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What age communion?

Put up your hand if you believe that children should not be fed until they can at least articulate the five food groups.

Put up your hand if you fully understand the Eucharist.

Put up your hand if you understand x% of all there is to be understood about the Eucharist, and at the current rate of learning you will know all there is to be known about the Eucharist in y years.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has just called for the possibility of Roman Catholic children to receive communion prior to the age of seven. He was reflecting on the teachings of St Pius X. “With this decree … he taught the entire Church the meaning, the opportunity, the value and the centrality of Holy Communion for the life of all of the baptized, including children,” wrote the cardinal prefect of St. Pius X. First communion, as the beginning of our “walk together with Jesus” should not be put off.

Pius X pointed out that the ancient tradition of the Church was to give babies Communion immediately after their baptism. The practice died out in the West. Eastern Rite Catholics, of course, in full communion with Rome, receive communion from their baptism. Then the children are catechized from a very early age in what it is they have received.

“This practice of preventing the faithful from receiving, on the plea of safeguarding the august sacrament, has been the cause of many evils. It happened that children in their innocence were forced away from the embrace of Christ and deprived of the food of their interior life,” Pope Pius wrote.

New Zealand Roman Catholics, surprisingly, have an inconsistent variety of approaches. Most make their first communion aged 8 or 9. It normally requires first Confession, and Confirmation prior to receiving communion. But Christchurch Diocese and Palmerston North Diocese do not follow this practice, and have confirmation after first communion.

Canon lawyer Msgr Brendan Daly (in the newspaper NZ Catholic) explains that canon law requires children to be carefully prepared for first communion so that they understand what the mystery of Christ means and can receive with faith and devotion.

The issue, of course, with that approach is that what is sauce for the Eucharistic goose is sauce for Baptismal gander. If you demand “that they understand what the mystery of Christ means and can receive with faith and devotion”, then the Baptist position of requiring understanding and at least the “age of reason” to be baptized is a logical consequence, is it not?

Furthermore, why does the rationale not apply to Eastern Catholics whom the Vatican allows to receive from Baptism?

New Zealand Anglicans, and other provinces, have, in the renewal of liturgy, returned to the historic Christian practice of the Eucharist for all the baptised. Eucharist completes the sacrament of initiation, and is the repeatable part of the sacrament of initiation.

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51 Responses to What age communion?

  1. In the words of the priest who baptized our younger son thirty years ago: “He should never remember a time when he was not welcome at his Father’s table.” In my own opinion? “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” is enough “education” for the littlest ones.

  2. There will be a discussion in our local church soon about receiving Communion before confirmation which some Churches in our Diocese do already. I think I struggle with the idea of having an age restriction at all and in our Diocese the age is seven – for receiving Holy communion before confirmation.

    There are many groups of people who may not be seen to have an ‘understanding’ – however we define ‘understanding’ of Holy Communion. Into this mix comes the beliefs of the parent/s as well. I would not presume to give any child food without their parents permission as there can be complexities in terms of diet or allergies. Some parents will break off some of the bread they receive at Holy Communion and share it with their child and that is a way round the age restriction.

    We have an agape once a month in our Church and the children love it because they are included and can share in it. One little boy who regularly attends church and attends the service with an agape, was devoutly putting his hand out at Holy Communion recently – he wanted to receive – who are we to say no?

    It leads to another question for the Anglican Churches – what is the meaning of confirmation if we allow Holy Communion before confirmation? I think it is important as a means of expressing a commitment as an adult.

    • Susan, in NZ the Anglican Church moved in the 70s to what was then the RC practice: admission to communion after preparation about age 7. But clearly if 7 why not a mature 6? Why not 5… In 1990 the regulations changed to allowing all the baptised to receive communion. From their baptism. Children are no longer heard to say, “I don’t want to go up there to get my head measured again.” 😉 As to “what is the meaning of confirmation?” Good question – probably another blog post’s worth. Certainly it includes, as you say, being “a means of expressing a commitment as an adult”.

  3. It is interesting that the RC Church practices have not changed over the years. I made first Communion aged 7 and was confirmed a few months later.

    I can categorically state that I had learned the Catechism by rote and did not understand what I was doing.

    So where does that leave the church in this matter. Unless children have advanced substantially over the past 50 years, there is very little understanding of the Sacrament at such a young age.

    But I agree with not denying children from being fed from Baptism, as having been Baptised, they deserve to share in the Good News and Sacraments. Hopefully this initiation will allow them to grow in faith, love and understanding to be confirmed when they are confident of making the decision.

  4. Understanding might be seen as a spectrum from an as-yet-unborn child’s (let’s assume 0) to a teenager (some) to an adult (more) to a theologian’s understanding (let’s hope lots more). I’m with Anne, her priest of old, this Pius X fellow, and reason: no cut-off point on age as a barrier.

