Family charges “cruel discrimination” over communion

Details, from the London Daily Mail:

The parents of a seven-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome have accused the Catholic Church of ‘cruel discrimination’ for refusing to allow him to take Holy Communion.

Denum Ellarby attends a mainstream Roman Catholic primary school and his parents wanted him to join his classmates in the First Communion ceremony.

But they claim their parish priest refused to consider him for the necessary preparation classes and was ‘abrupt’ when Denum’s mother Clare tried to discuss the matter with him.

Mrs Ellarby said she complained to diocese chiefs, but they have backed Father Patrick Mungovin’s stance that the boy would not sufficiently ‘understand the preparation’ or be able to ‘enjoy participation in Mass’.

The church has denied banning Denum and says it hopes he will be ready to participate  in the important religious ceremony in  the future…

…Michael McQuinn, the Leeds diocese Vicar General, said in a letter that Father Mungovin was not ‘unreasonable in sharing the view that Denum should proceed to  First Sacraments when he will be better placed to understand the preparation and to enjoy participation in Mass’.

A diocese spokesman said: ‘Christians come to share fully in the life of the Christian Church through the sacraments of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation.

‘Often Baptism is celebrated for babies in order to bring them into the life of the Church but they only proceed to the sacrament of First Communion when they take part in the Church’s life and understand the Church’s faith in regard to these sacraments.’

Read more.


  1. Eastern Catholic children receive communion from the time they are baptized. (And in the west this was once the case) One does not need a clear understanding of the sacrament to enjoy the grace of the sacrament. After all can anyone really understand what is going on in the sacrament?

  2. I think this is more about the mother than the child to be honest.

    Here’s my take:

  3. Amen. This narrow concept of understanding is unfortunate. This is an absolutely dehumanizing decision on the part of the local church. So unfortunate, so contrary to a true appreciation of *mysterium*. Good for the family. They are in my prayers. And I pray for the conversion of hear of those who made the decision to exclude this boy from receiving the bread of heaven.

  4. Henry Karlson says:

    The Catholic Church is not a Gnostic entity and doesn’t require “reason” for its graces. If you argue that someone is incapable of understanding sin for confession, then they are also not tainted with the guilt which would limit them from communion. This is exactly why the ancient tradition had no problem with infant communion. The West has created an artificial and false presumption about sacraments, confusing them too much and making them into rewards for knowledge instead of vehicles of grace which transcend us.

  5. ” … rewards for knowledge instead of vehicles of grace … ”

    I agree with and applaud the thought. I’m not sure it could have been written any better or more concisely.

  6. Monica Rafie says:

    We only have this article to go with – but I’m guessing that had the parish or diocese had a disability ministry in place, this wouldn’t have played out the way it has. Shrug.

  7. naturgesetz says:

    This is clearly a matter of prudential judgment that can only be made on a case-by-basis.

    I think the points Caroline Farrow emphasizes, which are in the article but not in the excerpt Deacon Greg posted — that the boy can’t read or write, is difficult to understand, and frequently does not attend Sunday Mass because a one hour Mass is too long for him — suggest that the parish priest may have had good reason for deferring Denum’s First Communion.

    Perhaps Canon Law should be changed to allow Communion without understanding, as is done at Oriental baptisms. But we should not be too badly upset when a priest tries to follow the rule in the West when he makes a pastoral decision.

  8. It’s difficult to read between the lines of the news report–and I appreciate Caroline Farrow’s assistance with close reading–but what struck me first was the mother’s stated concern that her son is being deprived of the chance to participate in the First Communion ceremony with his classmates. Though I agree with Henry Karlson that we in the West have made the celebration of the sacraments of initiation into academic milestones rather than gateways into lifelong encounter with the Paschal Mystery, I don’t see this case in the end as a denial of the sacrament. If the mother or the son, in any way he could, demonstrated a longing to enter into that lifelong encounter, I don’t believe we’d be seeing this outcome. Instead, by refusing to let the First Communion ceremony be simply one more right of passage for second graders, one more graduation party to chalk off, the pastor here is actually siding more with Henry. But it’s a story worth teasing apart for all the nuances.

  9. When Jesus welcomed the little children to Him, how many of them understood? And do we understand how the Holy Spirit reaches into the hearts and souls of children and adults, disabled or not? And because the boy does not read or write or make himself understood, and is not able to sit still for an hour, are we sure that he does not understand – maybe on a level different than ours? And what if he can never understand – does that mean he can never receive the Body of Christ? Jesus gave Himself freely- even to people who do not “understand”

  10. Deacon Mike says:

    Barbara P
    Beautifully said! Thank you!

  11. If not being able to read or write is barrier to being allowed to receive Communion, most of the Third World Catholics would be barred from the sacrament.

    Just another case of man’s laws interfering with God’s laws.

    No where in the New Testament’s Last Supper is there a reading/writing comprehension test. Just a simple, ‘Do this in memory of me’ and the Diocese is actively interfering in it.

  12. “But we should not be too badly upset when a priest tries to follow the rule in the West when he makes a pastoral decision.”

    Finally a wise statement amidst all this melodrama and nonsense talk of cruelty and discrimination. None of was there to know all the circumstances but this priest. The Communion was delayed not refused. You don’t shove a host in someone’s mouth for the sake of doing it.
    If anyone doesn’t seem to understand the Eucharist it is the mother. What difference does it make if he receives with his classmates or privately? Why isn’t she getting to Mass herself and praying for her son for God’s sake?

  13. But Henry, according to the article Caroline Farrow linked to, the mother in this story says she doesn’t take the boy to Mass, that he can’t yet sit through Mass and it’s too exhausting for her to take him as well as a younger child. Nobody would blame her; the care of young children is a legitimate reason to miss Mass, but then why not wait a year or two until regular Mass attendance has become part of his life?

    I know an adult whose mind is quite young (about six, we were told). He receives Communion. He’s also at Mass every Sunday in the choir with us. Nobody’s testing him to see how deeply he understands the Eucharist, but at the same time, he’s quite able to assist at Mass and does so with so simple and humble a joy that he’s a constant rebuke to my own distractions and lack of appreciation.

    Maybe when the child in this story is ready to attend Mass it would make more sense for him to make his First Communion?

  14. “Doesn’t require “reason” for its graces”:

    Can. 913 §1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.

  15. On the other hand, there is a whiff of pelagianism in this “prudential judgment.” A baptized believer does not have to pass a test. Or rather, should not.

    In fact, a stronger case could be made that Denum Ellarby should probably have been confirmed already, and definitely anointed.

    The sacraments are not museum vases we’re afraid of breaking. They’re a lot tougher than our sometimes brittle sensibilities. That toughness should be a source of solace to us all, rather than an occasion of panic.

  16. Yes, but we belong to a Church that has a juridical Canon Law and that has its own rules and regulations. If we don’t like this, then you have to change the whole structure of the Church and its Tradition going back to the early centuries.

  17. If this were isolated I wouldn’t worry. However, I have had to argue with a priest and pastoral council to allow children with disabities to attend mass. Suffer the little children indeed, unless it makes me uncomfortable.

  18. I think people are getting hung up on the idea of “understand.”

    I mentioned a disabled adult in my parish. No one worries about his understanding. But he attends Mass and receives communion with simple reverence.

    To me, what “understand” means is “can receive Holy Communion without spitting Him out or otherwise treating Him disrespectfully.” (That doesn’t mean that people who know better don’t quite wickedly choose to desecrate the Eucharist–but I’m saying that a person has demonstrated that he *can* receive reverently.) It is my guess that the priest here is possibly legitimately concerned that a child who doesn’t ordinarily attend Mass and can’t yet demonstrate any sort of grasp of Holy Communion might not be capable of even the simple reverence the adult in my parish is capable of.

    Infants in Eastern Catholicism do receive at least the Blood of Christ–but since they frequently don’t retain the Precious Blood, the priest keeps a pair of scissors handy to cut off the portion of the child’s clothing where the Precious Blood has been spit or drooled out, so that the Precious Blood is never treated irreverently. We lack similar practices in the West, and in any case I think it would be upsetting to a child of this one’s age to have a priest start cutting away his clothing, should he spit out the Eucharist after receiving.

  19. “according to their capacity”

  20. Oregon Catholic says:

    If knowledge and belief aren’t required for the proper reception of Communion then we might as well open up Communion to anyone who wants it.

