Fr Sean McDonagh,a representative of the independent group, the Association of Catholic Priests, made the comment after calls to remove the age-specific nature of the traditional rites of passage.
The suggestion to replace the current system with one where people would not take communion or confirmation until they feel ready to take up the responsibilities involved was put forward by Laois-based priest Fr Paddy Byrne.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said the events should potentially not take place until adulthood as the age-specific ceremonies are increasingly focused on parties and children receiving money instead of their intended purpose.
Calling for a “wake-up call” on the issue, the 39-year-old said the ceremonies should be delayed until the children involved “have a choice” in the matter.
The situation would risk more people walking away entirely from the Church, but would also help to ensure those who do receive the sacraments have thought through the reasons for doing so.
Responding yesterday, Fr McDonagh said he was open to a discussion on the matter. However, while not taking sides, he added that the issue needs to be discussed at grassroots level; otherwise there is little hope anything will ever change.
“I’d be very open to a good discussion on this. There’s obviously a for and an against, but I can tell you it [age-specific religious ceremonies] are not written in stone,” he said.
“In the 19th century the Eucharist wasn’t too frequent; in the Philippines and elsewhere they do not perform first communion or confirmation until much later. I have no problem if people want to have a party or spend a lot of money on First Communion or First Confirmation, because they are seen as rites of passage.
“But what I am saying is we need to be talking about these issues and how they impact on faith. What the church wants is to sustain faith in those who are its members.”
The changing nature of communion and confirmation in Ireland has gained increasing attention in recent years, with claims families are going into debt to pay for expensive parties as part of the celebrations.
Speaking on Tuesday, Fr Byrne said the ceremonies can at times come with a “hostile” atmosphere as parents who have left the Church still feel obliged to let their children to take part in the religious event.
“There’s a major [of parents] who are quite unruly when it comes to the basic etiquette of how to behave.
“I’ve often been asked [during the ceremony] ‘do you have wi-fi here, can people go on Facebook?’
“It’s time for a wake-up call, to be pragmatic and honest in changing the way we do our business,” he said.