  5. I received communion for the first time as an adult – I had been baptised at 6 months old but did not attend church until 32 yo. I did not know very much about Jesus or communion at that time, but believe that God connected with me mightly in that act of going up for communion that day. I am very grateful that the Anglican church I was in did not deny me communion given I had not been confirmed.
    5 years later I have recently been confirmed and it was a beautiful experience and a chance to confirm my faith publicly as an adult. Having had communion for 5 years previously did not take away the significance for me of that confirmation.
    I don’t think we should decide who can and who can not come to the Lord’s Table.

  6. Father,
    This is a very thought provoking piece and timely as I am personally re-examining my policy on the practice in my diocese.
    +Council

  7. Oh Wow! What a great topic! Here are some things to consider: (I was a RC religious educator for quite a few years, have now returned to the Episcopal Church, but I coordinated many First Communions and each one was unique.)
    Baptism does initiate the child into the Church – a parent/family/church decision that sets the child on the path to faith. It is also a time of family togetherness very often and a time of contact with the parish church other than an hour on Sat/Sunday.

    Many many people have been hurt by the Sacrament of Penance when it was badly mis-used. However, how important it is for a child to learn that hurting others hurts them and the child’s relationship with God and with their families and friends. How important for a child to learn to acknowledge wrongdoing and to learn to say “I’m sorry for what I did”. Often parent meetings are another connection to families, another time for them to learn and ask questions of the church staff. This is also a good time to make sure that kids are learning their prayers and that they belong to a faith community that cares for their well being.

    First Communion follows. How the kids look forward to this! How the families around the world look forward to this!!The whole Drama of it – the relatives, the shopping, the learning of prayers! The whole “I now am a full member” (not quite yet,) but oh, the sense of belonging and the rehearsals and learning about their liturgy and taking part in songs geared for their age. Even very poor families find ways to truly celebrate. What great community celebration of belonging!

    Confirmation hopefully in High School. Exploring where they fit into the church community and what their responsibilities are as soon-to-be-adults. And again the whole community celebrates AS A COMMUNITY.
    I appreciate many things about the Episcopal/Anglican churches, but I think they miss the boat almost entirely in separate, subjective sacramental moments that do not serve as teaching occasions or as community celebrations of togetherness.

    Nijoc

    • Thanks Nijoc/Pat for your very thoughtful, thought-provoking comment. Starting backwards, in my experience it is precisely the Anglicans that make much of confirmation, at least here, and have it much as you describe it. As I mention in the post, for Roman Catholics confirmation is around the age of 7 or 8 and tied in with first Confession and First Communion. In my regular experience, confirmation within Anglicanism here is a wonderful time of reflection, preparation, formation, community-building and excitement.

      I would agree that it would be great to create a ritualised marker around the age of 7 or 8. I personally am not convinced that communion should be used to be the marker. I think we actually need to be far more creative about marking life moments ritually: we have a rite of blessing a new home, we have many many rites associated around death, we could be developing rituals around engagement, we have a rite of thanksgiving for the gift of a child, we could be working on many more as your comment inspires.

      Thanks again.

  8. Jesus said, ‘Take, eat …’ not ‘analyze, understand’. As you say, what sort of a family would starve children till they could articulate what food is. Besides, Jesus tells us to take and eat and then tells us that ‘this is [his] body’. Isn’t that enough for us to know? As they hymn says, ‘Thou art here, we ask not how’.

  9. Hi Bosco,

    Around seven the child reaches the age of reason, when they are considered responsible for their own actions. So having Holy Communion at age 7 or higher absolutely requires the Sacrament of Penance, so that the child can be absolved from any sins they have wilfully committed before receiving the Lord.

    There is no requirement for a child to be Confirmed, however, before receiving Holy Communion. It’s probably to ensure Confirmations (which complete Baptism) are done during the whole process.

    Children could receive Holy Communion earlier because they would not need to be absolved from any sins because they wouldn’t be responsible for them. I don’t know if this is a good idea or not, as having the Sacrament later does help the child make the connection between having to be in a state of grace prior to Holy Communion.

    So it’s not so much having to understand the Eucharist, but it’s more that a child has to be fully prepared in order to receive the Eucharist. For receiving in a state of mortal sin leads to spiritual death.

    But you guys don’t have to worry about all that!

    • With respect, Lucia, you are presenting some interesting opinions, but they are not supported by official Roman Catholic teaching. The Eucharist forgives sin (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1393). Hence, your suggestion is a novelty: “having Holy Communion at age 7 or higher absolutely requires the Sacrament of Penance, so that the child can be absolved from any sins they have wilfully committed before receiving the Lord”. Your implication that we can commit sins not willfully is a whole other thread. Blessings.

  10. Nijoc, your comment worries me. The paragraph “Sacrament of Penance” is disjoint and “First Communion follows”, well no it doesn’t. Sin might happen (not as often as RCs think), penance might happen, and communion happens.

    Robert: an aside. When Jesus supposedly said “this is my body”, do you think it was the bread he was talking about?

  11. It would seem apparent from our modern Anglican liturgies that the only requirement for Eucharist is Baptism. Period. Anything else is a requirement that we have added to the concept, regardless of how instructional we may make it, or celebrated it may be.