    Some parents of children with disabilities are unable to accept that their children may not be able to do things other children can. I think it is often a form of denial, reinforced by an attitude of entitlement that pervades much of society.

  21. Henry Karlson says:


    First discipline is not the same thing as necessity; second, the Eastern Catholic Churches have infant communion, thereby showing it is not a necessity for the Catholic Church.

    Now, as one person pointed out, “according to their capacity” can answer this case, but more than that, if we look to the history of the West in this, it has caused considerable sacramental problems. Originally communion was pushed back when infant confirmation was stopped in the West; the fact that the West now gives communion before confirmation is odd, for confirmation traditionally is what gives one the access to the full sacraments of the church. The sacrament of confirmation is completely messed up with this, and in doing so, confusion even with communion has developed. This is all modern and easily solved — follow the ancient traditions.

  22. Henry Karlson says:

    Well, I guess everyone who is forced to stay at home should not receive communion because they are incapable of going to church, right? The argument being used to remove grace for a child is sad — as is the willingness to neglect the least of these.

  23. Henry Karlson says:

    Infant communion is a part of the Catholic Church. That doesn’t open it to everyone. What needs to be done is the return to the proper order of the sacraments of initiation and the understanding of what confirmation is all about.

  24. Henry Karlson says:


    The modern Western discipline is quite out of synch with historical Christianity. The canon law itself is, in part, the problem in relation to the whole history of tradition. It is not the ancient practice. The West needs to restore the proper order of the sacraments of initiation and to remember the grace of the work worked.

  25. Oregon Catholic says:

    Take it up with Rome. Until then, you and others will just have to be obedient to the norms of the RCC. Or, there is always the Orthodox Church if you think their norms are better. I for one am giving serious study on that issue.

  26. Henry Karlson says:

    The problem is that the reason for the delay is one which is likely to go on. Thus, it is a bad reason. If the priest will give it to the child when it has the same conditions a couple years from now, then why not now? It really does read as discrimination.

  27. Henry Karlson says:


  28. Many parishes have experience with children and adults with special challenges regarding the sacraments. So, I truly doubt this child was singled out because of his disabilities. We always have to take what the media portrays with a grain of salt because they don’t always have the complete picture of the situation. I suspect there is more to this than what we are reading here. Yes, the Western Church has separated the sacraments of initiation which were originally given together, just as is still done by our brethren in the Eastern Church. We follow the rubrics of whatever rite we belong to. That said, I would rather have the child wait a little longer to understand Who he is about to receive and how to receive properly. I once had to visually “correct” a mentally differently-abled adult who was carrying the Host back to the pew with him at a funeral. Perhaps he had momentarily forgotten what to do. I looked him in the eye, pointed from my hand to my mouth and he immediately consumed our Lord. This does not mean that most have these lapses. But, some folks need special attention, and perhaps reinforced/refresher instruction, in these matters. Our pastor was absolutely horrified when I told him about this person. And, I sensed, in his response, his dismay that about those folks that don’t truly know what they are doing in some form or another.
    Canon 913–
    Section 1: “The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.”
    Section 2: “The Most Holy Eucharist, however, can be administered to children in danger of death if they ca distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion reverently.”
    Canon 914: “It is primarily the duty of parents and those who take the place of parents, as well as the duty of pastors, to take care that children who have reached the use of reason are prepared properly and, after they have made sacramental confession, are refreshed with this divine food as soon as possible. It is for the pastor to exercise vigilance so that children who have not attained the use of reason or whom he judges are not sufficiently disposed do not approach holy communion.”
    The commentary for this cannon reads, in part: “It is important to note…that the criterion for reception of holy communion is the same for persons with developmental and mental disabilities as for all persons, namely that the person be able to distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food, even if this recognition is evidenced through manner, gesture or reverential silence rather than verbally” [quoting from USCCB guidelines]. It goes on to say, “Since the baptized have a fundamental right to the Eucharist, any doubts about the sufficiency of the use of reason should be resolved in favor of the person.”
    So, based on the above canons and commentary, my guess is that there was no doubt on the pastor’s (and the bishop’s) part that the use of reason at the time was insufficient for the reception of the Eucharist.

  29. Henry Karlson says:

    So you oppose the ancient and traditional practice of infant communion? And no, Eastern priests don’t have “a pair of scissors handy.” This is absurd. Being a Byzantine Catholic experienced with infant communion in the parishes, this is NOT the practice of the East. No one cuts clothing.

  30. What??????????? A priest and pastoral council that didn’t want to allow children with disabilities to attend Mass???? It just baffles the imagination. Don’t they know that Jesus has many disguises? And, what we do to the “least” we do to Him? How can we love God whom we do not see when we can’t love our neighbor who we do see?

    Lord, have mercy on us!

  31. Henry Karlson says:

    Rome approves infant communion in the Catholic Church.

  32. Henry Karlson says:

    On the other hand, the reason being used can be used to forever make sure the child will never receive. Or if the priest will give it later, the question to ask, will there be any change and if not, why wait? It does seem to single out the child and there does seem to be discrimination.

  33. Oregon Catholic says:

    Don’t be obtuse Henry. You know perfectly well we are discussing the Latin rite RCC.

  34. Henry Karlson says:

    No, we are talking about the Catholic Church and what is possible within the Catholic Church. You said if people didn’t like something to leave instead of considering of following other practices the Church allows. It is quite possible for someone to try to change things for the better instead of being told to leave.

    And there is great concern that these norms you are supporting are not being read properly. This has been pointed out already.

  35. Rome should decide this issue. The priest made a decision and was backed up locally. The parents have a right as Catholics to take this to Rome. There is no one on this blog with the overall understanding of those in Rome. Should be a simple solution. Henry, if it is spelled out different in canon law in the Roman Catholic Church, then unless you are a member of the Eastern Catholic Church, you need to go by what Rome teaches.

    When Jesus taught about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, many walked away saying this is too hard. Jesus Catholic Church has the protection of infallibility and getting issues like this determined by those with this infallibility is something that is attracting a growing number of converts from other Christian Churches lacking any means of understanding what is truth.

    At the same time, I think every effort should be made to help these people and do what is right.

  36. excellent post Caroline. Many people have an issue with what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

  37. Henry–
    Yours is not the only rite in the Eastern Church. Perhaps Erin has observed this herself. It may not be practice, but it may be the way a particular pastor has chosen to deal with the issue. Perhaps she saw a scissors for cutting off locks of hair or tonsure! Perhaps what she saw wasn’t explained to her. Labeling is counter productive. Explanation or education produces greater dialogue and understanding and more unity.

  38. How do you know it will go on? I have seen many Downs children receive Communion when they were a little older.
    Playing the discrimation card is baloney.

  39. Henry Karlson says:

    Once again, the question needs to be asked: what will be different tomorrow from today? If there is no difference in capabilities, will the child forever be told no to communion, or will it change down the line? If it changes down the line, once again, what stopped it from happening with everyone else?

  40. I have to say I agree 110% with Barbara’s post.. I think this is just terrible.. I hate to say this but as much as I love the RCC lately, it’s really starting to anger me and pushing me more and more towards learning about the Eastern Right..

  41. Guess you mean Eastern Rite. Right?

  42. What will be different is that perhaps the child will have more of a grasp on things than he does now.

    The questions that need to be asked:
    Why is the non-practicing mother pushing it in the first place? Why is it so important to receive it now and with his classmates?
    If the child is Baptized and likely is incapable of sin, he is in a perfect state of grace. Does he need to receive at all?
    This is all about the parents not about the child. Just another excuse to make a priest look like a meanie.

  43. Caroline Farrow:
    I do hope that the quote you cited was taken out of context:
    “we don’t admit children who are incapable of receiving the Eucharist with faith and devotion simply for the sake of avoiding making parents feel bad.“

    If not, it will be part of my list of pastorally insensitive comments by a cleric.

  44. Actually, I was referring to the practice in Eastern Orthodoxy. I have heard from Orthodox moms about this practice, and about their infants’ Sunday clothes having all sorts of small holes in them.

    In some Eastern traditions (Catholic and Orthodox, as far as I know) the infant is given communion when he/she is baptized and confirmed, but then does not resume the practice of regular reception until he/she can receive respectfully–perhaps ages 3 to 5, if I have this correctly. An occasional communion before then might take place, and I believe–again, I’m not positive–that this is more custom than law, so it may vary quite a bit.

