Q. 1. Can you tell me which Sacrament should come first, Confession or Communion. My son will be celebrating his First Communion. It appears he will not be going to Confession prior to receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist because, as the priest puts it, he is under the age of reason. And the Church teaches that a child cannot sin under the age of reason. My son is 7 and in Grade II.
A. 1. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, every child must receive the Sacrament of Confession before doing his/her First Communion.
C.C.C. # 1457 "According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year." Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession. Children must go to the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion for the first time."
As noted above, C.C.C. # 1457 makes reference to having reached the age of reason (discretion). At the same time, it concludes by saying when it involves doing one's First Communion, the Sacrament of Confession comes first.
While it is true that a child under the age of reason cannot sin according to the teachings of the Catholic Church, it is understood that if a child is deemed ready to receive the Holy Eucharist, then that children should also be ready to receive the Sacrament of Confession. The child that has sufficient reason to understand one Sacrament should have sufficient reason to understand the second Sacrament.
With children under the age of reason, the Sacrament of Confession then becomes a training in the preparation for the Sacrament rather than a cleansing of the soul. If children under the age of reason are not taught to examine their conscience before First Communion, when will they ever learn?
On the matter of First Communion, the Code of Canon Law states:
Can. 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."
If the priest believes that a child has sufficient reason to do his/her First Communion, then the priest has an obligation to also prepare the child for the Sacrament of Confession beforehand. Otherwise, the child will have to wait until he/she reaches the age of reason, at which time he/she will have to learn to appreciate both Sacraments, Confession and the Holy Eucharist.