First Reconciliation

Reconciliation offers grace and the remission of sin to whoever receives it, and at whatever age. However, each person's approach to reconciliation is very different, depending on age, stage of life, and development as a person. In fact, people adapt reconciliation to a particular milestone or stage of life rather than adapting themselves to reconciliation.

Penance, also called reconciliation, or confession, was introduced as a formal sacrament at a later stage in Church history. In the first centuries of the Church, the main concern was with really major offenses such as adultery and debauchery. Known sinners were not allowed to attend the celebration of the Eucharist; they were excluded from the liturgy by the faith community. Paul wrote that unrepentant sinners should be excluded and avoided, as there was no way of getting through to them anyway.

As time went on, the Church developed formal penances for grave sins. If someone fasted, prayed, wore sackcloth and ashes, and generally atoned for a specific period of time, and if they then found a sponsor who could vouch for their true contrition, they could be admitted back to the fullness of the sacraments.

Confession as it is known today began in late medieval times, as the outgrowth of a custom in Irish monasteries. There, monks had regular talks with a mentor, counselor, or friend who helped them with their spiritual development. That practice spread to monks and priests in Europe, then began to be adopted by the faithful.

Today, Catholic children normally have their first reconciliation around the age of seven or eight. First confession was once a prerequisite for First Communion; today, that is no longer the case. Most theologians acknowledge that most children do not have serious sins to take care of before receiving the Eucharist. So children normally make their confession in second or third grade. Some parishes let the parents decide whether or not the children are ready. The criterion is that the child knows the difference between more serious and less serious sins.

Confession Is Good for the Soul

The benefit of confession at a young age is that it establishes the habit of using the sacrament of Penance. After all, the Church requires regular confession. It is mandatory for all Catholics to confess once a year as part of the Easter season.

Sins may vary by age. A child may be more concerned with obedience; a teenager, with stealing and impure thoughts; an adult, with any one of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth). Whatever the age, the sacrament of Penance demands a full examination of conscience preceding confession, a willingness to be completely open and honest during confession, true contrition, and an agreement to do penance and to amend one's ways.

Penance can be therapeutic in the truest sense for children just as well as for teens and adults. This sacrament can truly bring healing to a person's life by helping him or her regain a clear conscience, make amends, get some guidance, and start again.

A first reconciliation can be a memorable experience in a child's life. Cognitively, children are able to learn the commandments and what is expected of them. They are also concerned with what is just and fair. However, it is in later years that, alongside the markers and milestones of adolescence and adulthood, reconciliation can be significant both in helping with problems and pressures and as an instrument of personal growth.

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