Words carefully structured together express a meaning that produce a sentence. When multiple sentences are associated with one another then what is conveyed is a theme or a story. The strength of words and what they represent is particular acute when the intention is to guide a child toward a relationship with Jesus Christ and ultimately know and understand why he or she is part of the Church of Christ, the Catholic church.
A child’s introduction to Jesus Christ should not be met with resistance however the human condition never disappoints to provide modern examples of doctrinal ignorance or willful neglect of the faith. A good friend who serves as a parish director of religious education was almost brought to the guillotine for suggesting the Feast of Corpus Christi as the appropriate time for all children to receive their first holy communion. The reason for the parental insurrection, it disrupted summer sporting activities, hence one may argue that the parents use of reason was misplaced.
Handing on the Trinity and Jesus
The virtue of faith and the intellectual exercise of reason serve as pillars in the development of a Catholic world view for a child, one that will hopefully guide the child to engage at times a hostile world with a Catholic lens. St. Paul understood this well when he directs St. Timothy to guard what has been entrusted to you. St. Paul’s directive is very clear, do not forget what you have been taught in the name of Jesus Christ, and by all means necessary defend this faith with clarity and charity. The Catechism of the Catholic teaches that the apostles were entrusted with the Sacred deposit of the faith-fidei depositum, contained in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition to the whole Church.
The revelation of faith leads to a response of faith and this is very important when instructing a child in the Catholic faith in the Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ-Word made flesh that serves as the foundational hierarchical truths of the Catholic faith. From the moment a child is able to visible observe a parent’s religious practices and mannerisms, he begins to imitate and apply these outward expressions of faith toward himself such as the making of the sign of the cross, blessing before meals, praying at night, the reading of Sacred Scripture, the stories of the lives of the saints, the development of Catholic vocabulary that translates into a normal aspect of family conversation rooted in Jesus Christ. These pedagogical developments lay the groundwork for a child’s receptivity to the sacramental life especially the Holy Eucharist.
St. Pius X was clear when he moved the age of reception of Holy Communion to the age of reason-between the ages of seven to eight years old as the appropriate time children know and understand wat takes place at Mass during the consecration and that Christ is truly present in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. It is also a time where the child recognizes himself as a child of God, who Is Jesus and what He did for us at Calvary. Due to the surge in the heresy of modernism where man took primacy over God St. Pius X was acutely aware that they way to combat this gnostic way of thinking was to make sure the Church family especially children were properly formed in the doctrinal truths of the Catholic faith hence the explanation and application of the Creed in daily living. St. Pius X stressed the importance of teaching the Trinity, Christ, the Church and Mary. In other words, children from the very beginning of their lives should be prepared and exposed to have contact with God.
How do I prepare my child?
Faith seeks to understand. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes this important principle as follows:
It is intrinsic to faith that a believer desires to know better the One in whom he has put his faith and to understand better the One in whom he had put his faith and to understand better what He has revealed; a more and penetrating knowledge will in turn call for a greater faith, increasingly set afire by love. The grace of faith opens the eyes of your hearts to a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation: that is, of the totality of God’s plan and the mysteries of faith, of their connection with each other and with Christ, the center of the revealed mystery.
A parent who desires that their child receive their first Holy Communion should read this particular with care because it provides a catechetical blueprint on how to engage, prepare, explain, the Catholic faith to a person. This means conversations about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit should be common place within the family structure. Opportunities to investigate and explain who Christ is and how we are called to develop an intimate relationship with Him is part of this journey of faith. The loving witness and desire of the family especially the parents as the first teachers to live and preach Jesus Christ crucified is arguably the most important principle of faith seeking understanding.
How do I know if my child is ready?
Christian initiation is one of the most profound gifts bestowed by Christ unto the Church. The sacraments of initiation are not monetary tokens that we cash in order to reserve our spot in Heaven never to worry about our salvation ever again. Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion are intimately linked by and through Christ to all of humanity as an opportunity to engage Christ in a living and docile way.
The question whether a child is ready or prepared to receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is predicated on several formational factors. First does the child recognizes that he is created in the image and likeness of God and that the sacrament of baptism initiates him into God’s kingdom? Second, is the child encouraged to develop an active relationship with Jesus Christ that hopefully leads to an assent of faith? Third, does the child understand who Christ as the Word made flesh, how and why Christ offered Himself at the last supper and why He died on the cross for us. Fourth, does father and mother pray with and over their child? Fifth, is active liturgical participation in the Mass the apex of the family relationship with Christ? Sixth, is the Mass understood as a foretaste of Heaven and our active participation in Calvary? These questions may not appear exhaustive but serve as a start toward an examination of faith in the family and may gauge the readiness of a child to receive the sacraments of initiation. And finally, does the child express a clear and visible desire to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist at Mass every Sunday? When I asked my daughter why she wants to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist with conviction she simply responded with the following words: “I want Jesus in me.”
I believe in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.