    One HUGE difference is the way that Holy Communion is received in Orthodoxy and most Eastern Rite Catholic Churches (I think the Maronites are an exception, and possibly others). Communion is by intinction and the priest places a spoon containing the Body and Blood directly into the mouth of the recipient. It seems to me that this is significantly easier for an infant or small child than having a Host placed in the mouth or into the hand.

    So, Henry, if we’re going to insist that the Eastern Rites are doing things the best way, we’d better demand the right to receive by intinction via a spoon instead of all this “Communion in the hand” stuff.

  45. I just reread your post, Henry, and see that you are a Byzantine Rite Catholic, so I apologize for the “communion in the hand” thing. That said, and respectfully, don’t you think that your own rite’s great differences on the question of the reception of the Eucharist are coloring your view of this situation? If the family in question wishes to change rites, I believe that is a possibility. But if they are instead demanding that the Roman Rite be altered to suit their situation I think it’s a bit out of line.

  46. People do not TAKE communion, they receive it.

  47. Henry, I want to add something here.

    You, speaking as a Byzantine Rite Catholic, appear to be angry that the Roman Rite has developed differently as regards the reception of Holy Communion and the guidelines for that reception.

    Others, myself included, are defending the development of the Roman Rite as regards these things, and the Church’s right to define those guidelines via canon law as Notgiven’s post describes.

    Whether infants and those who can’t tell the difference between the Eucharist and ordinary food should receive Holy Communion seems to be answered this way: in the East, yes, because that has been their custom; in the West, no, because it is our law.

    So the question simply becomes: can this child, who is Roman Rite and thus subject to the appropriate canons as shared above, tell the difference between the Eucharist and ordinary food? If the answer is presently a clear “No,” then the priests at this parish are doing the right thing. If the answer is ambiguous, they ought, by the canons Notgiven shares above (always assuming other canons don’t shed different light on the matter, of course) to give the child the benefit of the doubt. Only if the child clearly demonstrates his awareness, however simple, that the Eucharist is Jesus would the priests be in the wrong.

    But the parents in this case don’t seem to be willing to try to understand Church law or their pastor’s ruling–they’re not even willing, apparently, to take the child to Mass, unless it’s the First Communion Mass scheduled for his classmates. They are, however, willing to take their story of grievance directly to the media which loves the template of “Meany-meany Catholic priests pause in their abuse of children to deny a child the altar bread!” (which is all they see Communion as, anyway).

  48. Deacon Steve says:

    The biggest issue in the complete article is that this child cannot sit through mass. Recieveing the Eucharist is normally to be done in the context of the full mass, being there from the Entrance procession through the recessional. If he cannot sit through mass, cannot communicate that mass and the Eucharist mean something and he cannot participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation then delay of the reception of First Communion is appropriate. What needs to then be done is for the parents, DRE and Pastor to sit down and come up with a plan that will allow adequate instruction of the child to prepare for and demonstrate an understanding of the sacrament at a level appropriate for him. We are doing individualized instruction at my parish for special needs children and adults to balance their needs with reverence and respect for the Sacraments.

  49. There’s probably a lot more to this story than is printed in the new and online. But some things have me thinking more deeply:

    The article states that four generations of the mother’s family have worshipped at St Mary of the Angels Church in Batley. Denum was baptized there also attends to the school, St Mary’s Primary, where the mother attended.

    On the other hand, I did a little digging. The pastor has been in the Church for about a year and a half, having been assigned there on July 7, 2010.

    According to another news source, the Dewsbury Reporter: “The Reporter Series understands that at the age of about seven, pupils from St Mary’s School are invited to take First Communion classes at St Mary’s Church. But Mrs. Ellarby said she never received an invite and by the time her family heard about the classes they had missed the first meeting.”

    I hope that the rest of the story is not an example of a new and a bit of an over-bearing pastor and a “perceived as pushy” mother of a child with very “special needs.”

  50. Individual catechism class would be unusual, but not unheard of. An awful lot of adults have been admitted into the Catholic Church that way, generally by the pastor deciding they need individual instruction. (For example, our very own Father Z!)

    What might be wise is for parishes, or deaneries even, to look around for members who are good Catholics who are also experienced with kids who have unusual needs. That way, parishes can have a solution ready for kids in the hospital for a long time, kids with developmental problems, kids with physical or mental disabilities, or even just kids from unusual backgrounds who need more thorough religious instruction. There are a lot of retired special education majors out there, not to mention parents whose special needs kids have left the nest. Someone like this could help out by providing either one-on-one instruction or supplemental tutoring. Often such people are good at thinking of practical solutions for the logistical problems, also.

  51. And while I’m thinking about it, if people’s kids are a little too much for them, it’s a pity we don’t have some kind of “pew buddy” for people who don’t have friends or relations in the parish to help them out with the kids. Maybe you could have some kind of signup for people, since we can’t have nurseries anymore with all the insurance problems. One little old lady sitting on the other side of the pew blocking the kids from running off might make a big difference.

  52. Shari Murphy says:

    I totally agree Caroline, my son attends the same school and was refused his communion last year as he did not attend mass & meetings regarding a childs 1st Holly Communion. Last year I suffered a traumatic time when my brother was Murdered, but did not expect any special treatment. I totally understood that ALL families going threw Communion had committed to attending mass regular. It as NOT been said that Denum is NOT allowed to take his communion, but that he must participate in Mass like ALL other families. I am baffled as to why the parents cannot take Denum to mass for 1hr, when Denum attends school 6hrs a day, 5 days a week. Denum as got a younger brother but there are 2 parents, One to stay home with the younger one if needs be and one to take Denum to mass. This is not a case of DISCRIMINATION but a case of someone seeking an opportunity.

  53. Jesus would not turn this child away.. Jesus would not turn any adult or child away who may or may not be able to fully understand what it means to receive Him in the Eucharist. Do you realize how many adults WHO can understand still don’t yet they still receive?… I was one of them for MANY years.. I never understood the seriousness of the Eucharist until about 4 years ago when I really started paying attention to people like Mother Angelica.. She taught me what is “really” means. Before that, I was oblivious and was of the mind it was “just what we did”….There needs to be MUCH more teaching about the Eucharist to EVERYONE.. and there is a serious lack of faith when it comes to the Eucharist that is in the church today….

    I realize there are certain ‘laws’ within the RR but it also seems that over time, faith is being replaced by ‘laws’ and I personally find it disturbing and a huge turn off.. I know I am not the only one who feels this way..

    And to the grammar cop up there, yes I meant the Eastern RITE.. So sorry for the misstep ( and you wonder why some Catholics are running away and quickly)…

  54. Thank you. My thoughts exactly.

  55. We all know what Robyn meant. I’ve made my share of typos on this and other blogs. No need to spotlight someone’s typing skills unless it’s a matter of clarification. Otherwise, one risks antagonizing someone who is trying to have a serious discussion on a subject dear to their heart. If it’s just play, then it should be done when one is sure that the other blogger is in such a mood. :)


  56. HMS, your “digging” made me curious! :) Another news article, quoted by TAC priest Fr. Stephan Smuts on his blog, contains the following paragraphs:

    “The catechetical classes for First Holy Communion began in September but Mrs Ellarby explains that she was unable to attend the first meeting with Denum because he was unwell.

    “When she approached her parish priest, Father Patrick Mungovin, he explained that the classes were now full and that Denum would have to wait.

    “When she took her case to Mgr Michael McQuinn of Leeds Diocese, Mrs Ellerby claims that he raised questions concerning Denum’s understanding of the sacrament but agreed to discuss this with Denum’s headteacher at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School in Batley.

    “After several attempts to make contact with Mgr McQuinn, Mrs Ellarby eventually received a letter from the Mgr this month.The letter raised concerns about Denum’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time and his understanding based on what Denum’s head teacher had told the Mgr. He wrote: “While he (Denum) is unable to make preparations this year to the first sacrament he may be able to do in the future when his understanding is better placed.””

    So, which is it: Denum was never invited to the first class, or he was invited (with his mother), was sick and missed it, and then couldn’t join the classes already in progress because it had filled up?

