First a little history…
Before our second-graders take the leap toward First Eucharist (sometimes known as First Communion), they must first learn what it means to be truly sorry for their sins. The church says the “age of reason” is about 7-8 years old. You know, like when your oldest son does the one-two punch-kick to his little brother…he can no longer plead innocence and say he doesn’t know better. Because now he does. Certainly, the sins might be more serious than the occasional jab at a sibling, tone of disrespect to a parent or white lie. We all have those type of sins, which we commonly refer to as venial. The mortal ones are the biggies – murder, adultery, etc. So, they first learn what sin is. That we all do it. And, that we must ask for forgiveness.
Confessing our sins is a big part of receiving communion. The church suggests that Catholics attend confession at least once a year, and certainly we cannot receive the holy Eucharist if we possess mortal sin. That sin stands in the way of our relationship with Christ.
Once they grasp all that (which I’ll admit, I’m still learning myself), we prepare them for public reconcilation with the priest. Now, some of you might be saying, “Why in sam hill does one have to confess to a priest – why can’t they just say it to God?”
Good question. I’ll raise you this.
As early as the 1st century, just after Jesus was crucified, “churches” were home-based groups and when one would commit a sin, he would stand before the “congregation” and spill all his venial and mortal sins to his brothers and sisters. They would offer forgiveness AND help him to sin no more. That’s right – you aired all your dirty laundry with your friends and instead of gossiping about how you were such a horrible person, they actually helped you become more holy. Now, a few centuries later, churches got a little bigger, and persecution got a little crazier. So, the penance for sinning became so serious that sometimes people would be banned from partaking of the Eucharist (communion) until they had sought forgiveness. Sometimes as long as 50 years! Fast forward a few more centuries and those churches became huge. Imagine if on Sunday morning we sat through everyone’s litany of their sins. We’d be there all week! So, the priest became the representative of the whole community, and thus, reconciliation as we know it today, was born.
Long answer to a simple question. But I hope that gives you some insight as to why Catholics believe in confessing our sins to the representative of the community, and then why we do penance. It’s our way of becoming closer to Christ by acknowledging the sin and asking the community/priest to help us sin no more.
So, back to why it was such a big day for Master Will. He was so incredibly proud – all of his classmates were – to receive such a healing sacrament. We were able to be in the church while they went to visit with the priest. I just sat in the pew and cried. I realized what a fine young man Will is becoming and just how very proud I am to be his mom. It was his first foray into becoming a man of God – and that just hit me like a ton of bricks. At the baptism, we promise to raise our children to be disciples of Christ. Now, we’re starting to see what that really means.
Will – you are an amazing little boy who is turning into a wonderful young man. We love you more than you imagine. Cross my heart.