The Rector writes…
During the coming week this year’s cohort of children preparing for First Holy Communion (a larger number than in recent years, standing at nearly seventy) will be making their First Confessions. Please pray for them as they take this further step in their Christian lives. Until the beginning of the last century, the usual practice had been for young people to receive first Holy Communion in their mid-teens. But it was the saintly Pope Pius X (whose close collaborator was Spanish Place’s own Rafael Merry del Val) who decided that once a Baptised child had reached the age of reason, at around the age of seven, it was their right to share fully in the Eucharist. The one proviso was that a child should be able to differentiate between ordinary food and the Sacrament of the Altar. Educational psychologists talk of a naturally religious phase in young people around seven and again around thirteen (which would support the argument for Confirmation at an earlier age than is now permitted) and the younger group certainly have reached a stage where they can begin to identify right from wrong, and exercise some genuine autonomy in their own decisions. Which is where the Sacrament of Confession comes into the frame. Just as children have the right to participate in the Eucharist so they have the right to be reconciled sacramentally with God and their peers.
The hearing of children’s confessions can be a really rather joyful experience! Seven year olds are very good at accentuating the positive while recognising areas where things have gone wrong. Unlike us adults, children do not seek to excuse themselves, and they often exhibit a clarity that the complications of age are inclined to blur. There is openness about this age group: sibling rivalry, problems with parents and teachers, broken friendships … it’s all there, but combined with a genuine desire to live like Jesus. When the first disciples are told: “unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4) it is easy for a confessor to understand Jesus’s words. If we are ever to comprehend the Gospel it will be because we are child-like (not childish) in our approach to God. There was nothing immature about the adulthood of Jesus but he knew that his Sonship involved first discerning and then fulfilling the will of his Father – the kind of confident dependence that comes from a heart filled with love as exemplified by the wide-eyed trust of the small child.
There is a rather beautiful passage in the Catechism describing the role of the priest: “when he celebrates the sacrament of Penance, the priest is fulfilling the ministry of the Good Shepherd who seeks the lost sheep, of the Good Samaritan who binds up wounds, of the father who awaits the prodigal son and welcomes him home on his return, and of the impartial judge whose judgement is both just and merciful. The priest is the sign and the instrument of God’s merciful love for the sinner” (1465). All this is by way of a reminder that the season of Lent is almost upon us, and that there is no better way of preparing for these 40 days and 40 nights than by our own use of the Sacrament of Penance. As Catholics we know that the minimum requirement of the Church is that we receive Holy Communion once in the year around Easter (the presumption being that we do also attend Mass each Sunday and Holy Day) and that if we have committed grave sins they should be confessed before we receive the Eucharist. No-one can ever pressurise us into the confessional: to seek sacramental reconciliation has to come from a sense of personal contrition and be accompanied by a firm purpose of amendment. But the regular use of this Sacrament is the source of tremendous grace as a means of healing and renewed commitment. If you haven’t done so for a while (perhaps since your own First Confession) why not try it? “However awkward confession may be, it is the decisive place where one experiences anew the freshness of the Gospel, where one is reborn. There we also learn to blow away our pangs of conscience, just as a child blows away a falling autumn leaf. There we find the happiness of God” (Brother Roger Schutz of Taize).