    And this account makes it sound as though Mgr. McQuinn, who is one of the two Vicars General of the Leeds diocese, was indeed willing to try to be accommodating, discussing the matter with the child’s teacher–and that it was the teacher’s information that led to a recommendation that they wait a little while to let Denum reach an age of better understanding.

    To sum up: a mother who rarely brings her son to Mass wants him to make his First Holy Communion with his class. But he and she miss the first class, find out from their priest that the class has filled up, and then complain to Mgr. McQuinn, who communicates with the child’s teacher. The teacher (possibly aware that classes are already in progress and that Denum will have to catch up) shares information about Denum’s level of understanding and inability to concentrate, and the Mgr. recommends waiting.

    So the mother runs to the media and says that her child’s being discriminated against by the Church. After the Church, in the person of Mgr. McQuinn, looked into the possibility of forcing the parish to squeeze her son into an already-full, in-progress class but in speaking to Denum’s teacher determined that perhaps another year or so before First Communion wouldn’t hurt.

  57. Deacon Steve says:

    Robyn being asked to delay is not the same as being turned away. This child is not being denied the Sacrament, but being asked to wait until he has a better understanding of what he is receiving. If it was important enough for Jesus to allow people to walk away when he said they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, I don’t think asking someone to wait until they understand the choice they are making is too much. By this reasoning we should also do away with the time required for marriage prep and just do the marriage rite when the couple walks in since we don’t want to appear to be turning them away.

  58. Deacon Steve,
    I understand what you’re saying but what happens if he never understands the way cannon law says he needs too? Then he can never receive? I don’t know how that works but if it were to go like that, I think there is something really wrong with that…In a lot of ways I just think the Church in America and maybe other countries have gotten very far away from our faith and seem to be more interested in Cannon Law instead.. I understand CL is important but sometimes it just seems that to some it’s the most important..

  59. Could this be a case of being so worried about being Catholic that someone forgot to be Christian?

  60. Deacon Steve says:

    Robyn Canon law doesn’t determine the limit of understanding that is the Pastor’s role. Ultimately Canon law says if there is doubt about whether a person understands or not then you favor the person. In this case there doesn’t seem to be doubt on anyone’s part but the parent. The Pastor, teacher, Vicar all seem to think that delaying is appropriate. So far everyone seems to be doing the right thing, they are collaborating. It seems like a mom got angry and ran to the media to get her way. If the young man can never develop the minimal understanding required then why would he be receiving the Eucharist? We should then just stand on the street corners distributing the Eucharist to everyone that walks by. The threshold in canon law is fairly low in these circumstances and the written accounts point to him not meeting those. Should we allow a Jewish leader to receive the Eucharist at an eccumenical service? No of course not. The Church has the duty to administer the Sacraments in a worthy manner.

  61. I have no wonder why Catholics run away. Because they think the Eucharist is just “what you do” as you said in your post. Sad it took Mother Angelica to open your eyes. Who catechized you for First Communion?

  62. Respectfully Deacon, do you really believe that Jesus would find this innocent little boy with Down’s Syndrome unworthy to receive Him – or more unworthy than all of us adult sinners who march up to the altar with the arrogant sense that we “understand” the Glory of God? Can you state with any certainty how God communicates with this little boy? Do you think God has abandoned him? Do you really believe Jesus would feel He had been “disrespected” if this little boy received His Body? Don’t you think Jesus rushes out to embrace him even if he doesn’t know who Jesus is? Doesn’t your position limit the Power, Love and Grace of God to reach into the heart and soul of those born with this difference? Didn’t Jesus say whoever eats This Bread shall have everlasting life? Would Jesus deny this little boy everlasting life? Let’s remember who Jesus Is – His ways are not our ways.

  63. People, a couple of thoughts…
    1) This is NOT the Eastern Church.
    2) Regular Mass attendance is required.
    3) The ability to understand that it is NOT a piece of bread is a bit of a necessity.

    My Diocese began using the Restored Order a number of years back and we do Confirmation prior to First Communion (but at the same Mass). I have often had to ‘delay’ a few children because they simply lacked the ability to wrap their minds around some of the simplest of concepts and asking them to understand the Holy Trinity and the fact that it Our Lord that is present on the Altar. These children’s parents understood–they were not always happy, but they understood. When they returned a year later they were usually among the most knowledgeable of the group. A little maturity and a LOT of parental involvement can go a LONG way.
    As far as not bringing young children to church–HOGWASH. I have 5 and they all go to Mass from the time they were in arms to now and my wife and I never allowed them or each other to miss Mass. It is Laziness and sloth and sinful. My two cents.

  64. naturgesetz says:


  65. naturgesetz says:

    Henry Karlson —
    No, we are talking about the Catholic Church and what is possible within the Catholic Church.
    The Catholics in questin are Latin Catholics. So what its possible outside the Latin Church is, strictly speaking, completely irrelevant to the case.

    There are two questions here. 1.) Was the boy entitled to be put on a track to receive First Communion with his age group? 2.) Should the discipline is the Western Church be changed.

    Every argument you raise to say that the rule for the Roman Rite is wrong (question 2) does absolutely nothing to establish a case that the parish priest has acted wrongly (question 1).

  66. naturgesetz says:

    Barbara P,

    If the pastor were Jesus, he would be justified in making up his own rules, but he is not entitled to cast aside the judgement of the Church (as expressed through canon law) as to what is necessary to discern the Body (1 Cor. 11:29), whether on the basis of mawkish sentimentality, or on that of an excessive institutionalism which supposes that God cannot give eternal life to Denum except through reception of the Sacrament.

    To suggest that judging that the boy is not ready for Communion is equivalent to a judgment that God has abandoned him, as you did when you wrote, “Do you think God has abandoned him?” is both nonsense and an insult to the deacon and to the pastor. I think it is your position which “limit[s] the Power, Love and Grace of God to reach into the heart and soul” by implying that God cannot do it except through reception of the Sacrament and suggesting that unless he receives the Sacrament, God is powerless to give him eternal life, because deferral of First Communion is a denial of that life.

  67. Fr. Rafael G says:

    This is just a form of Jansenism! Being able to fully participate in the “community” is an essential property of the Christian life, however, the res et sacramentum is not limited to those that can exercise such activity. With such thinking the sacrament of Baptism would have to be deferred until the age of reason and even extreme unction could only be given to the conscious!.

  68. Henry Karlson says:

    Actually, question 1 was answered, for a part of it says “according to their capacity.” Meggan noted that and I pointed that it does answer the question in regards to the child. Plus, as others note, commentary on the canon suggests if there is a question, presumption should be for the proper ability.

    Now some have argued “he didn’t go to his classes.” Come on, the idea that classes are necessary for reception of communion might seem to come from “preparation,” however, again that is vague enough, and a priest can easily see the kind of preparation does not have to be the same with a child like this to other children. The child is unlikely to ever be able to go to classes with the rest of the children like this and to demand it is to cause problems (for whatever class the child will be in). There is a lot of leeway possible.

  69. Henry Karlson says:

    While this is not an Eastern Church, I still say the West has, in its discipline, makes people think of the sacraments in an ultra-rational sense, demand the same rational sense, and ignore the mystery. When the canon itself makes it clear “according to their own capacity” that points out it does not have to be the same ability for everyone nor same expectations for everyone, but here, there is a demand to make the child beyond capacity! That again points to the problem. Pointing to the East (the Catholic East) is to show that some artificial level of “reason” is not necessary for communion –to reinforce, once again, “according to capability.” We are talking about a child who, a year later, is likely not to change in ability — perhaps all his life!

  70. One has to ask what purpose is served by the whole thing going viral. Would it have been so much of a stretch for the adults involved to sit down and discuss the matter and arrive at some kind of mutually acceptable timeline? We talk about children attaining the age of reason; apparently some adults aren’t there yet.

  71. naturegesetz: the comment I was replying to seemed to take the position that administering Communion in this situation would be administering it in an unworthy manner. So how am I being mawkishly sentimental to state that I don’t understand how God could find this innocent child with Down’s Syndrome unworthy to receive Him and that we have no way of knowing this boy’s relationship with God? How am I being excessively institutional to state that this boy should be able to fully participate in Christ’s Church? Jesus told us to eat His Body. And while I do believe those who do not receive Communion do have everlasting life, I also believe there is a special mystery in Christ’s promise which I have to admit I do not fully “understand”. Finally as quoted above, Canon Law states that a child’s understanding is to be judged “according to his capability.” So, the pastor does have a judgment call to make – and doesn’t the Church teach the priest stands in the person of Christ? The application of this Canon Law is not a ministerial function but calls for a discretionary judgment on the part of the pastor. It sounds to me that he may being the one engaging in excessive institutionalism.