    Being something that we have added, our modern Anglican liturgies are pretty apparent that Conformation is an opportunity for someone baptized at an early enough age that the baptismal covenant was made for them by more mature Christians, to make the baptismal covenant for themselves, whatever their age. There is nothing more to it. And this has nothing to do directly with Eucharist.

    So it would seem that logic would follow that if a baptized child is truly a Christian, then that child has met all of the requirements to participate in the Eucharist. Period.

  12. The Fathers infinite wisdom and grace given to us and to all. At baptism sins are forgiven. – I think the pre 7 are covered therein.They should have knowledge before partaking of the body + Blood + of our Savior +.The Father blesses, loves, and adores the innocent in heart. Bring them to communion, let them see and learn with the Family. And on their special day make it a real celebration. Blessing to you all.

  13. This is a very timely issue for me. We’ve just moved home to Canada after eight years in England. In England, the Prayer Book rubric remains the norm, and no one is admitted to Communion who is not already confirmed or at least “ready and desirous to be confirmed” (though there are some parishes where infant and child communion has been approved on an experimental basis). My three-year-old daughter has grown up as an Anglican and loves coming to church (as has her one-year-old brother). Back in England, she learned to imitate me and her mother as we knelt at the altar rail and extended our hands to receive. Of course, she would not be offered the sacrament, receiving instead a gentle blessing from our priest. Invariably she would then watch me consume the elements and ask, “Is it good, Daddy? Can I try some? Do you like that juice?” Here in Anglican Church of Canada, all baptized persons may receive Communion regardless of age. I only learned this a couple of weeks ago, when my daughter, as usual, extended her hands as if to receive and the priest duly placed the consecrated Bread in her hands. In her surprise, she promptly dropped it on the floor! As the priest tried to place it in her hands again, I intervened with the only words I could think of: “She’s not confirmed!” So the bread was withdrawn, and she began to cry! Afterwards the priest explained to me the Canadian policy, and I’ve been thinking very hard ever since then about how to proceed. Here are the main issues I’m dealing with, and I wonder if readers of this blog may be able to advise me:

    1) I’m aware that the ancient Christian practice, which continues in the East, was for all ages to receive. BUT the Eastern Orthodox administer the elements in a way easily consumed even by infants, i.e. a small portion of leavened bread completely soaked in wine and administered with a spoon (this is sometimes irreverently called “Magic Mush”). By contrast, I’m pretty sure that, at this age, my daughter will spit out her next wafer (having dropped the first). Whatever varieties there may be in our sacramental theology, lack of reverence towards the sacrament is not really a part of the Anglican tradition (the 1552 BCP rubrics and recent duck- and dog-feedings notwithstanding). So what steps should one take to communicate a small child reverently within the context of a typical Canadian Anglican parish where wafer breads and a large chalice are used?

    2) It is well known that the traditional Western rites of initiation were disintegrated in the course of the Middle Ages. We in the West reserved Confirmation for bishops, whereas our Eastern brethren delegated it to presbyters. But the early medieval practice was still for infants to be confirmed in the course of the bishop’s annual visitation of his diocese (this is the setting for a nice miracle story about St. Wilfrid, d.709/710). Later on, we ended up with Confirmation as a affirmation of baptismal vows at an age when personal consent could (theoretically) be given. This was natural at the Reformation, when we emphasized the importance of Faith as a necessary part of “feeding on Christ in our hearts” in the Eucharist. Your fun questionnaire above, though, shows how sensible it would be to return to the ancient practice, and I would heartily support this. But I also understand that the Canadian policy arose largely as an unintended consequence of deciding that baptized non-Anglicans should be welcome to receive Communion in our churches. The result has been that we have practically (but not officially) rejected Confirmation as a necessary part of Christian initiation. One could justify this as a legitimate Anglican development, since we seem always to have taught that Confirmation is merely an “apostolic ordinance” retained only at the Church’s discretion. But to decide, almost accidentally, to disregard Confirmation now, when we have retained it for centuries, seems to me incredibly short-sighted. I very much agree with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who wrote, “mistrust is always in order when a large part of the living history has to be thrown onto the garbage dump of discarded misunderstandings”. So against that background, and without prejudice to inviting non-Anglicans to communicate, how should an Anglican parent concerned for the integrity of his tradition proceed? I wonder if my bishop would do an extraordinary private chrismation for our two little ones 🙂

    For now, I’ve shown my daughter the Last Supper in her “Bible for Toddlers” and explained that some day she too will be allowed to receive Communion, but until then she can continue to have her “special blessing” (or “speshow lessey” as she calls it). Our priest made a special fuss over her at the Communion rail last week, which gladdened and humbled me. And a really interesting bi-product of the whole process was this: my daughter, several times during the service, pointed to the (female) priest and exclaimed, “That’s Jesus over there!” So much for the traditionalist argument that women are unsuited to stand at the Lord’s Table in persona Christi!

    • Thanks for your contribution, Jesse, (and I’m enjoying looking around your site).

