. Pius X signed the Decree entitled “Quam Singulari” which ordained that children receive First Communion at the first use of reason.
In 1910 Cardinal Gennari, a member of the Sacred Congregation for the Discipline of the Sacraments, wrote in his “Brief Commentary” on St. Pius X’s Decree: “Today the use of reason in children begins very early and everyone knows it: three, four, at most five-year-old children are already able to judge and can easily distinguish ordinary bread from the Eucharistic Bread”.
What were the motivations for this Decree?
We can find the answer in St. Pius X’s “Positio super Introductione causae” from which we will extract a few statements from witnesses who enlighten us to understand the Holy Father’s thoughts during the various stages of his priestly journey:
1 – as a Priest:
“He told me he had always desired that children receive First Communion at an early age. And he added: - Before the devil enters, may Our Lord enter…” (Maria Sarto, sister of the Servant of God, witness no. 1).
2 – as a Bishop:
“The Bishop of Mantova used to say: - When the Lord takes possession of those tender hearts, the devil no longer has power over them” (Sister Modesta dell’Immacolata, witness no. 127).
3 – as Cardinal Patriarch
“With regard to the First Communion of children, when he was already a Patriarch, he urged Pastors (though he didn’t give any official instructions) to examine the children and, if they were responsible enough, admit them to the Sacrament, without worrying too much about age” (Agostino Vian, witness).
“I remember that the Servant of God used to answer me: - It is better that children receive Jesus when they still have pure hearts” (D. Alberto Silli, witness no. 12).
4 – as Pope
“When he was elected Pope he wanted to allow children to receive First Communion earlier so that, as he often said, Jesus could enter their young hearts before Satan did, and one day he said to D. Alberto Silli frankly: “It is better that children receive Jesus when they still have pure hearts”. For this reason, on 10 August 1910 he issued the Decree “Quam Singulari” by which, after overcoming all the obstacles of ancient customs and restoring this sound ancient practice, he ordained that children receive First Communion at the age of seven” (D. Alberto Silli, witness no. 12).
“The Servant of God told me very often about the need to allow children to receive First Communion very early, so that the Lord could take possession of their souls before sin could enter”. (Card. Raffaele Merry del Val, witness).
Two obvious observations emerge from the above:
- the aim of First Communion at an early age, which was the heart of his pastoral charge as a priest, bishop and Pope, was to “let Jesus enter children’s hearts before Satan could enter”. We must note that as a priest, St. Pius X gave children their First Communion at the age of 8-9; as a Pope he decreed that children officially receive First Communion at the age of seven, but in many cases he gave Jesus to four-year-old children, as the Decree took into account the words “even below”.
- St. Pius X was convinced that the renewal of the Christian spirit of the new generation was the main result of First Communion given at an early age.
First Communion today
Today, almost one hundred years after the Decree “Quam Singulari” was issued, the mass media, especially television, the advanced techniques of teaching and videogames have accelerated the development of children’s use of reason; at the same time they are bombarded, as never before, with corrupted messages of spiritual death: in fact, in the whole world, juvenile delinquency is spreading among children whose average age is 10.
Only the Church can prevent and stem this frightening attack on the innocence of children by allowing the Eucharistic Jesus to enter them at the first use of reason, with the divine power of his Grace.
“We must definitely shun the opinion of those who wish
To postpone a child’s First Holy Communion
until he is older, when the devil
has already taken possession of his young heart,
with incalculable damage for his innocence.
As soon as the child can distinguish between bread and Bread,
regardless of his age;
May the heavenly King come
to reign in this blessed heart.”
(St. John Bosco)