The Sacrament of Reconciliation was instituted by the Risen Christ when he appeared to his disciples after showing them his wounds he said, “Peace be with you.” They were so happy to see Him; that He had Risen. Jesus again said, “Peace be with you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, the sins you shall retain are retained. (John 20:21-23) Jesus had been sent by the Father, and was now sending the apostles. The apostles passed this authority onto the bishops, who in turn passed the authority to the priests. So all through the centuries, right up to now, the priest forgives sins through the power of God, when we go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Through our Christian baptism, St. Paul tells us: “You have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11) This new life in Christ has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature nor the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. It remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ this struggle of conversion is directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us. This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a contrite heart, drawn and moved by grace to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first. The apostle John tells us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jn. 1:9) Yet, he continues in verse nine, “If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us: “Those who approach the sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation) obtain pardon from God’s mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labor for their conversion.” (CCC #1422) In order that this sacrament of healing may truly achieve its purpose among the faithful, it must take root in their entire life and move them to more fervent service of God and neighbor. Anyone who is conscious of being in serious sin is not to receive Eucharist without prior sacramental reconciliation. Serious sins are to be confessed in individual, sacramental confession once a year, the faithful are also encouraged to confess less serious sins. “The regular confession of our venial sins helps us form our conscience, fight against evil tendencies, let ourselves be healed by Christ and progress in the life of the Spirit. By receiving more frequently through this sacrament the gift of the Father’s mercy, we are spurred to be merciful as he is merciful.” (CCC #1458)
Young children understand right and wrong at an early age but they may not understand what sin is. They MUST be able to understand that their action or inaction, in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, not only hurts other people but it also damages their relationship with God. In addition, they need to take responsibility for their actions and have sorrow for them. Only with true sorrow for our sins can we experience the immense joy of God’s mercy and love in his forgiveness. We must be very careful with the moral and spiritual development of our children. They are like a young plant, growing strong roots and reaching up through the soil to God; we don’t want to crush them.
The aim of reconciliation for children is not only the state of sin in which they may be (i.e. serious-mortal) because a child of 7 is not often capable of committing a grave sin because of insufficient understanding of intentionality, but the formative and pastoral aims which seek to:
— educate children from a tender age, to the true Christian spirit of penance and conversion;
— provide for growth in self-knowledge and self-control;
— express sorrow and ask for pardon of God and others;
— lead children to a loving and confident abandonment to God’s mercy and love.
Such a task belongs to parents, catechists and priests. They are to instill in children more than a sense of sin, but the joy of encountering God’s forgiveness, as it is signified in, the form of absolution in the Rite of Penance (Congregation for the Sacraments, 1986). This catechesis begun in early years is to be continued and developed throughout the child’s life. In this way children continue the development of a deeper awareness of the sacrament of God’s loving mercy. Here at Good Shepherd Parish their formation continues in the atrium through sixth grade, the EDGE for 7th and 8th graders and Life Teen for all high schoolers. Adults are invited to continue their own formation through programs offered by the parish for at home-study, prayer groups, and the various parish missions and retreats given throughout the year.
Some adults may be confused about the order of First Eucharist and First Reconciliation because in the late ’60’s and early ’70’s the Catholic Church in the US and elsewhere was permitted to experiment with the order of these two sacraments. The Sacred Congregation for the Clergy in April, 1971, confirmed after consultation with episcopal conferences, the Holy See Pope Paul VI believes that it is proper to continue the Church’s custom of placing First Confession before First Communion. Also the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) in 1978 and the 1983 Code of Canon Law reiterate the original directive given in 1910 by Pope Pius X in the papal encyclical Quam singulari.
