Benedict XVI affirms First Communion for children at age of reason

The Holy Father remembered Pope St. Pius X and reviewed his Church reforms and renewals during Wednesday's general audience catechesis. Pope Benedict highlighted the importance of St. Pius X's decree that set the "age of reason" as the appropriate time for children to receive First Communion.

The general audience was held in the courtyard of the Apostolic Palace at Castel Gandolfo as is customary at this time of year. The space was filled with pilgrims carrying flags and banners and waiving scarves.

During the catechesis, Benedict XVI spoke of Pope St. Pius X, who from the time of his ordination at 23 years old, "showed that deep love of Christ and the Church, that humility and simplicity and that great charity towards the most in need, that were characteristic of his entire life."

Although he accepted his election to the papacy with difficulty because he did not feel himself to be worthy of the position, Pope Benedict XVI said, "he left an indelible mark in the history of the Church" through a pontificate that "was characterized by a notable effort for reform, summarized in his motto 'Instaurare omnia in Christo' (Renew all things in Christ)."

Pope Benedict pointed to Pius X's reorganization of the Roman Curia, how he began work to re-examine the Code of Canon Law and his revision of the protocol for priestly formation. He also spoke of the Pope-saint's work to develop a universal catechism after having witnessed the great need for a reference point of the faith amidst widespread emigration.

"The Catechism called 'from Pius X,' was for many a sure guide in learning the truth of the faith for its simple, clear and precise language and for its expositive effectiveness," recalled Pope Benedict.

He was also reminded of the attention Pius X gave to liturgical reform, in an effort "to guide the faithful to a more profound prayer life and to a fuller participation in the Sacraments." Referencing the 1903 motu proprio "Tra le sollecitudini," he explained that Pius X asserted through it that "the true Christian spirit has its first and indispensable source in the active participation in the sacrosanct mysteries and in public and solemn prayer in the Church.

"For this," continued Benedict XVI, "he recommended receiving the sacraments often, promoting daily participation in Holy Communion, (being) well prepared, and anticipating opportunely the First Communion of children at seven years of age, 'when the child begins to reason' ... "

In marking the 100th anniversary of the Pius X-approved decree "Quam singulari" earlier this month, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments wrote about the same subject in the Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano newspaper. He suggested that the Church must confirm Pius X's decree and even possibly contemplate lowering the age further to ensure the graces for children as they reach the age of reason amidst the difficulties of today's world.

Concluding Wednesday's catechesis, the Holy Father said:

"Dear brothers and sisters, St. Pius X teaches all of us that the base of our apostolic action in the various fields in which we work must always be for us an intimate personal union with Christ, to cultivate and grow day after day this nucleus of all of his teaching, of all of his pastoral genius.

"Only if we are in love with the Lord will we be capable of bringing men to God and opening them up to His merciful love."

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