  72. Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

  73. WWJD. Does anyone seriously believe that Jesus would deny this Down’s Syndrome boy Communion due to his disability or ability to comprehend the subtleties of the faith?

  74. “According to his capacity…” implies there is some capacity to accord to. It seems the priest in his best judgement has determined the child does not yet have a minimal capacity to understand Eucharist. You can reasonable disagree, if you have first hand knowledge of the child, but you cannot assume or allege malevolence on the priest’s part. You can respectfully appeal through the proper channels, none of which include the mediain this case.

  75. That’s the mentality of “entitlement” which plays the main role here and causes a lot of unnecessary fury among people.
    Now again an occasion for the self-righteous to blame the Church hierarchy. An illness of our modern times.

  76. P.S. I mean the anti-authoritarian attitude against the clergy, which is an heritage of the 68′s generation.

  77. Sorry for multi-posting, but it just occurred to me: if the ability of able to add 2 and 2 is required to pass a math-examination for the ability to understand the traffic rules to drive a car for having a car license, will people be enraged when someone who hasn’t acquired this ability doesn’t pass the exam or gets the car license? Will they blame the authority for discrimination? No. Not people with reason.

    But why do they feel enraged when the same is applied to religion? There are probably several reasons:
    1) They don’t take Faith seriously. It is only Faith and a private thing, only feeling is counted. Sorry, that is the attitude of liberal Protestantism and has nothing in common with Catholicism which consists in a community of the Faithful and in which the Church hierarchy administrates the sacraments.

    2) the mentality of entitlement: people tend to feel discriminated whenever they don’t get immediately what they want. They are ready to cause a scandal for the Church just to fulfil their individual wishes. Now it is extreme individualism which is destroying our Church as a community.

    3) anti-authoritarian mentality, which exists among the laity by large. The Church is based upon the Hierarchy of Bishops, Clergy and lay. We are not Calvinists who abolished this Hierarchy.

    In sum, today the Church is facing a lot of problems.

  78. Henry Karlson says:


    Wrong analogy. However, it is very Protestant, and it is what they give to deny infant baptism. This is exactly the problem with many Catholics today — their understanding of the sacraments and grace is so far off, they give credence to heretical sacramental thoughts. The grace is of the sacrament, when it is given to infants, is wonderful; Jesus said suffer the little children to come to him, and historically, that is what indeed has happened. There was a radical change in the West when confirmation was taken away from baptism, and then in the modern age, when the order of the sacraments got confused. Instead of understanding confirmation as what gives right to the eucharist, now it is some sort of “gnosis.” This is wrong, but the popular belief (as you express) is indeed causing many theological problems in the Church today.

  79. Henry Karlson says:

    If you read the commentary on the canon, if there is question, presumption is to be in favor of the person in question. According to their capacity does not mean they will necessarily comprehend much; indeed, this child might have reached the height of that ability, but is still being declined. The pastor has to work with charity, and that, again, is lacking here.

  80. naturgesetz says:

    Barbara P —
    “The application of this Canon Law is not a ministerial function but calls for a discretionary judgment on the part of the pastor. “


    And the pastor has made a discretionary judgment (with a familiarity with the situation which none of us possess), and people are coming down on him like a ton of bricks, effectively calling him un-Christian, as if we were the ones who have a right to decide, as if we knew enough to even begin to second guess his decision, as if we were in a position to judge him as a person, as if under the canon, no pastor could ever decide that someone was not ready to receive the Sacrament.

    “The application of this Canon Law is not a ministerial function but calls for a discretionary judgment on the part of the pastor. “
    So let’s respect his discretionary judgment.

  81. naturgesetz says:

    There is another angle to the “Would Jesus turn this boy away?” argument. Namely, would he spontaneously approach Jesus and request the Sacrament before he knew, somehow, what it was?

    Nowhere does the story suggest that Denum has asked for Holy Communion. If he ever said anything equivalent to, “I want to receive Jesus,” refusing the Sacrament would be turning him away. But as it is, it is the mother who is asking, not the boy. So all the talk of keeping him from Jesus is hogwash. In fact, if people will stop shedding their crocodile tears, they can see that it is really the pastor who wants to bring him to Jesus by giving him the preparation when he is capable of understanding it.

  82. Shari Murphy says:

    ”Attitude Of Entitlement”, Pure and simple. This is NOT a DISCRIMINATION case but one of Parents who regard themselves as above any rules/house rules that may apply to other parents who’s child is studying and attending Mass on Sunday’s, So there child can understand and participate in Communion. My son attends the same school and as yet to take his 1st Communion and he is 9yrs old. The question needs to be asked ”who is actually discriminateing against denum”?. Is it the Church? or is it actually his own parents?

  83. Let me tell you about a child of God in my parish who 2 years ago received the Sacraments of Reconciliation and First Holy Communion at age 8. He has a perfectly normal twin sister, yet he was born with a severe non-verbal autism spectrum. He can’t sit still for very long and does have some behaviors such as flapping his arms. I placed him in the same class as his sister (a very full class) and asked one parent to be in the classroom with him to assist the Catechist. By the way, he and his sister have been attending Religious Education classes since age 4.

    He attended every class and Mass every Sunday (and still does) but often has to walk around in the vestibule during Mass. He received the Sacrament of First Reconciliation by the priest asking him simple questions and him nodding his head, ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

    He received First Holy Communion at a special Mass the day before the rest of the class, wearing a white tuxedo with his family present, because he is a little disruptive during Mass with a large crowd. He receives on the tongue and does not receive the Precious Blood.

    The Pastor said that if he was able to express sorrow that he had done something wrong, and understood that the Body of Christ was not just a cracker or another type of bread (it’s something special) then he was eligible to receive the Sacraments. The Pastor also interviewed his parents to be assured that there would be family support. He always points to the cross at Mass before receiving. We are sure he knows it is Jesus he is receiving in the Sacrament!

    We recently started using the Adaptive Kit for First Holy Communion (Loyola Press) this year in my parish to help us with the needs of so many autism-spectrum children and other developmentally disabled children. I highly recommend it! I currently have a 20 year old man using one of the kits with his parents, to prepare for the Sacraments.

    I also thank God for a Pastor who is a true shepherd for all of God’s children.
    (I am the Pastoral Associate and DRE at the parish)

  84. Mr Karlson, you nor I nor anyone has the right to judge whether or not “charity…is lacking here.” That statement is calumnious, and cannot be pronounced even by someone with first-hand knowledge of the situation.

    While there may be a presumption for giving the benefit of the doubt to dispositions of mind and heart, blind adherence to this principle of presumption is not required. There is an insistence, in adhering to our faith, that we use reason, intelligent evaluation, and common sense informed by the teachings of the Church, in the exercise of discernment in order to form just conclusions.

  85. Henry Karlson says:

    Again, let’s explore this further and see what this does to the sacrament of baptism. This is a dangerous line of thought, the kind which is behind many schisms from the Church. There is a reason why the ancient church gave communion to infants; the idea being expressed, again and again, is a gnostic one, one which ignores the sacramental graces which is given to those who need it, whatever their mental state is. And, if we go further, think about the consequences of this line of thought with those who are dying and can’t speak. They won’t get sacramental aid because they can’t say anything? Again, this “they have to know” is the wrong approach.

  86. Henry Karlson says:

    I like it, blind obedience to the presumption is not needed, but blind obedience to a legalistic, and faulty, interpretation of the canon is, one which ignores several pastoral possibilities not even addressed.

    And people saying “entitlement mentality” better study up on the rights of the Christian. There are entitlements given to us. Study up.

  87. “If you eat the loaf or drink the cup unworthily, without discerning the Body of the Lord, you are eating and drinking God’s judgement on yourself.” (1 Corinthians 11:29)

  88. Are you stating that Latin Rite Catholicism is heretical because it has fallen into gnosticism or are you saying that the understanding of some individual Latin Rite Catholics borders on gnosticism? You may need to consider whether you are trying to force Eastern disciplines on the Western rites. In the past West did that to the East but has repented.