      1) The practicality of your children receiving without spitting communion out: in my extensive experience of this – I have never seen that happen. Children naturally absorb reverence in my experience. It sounds as if your daughter would happily receive communion – possibly first administered to her by you, if you have any concerns.

      2) You stated you have only been aware of the Canadian practice for a couple of weeks. Your understanding that it “arose largely as an unintended consequence of deciding that baptized non-Anglicans should be welcome to receive Communion” is incorrect. There is good scholarly material on this which your parish priest should be able to point you to. Lambeth 1968 set the Anglican Communion on deeper study of initiation.

      The bishops at Lambeth 1968 affirmed that confirmation not be a rite of admission to communion.

      The statement of the First International Anglican Liturgical Consultation (IALC) at Boston 1985 on Children and Communion affirmed that all baptized persons are admitted to communion.

      IALC 4– incidentally meeting in Toronto 1991 – recommended “Baptism is complete sacramental initiation” and “Baptism is the sacramental sign of full incorporation into the body of Christ. Thus all who are baptized should be welcomed into the eucharistic fellowship of the church.”

      3) Pastorally and theologically there is an issue IMO with a “special blessing”, particularly as there is, in practice, often more reverence and fuss made with such a “special blessing” than with the reception of communion. In doing so I think, on the one hand there is the danger of reinforcing clericalism, and on the other, of minimizing the uniqueness of the Sacrament.

      Lucia, your revised position more closely expresses the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, and, of course, the Anglican position (I suspect that’s whom you mean by “you guys”?). In combination with your first comment on this thread you would be stating that all children have committed mortal sin – a position that I cannot agree with, and the Roman Catholic magisterium would not hold.

      Blessings

  14. Bosco,

    The Eucharist forgives venial sin only. Not mortal sin. A person who is in a state of mortal sin should not approach the Eucharist, unless he or she seeks to condemn themselves.

    Keeping these invisible bonds [of communion] intact is a specific moral duty incumbent upon Christians who wish to participate fully in the Eucharist by receiving the body and blood of Christ. The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called ‘communion’, not even were we to touch the Lord’s body a thousand times over, but ‘condemnation’, ‘torment’ and ‘increase of punishment’”.73

    Along these same lines, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly stipulates that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion”.74 I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, “one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin”.75

    ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA

  15. Bosco,

    The Eucharist forgives venial sin only. Not mortal sin. A person who is in a state of mortal sin should not approach the Eucharist, unless he or she seeks to condemn themselves. The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup…” (1 Cor 11:28-29).

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1385 also stipulates that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion”.

    Connecting the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist in this way from an early age is vital. So even if a child is not guilty of a grave sin, it is very good practise to clear one’s conscience before approaching the Lord.

  16. I’m a Catholic, and I’ve never heard of any child being confirmed at age 7 or 8. In my experience, it comes some time between ages 10 (me) and 16 (a young man I was sponsor for).

    • Lucia, your first comment had “having Holy Communion at age 7 or higher absolutely requires the Sacrament of Penance, so that the child can be absolved from any sins they have wilfully committed before receiving the Lord”, your later comment explained that the Sacrament of Penance is only required to absolve mortal sin.

      Matt, so there you are – now you have, as that is the practice of the majority here in New Zealand.

  17. Bosco,

    My position is not revised, it is just further clarified.

    Sorry about the multiple comments, – I thought that one with the blockquote and the link wasn’t accepted as it just disappeared, so I rewrote it.

    But I don’t know what you mean by this: “.. In combination with your first comment on this thread you would be stating that all children have committed mortal sin..”

  18. Bosco,

    Thanks for explaining, now I see where the confusion lies.

    Seven year olds aren’t likely to commit mortal sin, however this does not mean they absolutely cannot. If it were the case that the Eucharist was first given to a child around the age of reason without first providing for that child a means of being absolved of mortal sin should that child have committed any, then that would put that child into a terrible situation. Don’t you think?

    It is far safer, from the perspective of prudence to ensure that first Penance is done before first Holy Communion. Also, as I keep stating, it keeps linking the two up in their most logical order, one being a prerequisite for the other.

    Now as to the means of forgiving venial sin. While as the Eucharist forgives venial sin, it does so in a way that does not require explicit repentance as the Sacrament of Penance does. If there is no explicit repentance then the person is not likely to not recognise the action as a sin and therefore not try and prevent themselves from committing the sin again and again.

    The Sacrament of Penance absolves both venial and mortal sin and gives extra graces in the areas of weakness that have been confessed, and so through our conscious efforts and His grace, those sins can be overcome.

    The Lord wants us to become perfect, and one of the means He gives us of doing so is regular attendance at the Sacrament of Penance, where we recognise our failings and ask for forgiveness, and resolve to do better.

    Venial sin, though of a lesser gravity than mortal sin, still offends God. Repeated disregard for venial sin, without conscious repentance, most likely will lead to mortal sin.

    I hope that helps.

