Those who plan for celebrations of Reconciliation involving children need to be aware of and sensitive to the particular stages of moral and psychological development of these age groups. Emphasizing the mercy of God while enabling people to assess their lifestyles, relationships, attitudes, values, and behavior is always a delicate responsibility. It is especially important when dealing with children. God’s loving mercy and forgiveness need to be clearly demonstrated. (Signs of God’s Love, Regulations and Guidelines for Sacramental Catechesis, Part One, Archdiocese of Baltimore, [2004; hereinafter SOGL-1], Section III-B-3)
“Catechesis for children prior to their first reception of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation must always respect their natural disposition, ability, age, and circumstances. Since the family is intimately involved with the formation of a child’s moral conscience and ordinarily integrates the child into the wider ecclesial communities, parents should be involved in the preparation of their children for this sacrament so that they can affirm and reinforce frequent participation in the sacraments. They orient the child toward God and encourage continue growth in the understanding of God’s mercy and love.” (National Directory for Catechesis, 135)
Formal instruction for the Sacrament of Penance must be separate and distinct from preparation for the first reception of Eucharist so that the integrity of each sacrament is maintained. (SOGL-1 III-A-2.)
The parents’ right and responsibility to direct the religious formation of their children must be safeguarded and enhanced. For this reason, preparation for first reception of the sacrament shall involve the parents and provide guidance to them in helping prepare their children. (SOGL-1 and Canon 793)
Typically when children reach the “age of reason”, they and their parents are invited to participate in catechesis for Reconciliation. (SOGL-1 III-A-1-2)
Parental formation in the Church’s understanding of the Sacrament of Penance is a prerequisite for their ability to assist in the preparation of their children for the sacrament and in order to make an informed decision regarding their children’s readiness for reception of the sacrament.
The parish is responsible for offering formation and resources for children and their parents for the first reception of the Sacrament of Penance.
It is important to invite children with disabilities and their parents into this process and provide appropriate accommodations for them. (SOGL-1 III-A-1) (See also Policy §302.5 herein)
Children shall be offered a genuine opportunity to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance before their first reception of the Eucharist. (Canon 914 and SOLG-1 III-A-2) To facilitate this, every parish shall have a special celebration of the Sacrament of Penance before the first reception of the Eucharist for those who have been prepared for the two sacraments. (Canon 914 and SOGL-1 III-A-3)
It would be well if the child’s first experience with the Sacrament of Penance occurred within a communal setting. All celebrations of reconciliation with children should be well planned and respect the liturgical integrity of the rite. (SOGL-1 III-3)
In order to provide suitable catechesis for the first celebration of the Sacrament of Penance before the reception of the Eucharist, parishes in collaboration with parents should provide instruction for the Sacrament of Penance prior to first Eucharist. (cf. c.777)
It is understood that such instruction will be commensurate with the ability of the child to understand. The catechesis for these two sacraments, as well as all others, is to be ongoing so that there will be development in the person’s knowledge and understanding as he or she matures.
The pastor and his staff shall, when necessary, explain to the parents the Church’s discipline in regard to first confession before first Communion and the catechetical reasons for it. (SOGL-1 III-A1-2) Such an explanation should help the parents understand the values underlying the norm. It is important that both parents and children correctly understand the nature of sin and forgiveness. The sacrament is not intended to be an experience of judgment that condemns but of a love that pardons. (SOGL-1 III-A1-2)
In those cases in which a child, because of exceptional reasons and under the guidance of his or her parents, chooses not to receive the Sacrament of Penance, he or she shall not be deprived of the right to receive his or her First Holy Communion. The child shall be encouraged to celebrate the Sacrament of Penance later so that he or she will not be deprived of it altogether. (SOGL-1 III-A-2)
As with adults, children have the right to celebrate the sacrament face-to-face or from behind a screen. Children shall always be free to choose their own confessor.