  89. Maybe the bottom line is that some do not like others (even those in authority) telling them what is allowed. We live in an age were most resent authority and restrictions.
    If the child cannot control himself during Mass, nor understand what it is about, then obviously he is not ready. Additionally the other children should be considered. Would they be distracted?

  90. My understanding is that the Church wants communicants to know that they are receiving the body and blood of Christ–not just a wafer of bread. With elderly people with dementia, many priests no longer give the Eucharist if the person is at high risk of spitting it out–but if the person can consume the Eucharist the individual is allowed to communicate. I wonder if the pastor of the boy with Downs has a similar concern: does the child in some way behave in a way that indicates that he knows, at some level, that he is receiving the body of Christ?

  91. naturgesetz says:

    It is my understanding that the Eastern Churches do not routinely minister the sacrament to fully initiated infants and young children until they are able to “discern the body” and request it.

    And giving sacraments to the dying who are unable to speak and can be presumed to have the habitual intention of receiving them in articulo mortis is a different matter from giving them to those who are healthy and have not requested them.

    The exceptional practice — such as at initiation or danger of death — need not be the normal. The exception does not become the rule. Normally, the sacraments are given to those who request them, and it is wrong to foist them on those who don’t know what they are.

    And it is wrong to suppose that, because the sacraments are the normal channels of God’s grace in the Church, God is unable to give the grace he wills to those who, for whatever reason, do not approach them. As I tried to explain earlier, it is, to use your phrase, “a dangerous line of thought” to conflate deferral of First Communion with cutting someone off from God’s grace.

  92. naturgesetz says:

    That is wonderful. It seems different from the situation with Denum, so while it is a good example of how things can be handled, it does not mean that pastor in this case was wrong.

  93. Your charge that the Western Church is gnostic is troubling. If the Church has fallen into heresy, why would you want to belong to an Eastern Church that is in union with the Pope? Your charge is a strong argument for the truth of Orthodoxy.

  94. Oregon Catholic says:

    Extreme unction is given to unconcious people who previously expressed their belief in the sacraments, either by being faithful Catholics or through their words – it’s up to the priest to decide. It is not given to people who never expressed any desire, even if family requests it, as that would be forcing it on someone who never expressed a desire for it.

  95. Henry Karlson says:

    Actually, once communion has been given, the infants routinely receive. Indeed, I’ve known Byzantines have to remind Romans that once one has been granted communion, they can’t be denied just because of a different rite’s timing. Yes, our infants receive — and not just at initiation.

  96. Henry Karlson says:

    I’m saying many in the Latin Rite are ignorant of the sacramental reality and read all kinds of popular ideals into their understanding of them. Confession as rite of adulthood is an example of this. Discipline can change, but we see more than mere discussion of discipline here. And most still do not understand that the 20th century with its disorder of the order of sacraments has caused serious concern and scandal — even if one thinks it is possible to do what is done, does not mean it should be the norm and confused as the norm. It’s not the norm.

  97. Henry–educate instead of condemning and taunting. My daugher’s religion teacher is an Eastern Rite Catholic teaching Western Rite Catholic children. I was really excited about that–in the beginning. It’s been a disaster. The docks points if students do not make the sign of cross joining their thumb, index and middle fingers. She is rigid and unbending. She has a lot of wonderful things to teach Western Catholics but she is too quick to condemn Western Catholics. Many people misunderstand the sacraments–but insulting and attacking them usually makes people defensive.

  98. Here is a letter by Bishop Olmstead teaching about the historic order of the sacraments of initiation. There’s also teaching about the theology of unmerited sacraments.

  99. Deacon Steve says:

    I’ll reply here since I can’t reply to your comment Barbara. Nowhere did I say that God abandoned this little boy. And it is upsetting for you to imply that is what I said, because I said no such thing. I do see all through scripture that Jesus does expect some level of belief and conversion as he ministers to the people. It is their faith that saves them, it is their actions in pushing forward to get to Jesus that allows them to be healed. If the child in question isn’t seeking it as someone else pointed out then why is it being done? And again he is not being denied access it is being delayed until the Pastor, whose responsibility it is, is comfortable with the child receiving the Eucharist. The basic question is can he differentiate the Eucharist from regular food. I do think that God would be offended if this child were given the Eucharist and because he couldn’t understand what it was he spit it our because he didn’t like the taste or texture. If he can distinguish between the Eucharist and reqular food then he should not be denied. There seems to be some question on the part of his Pastor, his teacher and the Vicar whether he meets this standard. Therefore delaying his First Communion is the appropriate thing to do.

  100. Henry, I am in favor of the Latin Church going back to giving all three sacraments of initiation at the same time. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI said, “As the Synod Fathers said, we need to ask ourselves whether in our Christian communities the close link between Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist is sufficiently recognized. It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation is ordered to the Eucharist. Accordingly, our pastoral practice should reflect a more unitary understanding of the process of Christian initiation (Para 17, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” 22 Feb 2007). And, in Para 18 it goes on to say, “In this regard, attention needs to be paid to the order of the sacraments of initiation. Different traditions exist within the Church. There is a clear variation between, on the one hand, the ecclesial customs of the East and the practice of the West regarding the initiation of adults, and, on the other hand, the procedure adopted for children. Yet these variations are not properly of the dogmatic order, but are pastoral in character. Concretely, it needs to be seen which practice better enables the faithful to put the sacrament of the Eucharist at the centre, as the goal of the whole process of initiation. In close collaboration with the competent offices of the Roman Curia, Bishops’ Conferences should examine the effectiveness of current approaches to Christian initiation, so that the faithful can be helped both to mature through the formation received in our communities and to give their lives an authentically eucharistic direction, so that they can offer a reason for the hope within them in a way suited to our times (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).”

    Regarding, sacramental aid to the dying, you are incorrect about not receiving sacramental aid because a dying person can’t speak. Regarding the Anointing of the Sick, Canon 1006 says, “This sacrament is to be conferred on the sick who at least implicitly requested it when they were in control of their faculties.” For the Eucharist, specifically, the bottom line for reception in these circumstances is “while they are still in full possession of their faculties” (cf # 27, General Introduction for the Pastoral Care of the Sick, Rites of Anointing and Viaticum). So, a person who can no longer speak but who recognizes the Body of Christ licitly receives the Eucharist. And, Section 1 of Canon 921 of the Code of Canon Law states, “The Christian faithful who are in danger of death from any cause are to be nourished by holy communion in the form of Viaticum [the Eucharist for those near death].” There are many ways for a person to show recognition of the Eucharist e.g. a bow of the head, making the sign of the cross, folding hands in prayer, opening the mouth to receive after the Eucharistic minister says “The Body of Christ.” And, there are wonderful consolations for those who minister the Eucharist to those who are dying but can’t speak, e.g. a Parkinson’s patient who can’t speak or smile (because of what this disease does to the musculature and nervous system) who breaks into the most beautiful smile after receiving Jesus. An undeniable confirmation that the patient knows they have they have received the Lord!

  101. You see then, Mr Karlson, that blind obedience to a presumption of sufficient capacity is not reasonable.

    Your opinion that the legal requirement for sufficient capacity is ‘legalistic and faulty’ is … your opinion.

    Your accusation that ‘several pastoral possibilities are not even addressed’ cannot be made fairly or reasonably as you have no direct or full involvement in the situation. This accusation is yet another calumnious charge, Mr Karlson, and is irresponsible.

    Blind obedience is obviously never a wise nor obligated response to life. However, we can and must reasonably submit, even if tentatively, to the ordained governing authority of the Church in matters that our discernment, formed with the mind of the Church, observes as neither immoral or unjust. We cannot simply dissent and condemn without full knowledge of the matter and first hand knowledge of the situation at hand.

    We have entitlements, and we have corresponding responsibilities.

  102. Rick, the Church requirements for a person with dementia: For the Eucharist, specifically, the bottom line for reception in these circumstances is “while they are still in full possession of their faculties” (cf # 27, General Introduction for the Pastoral Care of the Sick, Rites of Anointing and Viaticum). So, if they don’t know Who they are receiving, then the Eucharist is not to be given to them. They are to be given the Anointing of the Sick if they would have asked for it at least implicitly while still in possession of their faculties (I posted some lengthier cites above as a response to Henry). If the dementia has regressed them, but they still recognize the Eucharist as Jesus, and would receive Him reverently, then I would say they could still be given Communion.

