The Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments: baptism, the Eucharist, Confirmation, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders and matrimony. The Eucharist is commonly known as communion, the part of a Catholic mass where you receive the body and blood of Christ in the form of bread and wine. Confirmation is the laying of hands to confirm an already-baptized member into a sort of coming of age into the church.
Sacraments of Initiation
The Vatican recognizes three sacraments as the "Sacraments of Christian Initiation": baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation. Baptism is being brought into the church, whether as an adult convert or as an infant. It involves holy water symbolically cleansing away original sin. Eucharist is referred to by the Vatican as the "source and summit" of Christian life, based on the Last Supper, during which Jesus Christ shared his body and blood through bread and wine. Catholics believe that once consecrated, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. It is a way of affirming membership in the church. Finally, Confirmation is the completion of the baptism ritual; it is the ceremony by which believers accept the Holy Spirit. The three of these combined are meant to be the foundations of a faith-based life and are required of all Catholics.
Can Non-confirmed Catholics Accept Communion?
There's not a particularly short answer to this question. The Eucharist isn't a sacrament unique to the Catholic Church. Many denominations of Christianity have it, with various rules and frequencies. For instance, some Protestant churches don't require being a member of their denomination to receive it. However, this is not the case in the Catholic Church. You must be baptized into the Catholic Church in order to receive communion. However, this doesn't mean that you have to have received the sacrament of Confirmation before taking first communion. Someone baptized into a different church is not allowed to receive the Catholic Eucharist, nor are Catholics allowed to receive communion from another church.
Receiving First Communion
The tradition within the Catholic Church was for the sacraments to be received in order: baptism, Confirmation and then Eucharist. It is still listed as such in the Catechism. However, the reality of matters is different. In general, the rule for Catholics receiving first communion is that their diocese sees them as having advanced to an age where they can understand the importance of the sacrament. Often, it involves a process of learning within the church before being allowed to receive communion. In some parishes, first communion and Confirmation are done at around the same time, while for others first communion might be received at an earlier age than Confirmation. However, Confirmation is not a necessity for receiving Eucharist according to current church law, though Pope Benedict XVI praised some dioceses that chose the more "correct" order.
According to the Code of Canon Law, Confirmation takes place at a time of the age of discretion, which is often chosen by the diocese or even parish where the Confirmation is taking place. So this may be at the age of seven, when a child is receiving first communion, or it may be later on during teenage years. For adult converts, the three sacraments are often performed all at once to welcome them to the church, as they will be at the age of discretion for the Eucharist and Confirmation.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church: The Seven Sacraments of the Church
- U.S. Catholic: Can a Catholic Receive Communion in a Protestant Church?
- New Advent: Communion of Children
- Catholic Answers: What Is the Correct Age for Confirmation?
- CatholicCulture.org: Bishop Puts Confirmation Before First Communion, Wins Pope’s Praise
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