  19. Matt,

    When I was a teenager, Confirmation was done at age 16 or 17 here in NZ. So I missed it as I’d already left the Church by that point. I was Confirmed as an adult with my oldest son who was 10 at the time (he was a convert). I used to think that Confirmation was just a coming of age sacrament. No wonder I left the Church, I knew hardly anything!

    Confirmation is actually the completion of Baptism. Have a read of the Catechism explanation of what Confirmation is. So in my opinion, and having had an 8 year old son confirmed as well, the younger the better.

    We Catholics need all the graces from God possible so that we don’t just get cast adrift as I did and as many that I know have.

  20. Tim, I believe (as the Gospels tell us in the narratives on the institution of the Eucharist) that Jesus took bread, prayed, broke it and said, ‘This is my body’. Clearly, to me at least, that statement refers to the bread, though just how it refers to it has to be a moot point, I think. Is Jesus speaking metaphorically, or literally, or in some other way?

    Likewise, John 6:51 (‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’) links bread to Jesus’ body, though again the question remains, what sort of statement is this? Allegorical? Anagogical?

    Given that this little theologaster is frankly flummoxed by it all, I’d say I believe in the doctrine of the Real Presence and like the Elizabethan writer, I believe that ‘He was the word that spake it, He took the bread and brake it; And what that word did make it, I do believe and take it’. Like the Orthodox, I am quite happy for the Holy Mysteries to remain precisely that.

  21. This is an interesting conversation. I discussed this very issue with an Anglican Priest. When I said that I felt that at age 7 I was to young to fully understand the process of First Confession and Holy Communion and that I felt it should be held over until perhaps Confirmation and Holy Communion together, he was quite offended.

    He said that my position was an individual viewpoint – and that he and many others were confirmed at age 7 along with Holy Communion, and he had fully understood the implication of it.

    I have to say – that his reprimand resonated in me and I had to apologise. What it showed me is that one single viewpoint is not the only valid one. There are many others, equally as valid.

    I am still unsure of whether what happened in my case was common, but I it is evident that some children who are put forward for First Confession and First Holy Communion, may, despite any preparation, still not be fully prepared or ready for the Sacrament.

    It is a joy to read Jesse’s story as it demonstrates that many children are being introduced to the church fully as members from the youngest age, and being made welcome. All to often I hear tut’s from people if children in church are a little active or noisy. They enjoy coming, and deserve to be there. Services are not just for adults.

  22. (Reposted from Facebook as requested)

    Amen, amen, amen. I was baptized at the Easter Vigil in 1979 (at age four months) and received my first communion the following week. I have no memory of not being fed at God’s table. (I’m Episcopalian.)

    (Additional comment based on reading thread)

    My 2 1/2 year old, incidentally, has been receiving since about the same age, and has never spit out a wafer.

  23. Hi, Bosco. Many thanks for that helpful and informative answer, and also for taking the time to look at my humble blog. Your anecdotal assurance that the children will catch on quickly encourages me to give it a try. What has your approach been with infants who have no molars? I’ve never seen a baby communicated before, and the logic of our discussion so far would seem almost to require my fifteen-month-old’s participation! And I quite agree with you about blessings in lieu of communion (though I’ve been grateful to receive them as an ecumenical gesture when attending Catholic Masses).

    On the business of “largely unintended consequences”, I think we may be talking about different things. What I wrote was a summary of the explanation given to me by an Anglican professor of liturgy at the local theological college, and he’s well placed to know what the immediate reasons were in this local (Canadian) context. I rather suspect that, whatever recommendations have been offered by the Lambeth Conference and IALC, the deliberations of a General Synod sometimes proceed according to their own rules of logic! And I must say, Resolution 45 of Lambeth 1968 seems to me genuinely ambiguous: a natural reading would, I think, restrict its intent to allowing non-Anglicans to communicate who are both baptized and “qualified to receive Holy Communion in their own Churches”. It says nothing about Anglicans themselves — and in any case, in 1968, wouldn’t most Anglicans still have to have been confirmed to be “qualified”?

    As a historian of early medieval liturgy, it’s all too easy for me to forget that there just may have been legitimate liturgical and theological developments after the Norman Conquest. Thanks for pointing me to IALC, whose complete reports I hope to find in the library. For any of your readers who would like to see their recommendations, there’s a good summary of their work at the Anglican Communion Website (see Item 1 “Children and Communion” and Item 4 “Initiation”). I especially agree with their request that Bishops become once again frequent and visible ministers of baptism.

    Nevertheless, I do wish that we had proceeded somewhat differently in terms of getting our own Anglican house in order: just to jettison the requirement for Confirmation because it made no sense to us today was surely presumptuous when there was every possibility that we might understand it better tomorrow. I wonder if we’ll ever see our way to unifying the two services and allowing our presbyters, immediately after baptism, to lay on hands and pray that the baptized may receive the strengthening grace of the Holy Spirit. That would take care of the “initiation” aspect of Confirmation as we have inherited it, and it would leave the field clear for a service of personal affirmation of faith at a later age (naturally involving the Bishop in his role as a visitor ensuring good teaching and practice in all his parishes).

