His 100%


It is a mother’s fear, a mother’s concern; that my son Paul is three and does not speak.  He’s social. He smiles. He says some things. He dumps oatmeal on his head if I’m not vigilant.  He will open the drawers in the kitchen until I give in and give him a sippy cup with a drink.  He says RRAAHHH! That’s the animal sound for every animal from deer to dog to dinosaurs.  He jumps up and down when the bus shows up and fist bumps when I say good job.  He puts his hands together for grace and tries to make the sound of the cross. He howls along what sounds like a muddled Alleluia in church whenever there is music. There is so much he communicates, but it is all emotive, it is all a matter of reading his face and knowing his voice and intent.  But the mother’s fear remains, my son will not be seen as all that he is, or accepted.

This weekend I read a story about a boy with Down Syndrome in the U.K. who is seven and has been denied the ability to receive first communion, because he cannot speak and cannot sit or tolerate the length of a mass. Based on my reading of the articles and analysis, the refusal is based on the fact that he cannot communicate sufficient understanding of the nature of the Eucharist. That is a legitimate reason for denial, but the parents thought the church was being cruel. Having been on both sides of the door, as the teacher telling the parent, you child cannot do this, and now the mother who faces that possibility, I can see how perhaps the mother thought that, and how perhaps the priest thought otherwise.

I understood that mother. My brain says, “I know that hurt.” I also know that theologically, it is correct to not give communion to someone who is insufficiently capable of comprehending the nature of Holy Communion, if they cannot or have not in the past indicated the ability to know.

It smarts and smarts and smarts and smarts to hear a door shut on one’s child, whether it is because they did not make the team, they weren’t invited to a party, or they cannot participate more fully in the mass. Having a child with Down Syndrome means you have to anticipate that there will be shut doors.  More accurately, having any child means you know there will be shut doors, but having a child with special needs means you are more acutely aware of some of the doors that might be shut.  Will he go to college? Will he be able to live on his own? Will he need care the rest of his life? Will he be able to find a job? These things can wake you up in the middle of the night if you let it.   Will he be able to receive the Eucharist?  It is something I’ve wondered since I had him emergency baptized at two months.

So I get it.  I hope hope hope that four years from now, my son can go through the preparations and receive.  But I do not want him to receive incorrectly.  I do want him to receive.  I worry that I will let what I want, supersede my Catholic sensibilities.  Being human, it is quite possible that the mother ache will override my brain should he be denied.

What gives me hope is this father and his son that come every Sunday to 8:30 am mass. The son is at least 18 and has severe autism, he does not receive, but he goes to mass. He stands and sits and kneels with his father. He is present, as present as his abilities allow.  He even turns and shakes our hands.  He wears headphones to drown out some of the noise if he gets stressed.  Christ meets us half way, 3/4 of the way, 99% of the way.  We are the 1 percent.  He’ll even give us .05.  Christ will meet us wherever we are if we but try. For this son, coming and being at the mass, was his 100%.  It was all he could give.  This son and his father come. So Christ comes to him.  Spiritual communion counts. I know this, and it gives me comfort.  I may have to make my peace with this if when Paul is 8 or 9 or 16 or what have you, he still cannot reveal knowing that this food is not regular food.

So I pray for that mother and father and their son and the Parish, because I do not want any enmity between those who love the Eucharist.  Hopefully, their son will mature to be able to receive fully, and if not, that they will come to understand, that this is their son’s 100% and Christ will meet him there.

Copyright 2012 Sherry Antonetti


About Author

Sherry Antonetti is a mother of ten children, published author of The Book of Helen and a freelance writer of humor and family life columns. You can read additional pieces from her blog, http://sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com.


  1. Most parish leaders should know about the national guidelines for the USA, which basically say a person with disabilities may receive Eucharist when they exhibit their own particular signs of readiness – even if it is non-verbal. In our diocese, many parishes are preparing children with autism, Down Syndrome, and other issues, whether mainstreamed into their sessions or in special programs. Your son, as a baptized person has a right to the Eucharist, even if he does not communicate well. Take a look here at the guidelines, and explore the website of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability. http://www.ncpd.org/views-news-policy/policy/church/bishops/sacraments

    Take him to register in religious education when he reaches first grade. He has the right and you have the right to advocate for him to enter special sacrament preparation – and you should not take “no” for an answer. If you have issues in the parish, contact the diocese for assistance. Blessings on you and your family.

  2. Joyce is right. The bishops’ document that she references is helpful. This section of Canon Law might be, too–http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P39.HTM–especially the part about “according to their capacity.”

    Eucharistic theology is about much more than the Church’s legal and policy documents, though. The Eucharist is one of the most profound mysteries of our faith. Who among us, “disabled” or not, can really sufficiently understand it? Sacraments are freely given by God, not prizes that we can earn or be worthy to receive.

    Infants can receive the Eucharist in the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, and it’s the same Eucharist. The current Roman Catholic practices that separate baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist, that require children to reach the age of reason before receiving the Eucharist, and that usually require children to reach adolescence before receiving confirmation, are based on a huge number of factors, not just (or even mostly) on sacramental or Eucharistic theology.

    As the bishops’ document says, and I paraphrase, “When in doubt, commune the children!”

  3. Sherry

    You will need ot advocate fo ryoru son like tall of us who have a child with a disability. The Catholic Church has improved but needs to really lift it game of accepting and helping disabled people participate in the mass the sacraments etc as the only families I personally know these days with Downs kids are Catholic ones who are open to life. He may be more able to participate at an older chronological age than the correct chronological age but you will need to make a judgement call on that closer to 7 or 8. Just push and stand firm if you get any nonsense as the Catholic Church has to practice what it preaches

  4. A group worth looking at to improve Paul’s communication is Communicating Partners communicating@yahoogroups.com

    Dr Jim McDonald techniques to get involved with your disabled children and help them communicate is worth looking into and it take yours and his sibling time rather than endless big dollars


    They can be a bit zealous about the methods but several of the parents wiht older downs kid claim it has helped their children to really converse well. The other option is an ipad and an alternative communication app such as Prolog2go

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