  103. Oregon Catholic says:

    Thanks for the link. It’s interesting that Phoenix is restoring the original order and reducing the age for confirmation but stopped short of returning all sacraments of initiation to infants as it was in the early Church. It also states that the grace of confirmation is a gift from God that can’t be merited or earned but goes on to discuss the preparation required – thus setting 7 as the appropriate age of reason for reception.

    I find this all so confusing. On the one hand we have a Latin Church with a Catechism and Canon Law that tends to define some rules down to a gnat’s **s and leaves no room for any deviation or even personal conscience, but we can have this kind of variation from diocese to diocese and from early Church to present day on one of the most important aspects of our faith life and Church membership. And we say the grace is unmerited but we require people to prepare for it.

  104. Deacon Norb says:

    Like a lot of deacons, I do pastoral work in nursing homes and have one elderly aunt who suffers from moderate/severe dementia.

    My rule of thumb is very practical and very simple. When I (or a EMHC) raises the Body of Christ in front of the face of someone with dementia, and they respond by holding out their tongue, they will be given Holy Communion. That is a sufficient faith statement.

    If they do not respond in the appropriate manner, they will be given a verbal blessing and then passed by.

  105. Deacon Steve says:

    Henry presumption to the person applies when there is doubt as to their ability to receive. Since the full article mentions that the teacher, the pastor and the Vicar agree that delaying is appropriate there isn’t doubt on their part that he doesn’t mean the very minimal standard that he can distinguish between the Eucharist and real food which is the mimimum that CL sets for a person of special needs. Since you have 3 people working in collaboration that agree that delay is appropriate you can’t argue that there is doubt so you defer to the person in this case.

  106. Henry Karlson says:

    Infants have been given last rites — with communion — even in the West, before they can say a word. Again, the problem is a false conception of communion as a privilege due to education. This historically is false, and theologically, is dangerous.

  107. Henry, I’m loving your contributions to this thread.

    I’m another who would like to see the Church return to the historic order of the sacraments.

  108. Henry Karlson says:

    Even great saints can — and do have — heretical leanings; St. Augustine, for example, never entirely got out of the grip of Mani. To point out a problematic aspect of a popular understanding of the sacraments allows for such education; to ignore the error lying behind is to allow it to fester and to become a real problem. We can see this with Augustinian thought and what developed out of it in the Reformation.

  109. Baptized infants and most likely this boy have no need of last rites since they have no need of forgiveness and are incapable of sin. Why do they need the grace of the Eucharist?

  110. That’s a great link-thank you!

    My children, who are joining the church this Easter Vigil, will have all three sacraments.

  111. Henry Karlson says:

    Thank you. I’m going to say more things here (not aimed at you, but rather, to hopefully clear some things up in case people misunderstand me). I am talking about the normative tradition and the need to return to the norm without rejecting the Church’s economia allowing for variations in time and place. The problem is when people don’t understand the lack of normality in a situation and treat it normal, and then bring out of the abnormal situation theological positions which run contrary to the norm and history. This, I think, some people to not appreciate. I look always to the universal, historical situation — and there I find this notion of “need to know” is not the Church’s position. Things get tricky in the West due to mass baptisms and desire by some authorities to prevent reception of communion; this (and a few other issues) led to separation of confirmation from baptism; originally this is why infants stopped receiving in the West. Then, in recent times, it was seen how children received communion in the past, and so it was decided: let’s do that, forgetting the order of the sacraments. The Church, in economia, can accept the disorder (one reading traditional treatises on sacraments will note how sometimes the grace of confirmation can even precede baptism!) but then we see the disorder, when treated as norm, causes theological confusion (confirmation, communon) and through that, pastoral issues (like this) are not dealt with in the way tradition could and would allow.

    It is also the point that the canon (as I and others have said) in the West points to “according to the capacity.” This is still an important point which is neglected. Some think this means “they must be able to show they know significant theological ideas,” but that isn’t what that means. If the capacity is diminished it is unfair to treat with same standards/demands of knowledge. Historically this has also been understood (invincible ignorance, for example!) but again, the history, ignored, allows for this abuse (and I do think it is an abuse) against people who are treated as sub-human because their capacity is not the same. This is why I believe it is discriminatory here.

    Now, I am vocal about this. I know various kinds of things with communion which would shock people in this discussion and what has been done (and allowed to be done) in history.

    Thankfully, not every situation is like this, and many places, there is better awareness and concern to deal with this kind of issue with pastoral sensitivity.

  112. I think it’s a great idea too, but I disagree that the Western practice is gnostic. We’re too quick to throw around that heretic label.

  113. Henry Karlson says:


    When the demand is “you must know to receive” that is exactly the Gnostic approach. The Church is not Gnostic, it recognizes we will never completely comprehend. Now, if you note, I am talking about the popular understanding of communion and reception — popular, not the Western Church’s own understanding — and have said so many times. But even then, disciplines can come and go, and some could be “bad” and that is why they go. There can be an underside to a discipline not initially understood — this happens quite often — and it is worthwhile to point out the tendency involved. And here, again, it is Gnostic. It is the same problem that we see with Anabaptist rejection of infant Baptism.

  114. justamouse says:

    Apart from all of it-how come the school does not have religious ed during school hours like out little parish school? The parish school children here never have to go to CCD.

  115. Erin Manning:
    The little digging that I did unearthed the fact that the pastor is relatively new to the parish (Diocese of Leeds Website, Clergy Appointments for 2010). In my opinion, it takes a while for a new pastor to get to know his flock. I am speculating that this pastor may not know the family and the circumstances that well. But, that’s just my opinion.

    I appreciate your citation of another version of the story. Which version is true? I don’t know but I do know that (and here I am speaking as a former DRE) I (and the pastor, of course) would not have denied a child the reception of First Communion because the class was filled up (No room in the inn? – Pardon, my attempt at humor). We made all sorts of accommodations in the program for make-up classes, classes for special needs children, etc. Why? Because we had a sense that the reception of the sacraments was also a “teachable moment” for the parents and other family members.

  116. Amen! Exactly!

  117. Deacon Steve, you wrote “If the young man can never develop the minimal understanding required then why would he be receiving the Eucharist?” In my mind that meant that you do not think that this young man has a relationship with God or a soul that needs to be fed – but God doesnt abandon anyone, least of all the most innocent and vulnerable who live in a very different world and reality not of their choosing. If you believe this young man – even without the minimal understanding still has a relationship with God, then why wouldnt he receive the Eucharist? I am sorry my words were harsh and obviously offensive to you and perhaps I misunderstood your intent, but I am upset with your attitude that dismisses the need for the Eucharist in people with disabilities.

  118. Also, Deacon, I didnt see it written anywhere that the boy spits out the Eucharist.

  119. Henry Karlson says:

    Why does someone need the eucharist? Theosis! Communion! Participation in the divine reality through communion. Grace is not just for salvation but for deification. Indeed, in the Eastern liturgy this is remembered by knowing our spiritual worship is not just for us but for the saints, “especially” for the Theotokos.

  120. RomCath, exactly the point. When a priest actually follows Catholic teaching, and this is verified by the fact that the Diocese agreed that he followed Church teaching, it is very sad to see so many here come out to trash him rather than give them support. If the teaching is in error, go the right route and take it up to the USCCB or Rome.

    We fall into this same cesspool with our Constitution. Rather than go the route of getting amendments, those who want change see the courts and going around the system as the answer. When this happens, the Church or the Country are the losers.

  121. So why did the diocese back up the priest as being correct? What do we have canon laws at all if they do not apply? There is a way to take this up with the Church if it is in error?

  122. The Church, since the time of the Apostles, has been given the authority to make juridical and administrative decisions which were regarded as legitimate and required obedience of the faithful. The historical account begins in Acts. The development and organization of these decisions into a cohesive body able to be applied in various situations is apparent in the Church’s Code of Canon Law. As the apostles wrote: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things…” (Acts 15:28), quite an audacious statement if it weren’t factual.

  123. Fiergenholt says:

    You know, I am wondering whether the real issue here is that this family is BRITISH — and this whole scene is taking place in the Diocese of Leeds. That is well up to the north and away from London/Cambridge/Oxford. Leeds is a fairly large city with an impressive University but most of it’s population is working-class.