    But then, what do I know? I’m hardly of the pedigree to be worrying about when one begins receiving Communion, having been baptized in the United Church of Canada at 7 and having freely communicated in all manner of churches before my Anglican Confirmation at 22! 🙂 I merely mourn that our determination to make our modern liturgical forms agree with our modern liturgical theology robs us of an opportunity to be taught by the liturgy instead of trying to teach it.

    Many thanks again for your kind and helpful reply.

  24. Hello Again,

    I wrote above about my experiences in Rel. Ed. and I was a little puzzled by a comment in Bosco Peter’s reply and after some thought on the matter, I decided to ask about it.

    Ever since I have returned to the Episcopal Church, I have wondered why First Communion is such a subjective and rather downplayed event in the life of a child. It seems to be a private decision instead of a personal and communal celebration
    and I don’t understand that. Many times there doesn’t seem to be much information given to the child.
    Furthermore, when I ask why this is so, I have never received an
    answer that made much sense. So now I am asking again here in hope of enlightenment.
    Also, I am confused as to why FC should not be the milestone event for ages 7-8? Why would u have to develop one, when we have
    FC?
    Re: the age of Confirmation: an older theory was “to make sure it was done” and often hurried it along with First Communion which was more economical $$$ although that wasn’t the reason given.
    However, since VII,much work has been done to stress that Confirmation completes Baptism with the person now taking responsibility for the promises made for him/her at Baptism. (yes, originally they were two services- Baptism & Confirmation)

    I would appreciate any information concerning these matters.
    Thank you.
    Pat

  25. People are probably aware there has been a significant earthquake here [biggest since the Napier earthquake of 1931]. I have little time for expanded responses.

    Also, people, remember we are a community here, and you are welcome and encouraged to dialogue respectfully with other’s comments in accordance with the comments policy here.

    May I just add something that hasn’t appeared so far. Some people can be quite casual about baptism yet understand the sacredness of communion. When these, in catechesis, realise, eg. that their baby will be communicated at his/her baptism suddenly a penny drops as they realise how significant this baptism actually is!!!

    Jesse, I’m sure others around you and even here can give concrete advice. A parent can raise the wafer to a baby’s lips (this can have been intincted if that is your family’s decision) and then the parent consume the wafer once the baby has received. For a baby on solids, a small piece of wafer can be given by a parent. I don’t see why they would need molars to receive a small piece of wafer.

    Pat, you describe yourself as Episcopalian, and yet that confirmation “completes” baptism. That is not Episcopalian/Anglican teaching. As I hope I’ve made clear in the post and comments, Anglican teaching is that baptism makes one a full member of the church. Are you suggesting that those not confirmed do not have the Holy Spirit? I do not see biblical justification for such a position. Also the danger in what you are proposing is that young children see “First Communion” as the sacrament, “First Communion” as the important event. Baptism is a single, unrepeatable event – communion is repeatable, and each time we receive communion is significant. In fact as we grow spiritually communion may grow in meaning to us.

    Blessings

  26. Bosco,

    Thanks! I’ve talked to my uncle about his impressions of the Church in NZ before (he’s the pastor at St. Mary’s RC Church in Carterton) but somehow that never came up…very interesting to know.

    I sort of see the point of an earlier Confirmation; but I don’t know if I am entirely convinced that it ought to be “the way things are”. (Oh, and I hadn’t realized – I should have specified that I’m from the US, and have lived pretty much all over the US.)

  27. I haven’t yet pored through all the comments here. I look forward to doing so later in the weekend; so much to digest!

    We’ve been bringing our 2-year-old to the communion rail at our Anglican church and the priests have given her a blessing per our request. We had opted to wait until she was old enough to have at least a basic acquaintance with Jesus before she could receive Communion.

    Last Sunday, my husband brought her up and they walked back to our pew; Frannie had two tiny fistfuls of Communion bread that she had grabbed from the priest, and she was eating them. I worried that she might drop them to the floor the way she often does with snacks at home. But no, she ate all the bread. I was relieved, but also concerned about whether this was an unfortunate precedent, and that maybe she would be more casual next time and (not realizing yet what Communion means) cavalier with it.

    I took great comfort in what your post and some of the comments I’ve read. Having come to Anglicanism with a Roman Catholic background, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the Anglican theology behind the Eucharist. But I take from this exchange a sense that regardless of her level of perfunctory theological understanding, she should always know a time when she was welcome at the Lord’s table.

    • Thanks for your contribution, Joyce. I’m not sure what you mean by wrapping your “head around the Anglican theology behind the Eucharist”. I don’t think that anything in this series of comments is dependent on any different “theology”. As my post indicates, Eastern Catholics, in full communion with the Vatican, practise infant communion, continuing the ancient Christian tradition. So I am certainly advocating reverence. I think somewhere in my comments I may even have said how children absorb such a reverent atmosphere and attitude. I still want to underscore this. I’m sure this is an opportunity for your family. I think children, like everyone, consume communion at the place where they receive, and not wander off with communion. The blessed opportunity is there now for you to be intentional on Sundays, and I think that is wonderful and positive and blessed.