Preparation for First Reconciliation
First Reconciliation is offered to children who have reached the age of reason. Generally this is around age seven, or second grade. The Church extends to them an invitation to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Initiated into the Christian community at baptism, the children are now called to prepare for the sacrament of God’s loving mercy. After the sacrament has been explained to them, the catechist will invite the children to pray and think about their desire to prepare for this new gift of God’s mercy. After they express a desire for the sacrament, the parent(s), along with the catechist, will discern their readiness. “Catechesis of Children for Reconciliation seeks first to make clear the relationship of the sacrament to the child’s life; second to help the child recognize moral good and evil, repent of wrongdoing, and turn for forgiveness to Christ and the Church; third to encourage the child to see that, in this sacrament, faith is being expressed by being forgiven and forgiving; and fourth to encourage the child to approach the sacrament freely and regularly.” (NDC # 126)
Catechetical preparation is to provide children with:
— a basic understanding of their dynamic relationship with God in faith;
— a basic understanding of the meaning of sin within the context of an ongoing relationship with God, others and self;
— an initial understanding of how their conscience is formed;
— the meaning of the Rite of Reconciliation;
— an appreciation of the love, peace and mercy extended through the sacrament of healing
Sacramental preparation is in addition to regular catechetical (atrium) sessions. Father Nagle requires that the child has had one full year of atrium prior to the year in which the sacraments are celebrated; i.e. 2 years of formal preparation. The NCD # 126 also states: “Parents have a right and a responsibility to be intimately involved in preparing their children for First Reconciliation.” Our parish provides four meditations that one parent will need to attend with their child. The beauty of this is that you and your child together hear the same language spoken in this preparation time. These meditations will be held during Lent at the Parish Center beginning at 6:30pm and lasting for approximately one hour each.
The personal witness of parents and catechists to the forgiving love of Jesus is of primary importance in the catechesis of children. Children learn much more through example than they do from abstract explanations. Witnessing family participation in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and awareness of forgiveness in the Eucharist are critical parts of the preparation process. Parents are to teach their children at an early age what the meaning of forgiveness is and offer forgiveness to them throughout their lives.
Families are expected to help their child learn prayers, practice forgiveness in the home, participate in Sunday Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and parents are asked to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before their child does, usually held on the first Friday of May.
Determining Sacramental Readiness
When you brought your child to Church to have them baptized, you promised God to help them walk as a “Child of the Light” keeping their candle burning brightly. Their baptismal candle was lit from the Paschal candle and you were asked to carry it for them. Additionally you were commissioned to help them keep their white garment, the outward sign of their newly cleansed soul, now freed from death and born to eternal life, free from stain. You have walked with them on their spiritual journey and as the primary educators of the faith you are the ones who will know best if they are ready to celebrate the sacrament of First Reconciliation. The catechists are your helpers.
Jesus summed up the law of God when asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He questioned the scholar what is the law to which he replied: “You shall love the Lord, your God, will all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28) God’s superior law is a law of love. This helps the child to recognize that sin is any time we don’t love the way Jesus told us or showed us. If we love God first with all that we are, he will help us to love everyone else.
Questions to begin asking and observations of my child:
My child’s relationship with God
- Does my child pray?
- How does my child pray?
- When does my child pray?
- Does he or she speak about a God who loves them?
- Does my child speak freely of his/her love for God?
- Does he or she recognize the gifts that God has given to him/her?
- Does my child speak of Jesus’ true presence in the Holy Eucharist?
- Does he/she express a desire to receive Holy Communion?
- Does he/she participate in the Holy Mass?
- Is he/she reverent before the Blessed Sacrament in Church?
- Does my child recognize the need for God in his/her life?
My child’s relationship with his or her neighbor
- Can my child distinguish actions which are right or wrong, and which ones are accidents?
- Can he/she express the difference between right and wrong in his or her own words?
- Does he/she show true sorrow for their failure to love as the Good Shepherd asks?
- Does my child understand the interrelationship among love of God, neighbor and self?
- Do they assume personal responsibility for their acts of omission?
- Do they know that sin hurts their relationship with God?
- Do they understand that the sacrament of reconciliation is a special sign of God’s forgiveness?
- Does my child understand he or she must desire to change unloving behavior, recognizing the need to ask God for help in all things?
- Does my child behave respectfully of others during Holy Mass?
- Do they participate in the Holy Mass with the entire community?