The Sacraments of Initiation

While there are seven sacraments in the Church, the three that are the “Sacraments of Initiation – Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist – lay the foundations of every Christian life,” (CCC 1212, emphasis original*) and usually at this time of the year we begin to get a lot of inquiries from parents asking about their child receiving two of these foundational sacraments: Confirmation and Eucharist.  For the past 110 years or so, these sacraments have been tied to a particular age or grade and preparation (whether through the Catholic school or a religious education program) has tended to take place around the school year calendar, thus the fall phone calls asking about preparation.

Before 1910 there was a wide range of ages when a child would receive their First Communion, but since about the 14th century the normative age had gradually gone from infancy (yes, infants often received First Communion along with their Baptism even in the western church until the 1300’s) to the early teen years, again with lots of variations along the way.  By the early 20th century it was commonplace for a child to not be admitted to the Lord’s Table until they were 12-14 years old.  Pope St. Pius X changed all that.  In August 1910 he promulgated a document called “Quam Singulari” in which he condemns the practice of delaying the reception of the Eucharist and established that children as young as the “age of reason” should be admitted to the Table.  The “age of reason” is considered by both the Vatican and the USCCB^ to be approximately seven years old, but this may vary by child and is not a definitive age for everyone.  Interestingly enough, the Vatican also states that the appropriate age to celebrate Confirmation, unless otherwise determined by the local bishops, is at that same age of reason.  The USCCB has declared that, for the United States, Confirmation should be anywhere between the age of reason and sixteen years old.  Whew!  Okay, now that we’ve got some basic history out of the way, you might be asking why we went there in the first place.

As I mentioned, we typically get a lot of inquiries in the fall from parents about preparing their child for First Communion and/or Confirmation, many of them mildly frantic that they’ve “missed” it or anxious that they might be too old or not old enough.  Rest assured that beyond being of the age of reason (which might be different for your child, but usually is around seven), there is no wrong age to prepare for and receive sacraments*^.  What is more important than a child’s age is their desire and disposition.  What?  How can I tell that?  Do you remember when your child was getting to be ready to start eating solid food?  They watched intensely as you ate; they may have tried to grab for your fork in a deliberate way; they made excited noises and reacted physically to the sights and smells of your dinner.  This is not that different; simply make some basic observations and talk to them about the sacraments: Do they mention wanting the sacrament(s)?  Does he/she ask me questions about my sacramental experiences?  What is their reaction and attitude during the Eucharist at Mass (do they seem longing or bored)?  Does my child ask to go to Sunday Mass or fight me when I tell them it’s time to go?  These are just some basics and, while they might seem to focus on the Eucharist, they can also be some key indicators for readiness for Confirmation.

We want everyone to come to the Lord’s Table and to receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit, but we want it when you’re/your child is ready.  That doesn’t mean you have to be a theologian or understand every aspect of Catholicism or have read the Bible/Catechism cover-to-cover before coming to prepare and receive, but it does mean that you (or your child) should DESIRE the Lord, DESIRE more of Him, DESIRE to be more known by Him.  The purity and simplicity of a child’s heart are the perfect place for that desire to grow and we’d love to help you, the parents/grandparents/Godparents, to nurture your child’s heart to receive their foundational sacraments soon.  We’ll be having a meeting for parents on September 17 at 1:15pm in the parish center to learn more about how to tell if a child is ready and then how to begin preparation for these sacraments.  If you can’t make it to this meeting but are interested in learning more, please contact me (
or Kathy Blanchard (  We’d love to talk to you!

*Catechism of the Catholic Church
^United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
*^with one small caveat that children over a certain age that have not yet received First Communion who then want to prepare for that sacrament, will also prepare for and receive Confirmation – for more info on this situation, please contact us