      I think you make a good point, David. In no sense IMO is confirmation “confirming” baptism as if baptism is incomplete.

      ps. it is getting dark now. The centre of the city is closed and there is a curfew. There is a lot of rubble. But, amazingly, there have been no deaths – one person had a heart attack. Some images.

  28. The phrase “Confirmation completes Baptism” makes it sound as if until Confirmation, Baptism is incomplete, that it is conditional, that without Confirmation it has an expiration date. There is nothing biblical or Anglican in that thought process.

    Baptism is a complete sacrament. It is fully effectual for eternity and has absolutely no need of a Confirmation.

    •••••

    Lucia Maria, I mean this in a light hearted manner, but your brand of Roman Catholicism, with this emphasis on penance, sounds very Calvinist!

  29. David,

    You should have a look at my blog and what we have in our byline, which is Sine Dominico Non Possumus. Linking Calvinism and Catholicism does not make sense to me, even lightheartedly, as we totally depend on the priesthood, and as I understand Calvanism, it totally rejects the priesthood, unless it’s the priesthood of all believers.

    Bosco,

    We prayed for Christchurch at Mass today, and I’m sure all churches will be doing so as well. I’ll add you all to my prayers tonight as well.

  30. MYSTAGOGIA: the term refers to the period AFTER the rites of Initiation are imparted. it implies that: you inquire about joining the church and becoming active in the faith ( you cannot do this at a young age but it is presumed that you are following the faith of your family); you have some basic training in the truths and tenets of the faith, you are given BASIC instruction in liturgy, prayer and what it means to be a follower of Christ(NOT CCD or ROTE learning); you or your family again express a firm desire to belong to the body of Christ, you are initiated ( hopefully on the night of the Easter VIGIL: Baptized, Confirmed and Reception of the Eucharist) THEN you enter the period of MYSTAGOGIA: opening the mysteries of the faith, looking for deeper understanding and knowledge of the sacraments, move towards discipleship and full, active participation in the liturgy and the life of the church. This is the RCIA…. we must come together as CHURCH and embrace this model of initiation as a good and faithful model of initiation in the early church.
    Where does it say age appropriate??? Where do we talk about worthiness?? it’s a life long quest!! it does not END at initiation or reception of the sacraments: IT BEGINS THERE!!
    we are all on the same journey……to CHRIST…..

  31. Dear Bosco,
    Indeed u do have an earthquake and prayers go forth from here, prayers for fears to recede, for rebuilding and comfort, we have been told, as of earlier today, that no deaths have been reported, for which we give thanks.

    Re: my post concerning baptism I must say that of course baptism is complete initiation into the church. Of course the child is sealed with the Oil of Chrism in the name of the Trinity. In the early church, Baptism was done by the bishop of the area until the Faith spread over such a wide geographical area and the bishops could not get around to do them all. Over time,
    Baptism and Chrismation became separate sacraments in the western church. Today Baptism. First Communion and Confirmation are all considered Sacraments of Initiation. In Confirmation, the young person is “sealed” with Chrism and given the 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the Eastern church, all 3 are done at once in infancy as has been described here.

    When I became an Episcopalian at age 17, the book that was used for instruction (Brother Lawrence I believe)said there are 7 sacraments: 2 major sacraments are Baptism and Holy Communion, the other five: Confirmation Penance,Marriage, Holy Orders and Extreme Unction were considered minor sacraments. But of course some things change, an example is the changing use of Anointing of the Sick which no longer happens only on deathbeds. I think the idea of 2 Major and 5 Minor sacraments has changed also.
    A couple of things seem to be important here: one is that a sacrament always gives grace (s) to the receiver and the other idea was mentioned by Maria above: that we as people of church come to understand the Mysteries of the Faith more deeply as time and study pass.

    As a teacher of Faith to children, it is apparent to me that ‘markers’ of important milestones in a child’s development are important to the child and to the family. My experience tells me that if these important faith sacramental markers all take place in infancy, many families who are not well instructed or well disposed to faith in the family at home do not see to it that the children get useful and adequate instruction regarding their practice of religion.

    I took a course on the Trinity once and as part of the curric, I had to interview an Orthodox priest. I asked him about catechesis when all is done in infancy and he replied (er, roared)that every child had to attend catechesis until age 16 in his parish. I don’t think such a comprehensive program is found in many churches, to say the least.

    • Thanks Pat. Maybe others can participate with Pat – I’m not exactly sure where you are going with this? It is unclear to me in this latest comment if you want all markers to “all take place in infancy” – or if you are suggesting that there should be “sacramental” (as distinct from one of the “seven” sacraments) opportunities for marking throughout life. I certainly think that there should be opportunities for instruction, formation, and marking, throughout life. However, I would not be in favour of using a sacrament to make such a moment appear “special”. Have a symbolic ritual of being a friend of Jesus aged about 7. Have a ritual enrolling as a disciple of Christ aged about 13. Have confirmation from age 16. Have a rite of adult Christian leadership from about age 21. etc. I’m just making up these ideas as fast as I type…

  32. Lucia Maria, I have no idea what “We cannot live without Sunday” has to do with the significance to my comment or the RC priesthood.

