I have read in the news that a child who has Downs Syndrome has been told that he can not receive his first holy communion with the rest of his class in his school in West Yorksire because he “has limited concentration, doesn’t really access the RE curriculum and does not enjoy going to Mass”1. His parents are understandably upset.
I have been going to Mass all my life; I received my first Holy Communion while I was still at primary school along with the rest of my class. I understood that I had to be reverent and that it was a very important and holy event. I don’t think I was really aware of the Eucharist. Some of my old school friends come to church at Christmas. For some, it was their first and last time they ever took communion. A few, like me, still attend Mass and receive communion regularly. I have since developed a deeper understanding of the Eucharist, although I don't think that I will, in my lifetime actually fully understand Holy Communion. Receiving Holy Communion in itself is an act of faith.
I do not know the circumstances of this particular case and I do not know the child but the published reasons for the Church's refusal to give this child communion seem strange to me. Most children take communion at around age 8 and most 8 year olds have limited concentration. It is difficult for anyone of any age to concentrate solely on the words and meaning of the Mass for 60 minutes. Not accessing the RE curriculum is not valid, as the curriculum should be made accessible. As for enjoying Mass, surely this can not be a prerequisite as the purpose of the mass is not entertainment.
The only questions that in my opinion should be asked are: Does the child himself want to make his first Holy Communion? Does the child understand what the Eucharist actually is? If the answers to these questions are no then the Priest and the Bishop are in a difficult position but they are justified in asking him to wait.