    Too many of the blog comments seems to presume an “American” experience here. Please pay attention: English Catholicism — for that matter, European Catholicism — is quite different than American Catholicism

  124. There are discussions between Rome and the Eastern Church’s. One has to note that these church’s are a very small percentage of the total Catholic Church numbers in the world, so I would suspect they will have to bend signifcantly before there is total union if ever. What strikes me is how arrogant I see many in these Eastern Churches. Everything they do is of course right and in complete union with Christ and much of what is done in the Roman Church is wrong and even in heresy. I can’t think it would be easy to reconcile between these them if all in the Eastern Churchs have this attitude I see with Henry. Maybe that is why we have been apart for about a thousand years.

    Bottom line is that this is a Roman Catholic Parish and the priest is doing what he, and the diocese, see as the teaching of the Catholic Church. Many within the Church are going tired of those who are in open dissent with Roman Catholic teaching on a whole variety of issues, including those with Papal Magesterial teaching. Why not just be like those who walked away from Christ because His teaching was to hard. In our American world of “entitlements” we grow further from Christ and His Church each day.

  125. Deacon Steve says:

    Barbara again you are putting words into my mouth. No where did I say there was no need for the Eucharist in someone with a disability. I am meerly pointing out what the canons say about the situation and who is the one that is to make the call. If a person has no understanding of the Eucharist be they special needs or not, they should not be receiving the Eucharist. This holds true to the Roman Catholic teaching on the Eucharist. I am not saying that because of this young boy’s disability that he is unworthy to ever receive the sacrament of Eucharist, but given the circumstances as outlined in the article, the pastor was correct canonically, and in my opinion pastorally to delay First Communion. Again he is not being denied, but delayed. If he cannot meet the minimum level of understanding of what the Eucharist is, then he should not receive it because it will have no meaning for him. It does not deny him God’s love, it doesn’t say he isn’t worthy of God’s love, only that he cannot participate in the Eucharist through reception of the Cosecrated Body and Blood of Jesus because it would not be any different to him than eating a regular piece of bread. One of the concerns about not being able to distinguish between normal food and the Eucharist is the concern that the Eucharist could be spit out, I did not say that he did this, but that it is a valid concern with any person that cannot distinguish between the Eucharist and regular food. The whole point of my posts it to get people to stop vilifing the Pastor when he did nothing wrong based on the information in the article. The fact that the child’s school teacher and the Vicar back him up shows that his actions were justified.

  126. Deacon Greg Kandra says:


    I believe Notgiven is talking about Eastern Rite Catholic Churches that are already in “total union” with Rome. They are as Catholic as you are.

    Dcn. G.

  127. Oregon Catholic says:

    and there’s the rub that has really been rubbing me the wrong way lately with regard to our universal Church. I think Henry brought up a lot of very valid points about sacramental differences and how they lead to misunderstanding about grace. Custom or norm is not always kept clearly separate from unchangable belief.

    I have a such a burning desire to get beyond all the variety of changable rules and norms and rubrics and arguments and just focus on the core of the faith. I have to wonder if the Eastern Churches are closer to that than the West.

  128. I do not think that this passage is relevant for the issue we are dealing with here, if I am understanding the reason for your comment.

    It is not that the Corinthians cannot “distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food” as “notgiven” points out above. Rather they do not understand the full meaning of what they are receiving:
    “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)

    Paul criticizes the Corinthians’ lack of Christian unity, greed, and gluttony at the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-22):
    “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord.” (1Corinthians 11:27)

    By their actions, the Corinthians show that do not really know what they are receiving, are eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ unworthily, and are guilty of sinning against the Lord Himself.

  129. This is actually in response to your 2:13 pm below (but there was no reply button available). Would you please elaborate/clarify about what you said, “our spiritual worship is not just for us but for the saints, “especially” for the Theotokos.”? Thanks. Perhaps you mean something different than what I think I’m reading here; because, we don’t worship anyone but God. We venerate Mary and the Saints and ask for their prayers and intercession and we worship God together with them. We surely don’t worship or venerate ourselves. Worship is only for God.

  130. Deacon, I quoted your exact words.
    You say that he should not receive the Eucharist because it would have no meaning for him. Why do you think we control what meaning it has or the power the Eucharist has? Aren’t you giving human beings too much power over God? Why do you think the Grace of the Eucharist is limited by whether or not we understand it?

  131. Deacon, Jesus said to Peter: Do you love Me?
    Feed my Sheep.

  132. pagansister says:

    Reading many of the comments, it is no wonder there is disagreement between the Eastern traditions and the Western traditions in the Church.

  133. So the CCC we have here isn’t the same CCC they have there?

  134. Deacon Steve says:

    Barbara are there any circumstances where you think that someone should not receive the Eucharist? I am trying to figure out why you are opposed to the Church’s teaching on the matter. You seem to think that anyone should be able to receive the Eucharist depsite what the Church teaches on the matter. Even in the Early Church not everyone was able to receive the Eucharist until they had been accepted into the community of believers and demonstrated that they were not going to betray the believers to the authorities. So please tell me what your criterion would be for reception of the Eucharist.

  135. Fiergenholt says:

    Your question is irrelavent. I read over both the original post and the com-boxes and I saw no references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church at all. I did see a few references to the Code of Canon Law (for Western/Latin Rite folks) and comparable documents to both the Eastern Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

    My point remains. This family are English; their experience with their local church, and their local Roman Catholic diocese, and even Catholicism at large is guided by traditions and cultural and historical influences that we Americans — of whatever religious following — cannot possibly understand.

  136. Henry Karlson says:

    Oregon Catholic

    As for the East being closer than the West to the “core of the faith,” it depends upon what issue is at hand. This is why both lungs are needed — each have things which they bring forward the other is weak on. The East, despite what some might suggest, has changed a great deal as well.

  137. Henry Karlson says:

    Be that as it may, how does it apply in this situation?

  138. This boy has been accepted into the community of believers – but he has been born with a brain that processes the world differently. The Eucharist shouldn’t be kept from him just because we don’t know how to fully communicate with him. I believe God does speak to him. The boy is innocent and has not done anything that warrants different treatment.
    Someone who has affirmatively rejected Jesus and someone who has sinned against the Holy Spirit should not receive the Eucharist. Someone who would affirmativly blaspheme the Eucharist, e.g., someone who would use it in an occult thing.
    I went to Mass last night Deacon and thought of our conversation just before going to receive and realized how much I don’t understand of the power and the mystery of the Eucharist and how incredible it was that I was about to receive God. It was a humbling and at the same time exhilarating moment. So I do understand your concerns about treating the Eucharist with respect. I think though in this instance it would not be disrespectful to Christ if this boy were to receive His Body.

  139. Fiergenholt says:


    Drop back a few com-boxes to “justamouse”‘s comment of 11:13 yesterday morning and of 10:06 last night. Those are specifically what I was referring to — particularly the first one.

    NOW: it may be the the abbreviations were mixed up in the second post: “CCC” generally refers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If “CCD” was meant, that may make more sense since that refers to the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and it is an American abbreviation for public school religious education.

    While it has been some time since I have visited that country, I can assure you that the Roman Catholic Church in England has structured a lot of its pastoral practices very differently than the US. You use the term “CCD” or even “PSRE (Public School Religious Education)” and they simply would not know what you are talking about.

  140. Henry Karlson says:

    Exactly as I pointed out; this is the same argument Anabaptists used to reject infant baptism. And they would cite verses such as “believe and be baptized” to indicate that “belief is first, so one must be of age,” etc. It’s sad so many don’t get it. It’s very very sad.

  141. Charlie Hamper says:

    The Sacrament of Reconciliation is required (last time I checked) before making your First Holy Communion. If and when he received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, did he understand it?
    I firmly believe that children with Down’s Syndrome understand more than we give them credit for.

  142. This is very cruel and unfortunate for you and your son to have to go through. I am no expert on this, but I believe it is in the meaning of the spirit and soul, if the child can understand what is going on regarding religion and communion. And yes children are more understanding of things than you would expect of them, they will amaze you. Children should not be barred from the touch of God’s hand. Just my opinion.


  1. [...] boy to receive communionMay 19, 2012 By Deacon Greg Kandra Leave a CommentSome may remember the story from earlier this year, about the Down Syndrome boy in England who was not being allowed to receive his First [...]

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