SIR – I welcome Cardinal Cañizares’s suggestion that some children should start receiving Our Blessed Lord at an earlier age but, as you say in your leading article, “the child must be properly instructed”. Pope St Pius X, who gave us early Communion, made the same proviso when he wrote his encyclical on the Catechism, Acerbo nimis.
Unfortunately in this country we could have a problem. The Catholic parent (and it is often only one parent who is Catholic) could certainly instil a proper practice – daily prayers, Sunday Mass, etc – but the doctrinal teaching needed to support this practice, which used to be given, daily, in Catholic schools by teachers who had been trained to give it, is no longer available in most of our schools.
In the 1980s Bishop David Konstant, who was then in overall charge of religious instruction, decreed that sacramental preparation must now be given in the parish. This means that, instead of teaching the children every day, they are instructed only once a week and not always then. Also, those instructing them, though full of goodwill, have not received the two years training teachers of religion used to have and often they have not been well taught themselves. A day at the diocesan centre cannot possibly compensate for these lacks. To make things more difficult, many of the books used are far from helpful. For example, some parishes still use Brusselmans, which tells the children they receive only “blessed bread”.
If they are to make sure their children are properly prepared for the important Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion there are steps parish priests can take. One is to see your parish catechist takes a full training course at Maryvale in Birmingham. Another is to provide a sound textbook for your children such as the American Faith and Life series. Book 2 of this series covers both the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion and it is available here from the CTS. Also, a parish priest who gives talks for his first Communion parents on these two sacraments and includes tips on how they can help with the instruction will assist both parents and children to love and appreciate these two wonderful sacraments.
Yours faithfully, DAPHNE McLEOD Great Bookham, Surrey