  33. Dear Bosco, I had it explained to me as follows: The sacraments give us strength and support us though out our lives. Baptism initiates us into the church and makes us children of God, Penance helps us to acknowledge our wrongdoing, to express sorrow, and provides us with a means to do better. Holy Communion feeds us as we go through life. Confirmation seals us with the gift of the HS and the 7 gifts of the Spirit, Marriage unites us with a partner and ongoing love to create a family unit, Holy Orders provides us with leaders in the Church and Anointing brings strength and healing when we are ill and or dying. (and nowadays is used regularly by some as ongoing blessing.

    All of these sacraments are available in Anglicanism as well as in the RC, they are there to support us on the journey of life as we need or become ready to accept them.

    Thoughts and prayers go out to you as the people of New Zealand
    suffer the scary aftershocks and start to evaluate and rebuild.

    Peace & Good, Pat S.

  34. SUNDAY UPDATE / POST MORTEM

    I was completely persuaded by the discussion here that it was proper and good that my children, aged 3 and 15 months, should not be denied the sacrament of the altar one Sunday longer. So we were off to church early this morning to talk to the priest about our children being admitted to Communion today. It was a joyful scene. My daughter and I had baked bread together the night before and talked about the Eucharist, and we gave a fresh loaf to our priest. I asked my daughter if she’d like to have the bread and wine in church today, and she threw a little happy dance of excitement. The whole service was wonderful. I wept a little during the singing of Psalm 139, especially v. 5 “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me” and vv. 12-15 about God seeing us even in the womb. I thought, “Yes, it all makes sense that no Christian child should be held back from the Lord’s Table, even if the sacrament is a mystery ‘so high that [they] cannot attain to it’.”

    At Communion time, we approached the sanctuary full of anticipation. My daughter knelt down and eagerly held out her hands for the bread. She put it in her mouth, chewed once, leaned towards me…

    … and spit the whole thing out into my hand.

    Then she was picking her teeth to get out every last fragment of that strange substance. A right mess. To top it off, the minister of the cup passed her over when it should have been her turn to receive. She took exception to that, but I figured we’d had enough of accidents for one week.

    I hate to say “I told you so”, but I told you so! (Oh, and the fifteen-month-old wasn’t interested. I guess there’s a reason that Orthodox children are communicated on the day of their baptism and not again for years thereafter.)

    Not to worry, we’ll find our way after a little practice. 🙂

    Perhaps the most important lesson I take away from this is that my children’s reception of Communion is not about me, either in my initial indignation at the suggestion that they should have it, or, after changing my mind, in my dreamy expectation that their first experience would be beautiful. Hilarious self-absorption.

    You are very much in my prayers as recovery from the earthquake carries on.

    • Thanks Jesse for sharing your ongoing journey.

      Without knowing your family, family dynamics, and your 3-year-old daughter, it is difficult to comment specifically. I suggested above that you, at first, administer a small piece of communion to her and advised that you seek concrete advice from others around you.

      Secondly, it is difficult to be sure about the details in your comment, but it appears that you may be saying that bread is a “strange substance” to your daughter. This, certainly here, would be an unusual situation.

      Some children, depending on the individual, and on family dynamics, will react to food that is different. A child who has received communion from baptism, administered, as would be not unusual, in the first year, would not regard communion as being unusual or “different”.

      I am not asking you what you did with the consecrated bread, Jesse, but you have mentioned the need for reverence for communion. This may be a good place to add a comment that is discontinuous with this thread, but that is raised by your comment. Obviously, if at all possible, communion is consumed – as I have already mentioned, at the place where it is administered. But what do you do with a piece of consecrated bread that, for any reason, will never be consumed? The traditional response is to put it in a lot of water in an aumbry/tabernacle until it is clearly no longer bread. Then pour this down a piscina/sacrarium.

      Thank you for ongoing thoughts and prayers in the aftermath of the earthquake. I have updated the post on that.

      Blessings

  35. Hi, Bosco. I figured that would be a good one for your records, seeing that it had never happened in your experience! I think I mentioned that we went in to discuss this with the priest beforehand, and I can now see that she’s probably had very little experience with this too. There are only a few families in the congregation with small children, and I’ve never seen any of them communicated. Perhaps we’re in the vanguard of a revolution and we’ll need to figure out what works as we go. I may need to get a box of wafers to help my daughter practise…

    As for the rejected bread, let’s just say that it was consumed and that I was doubly blessed.

    • Thanks, Jesse. I hope that as you work through this that you might add an update comment again later as I’m sure others with similar interest and in a similar situation will in the future arrive at this post and its comments seeking ideas.

  36. Update: September 19.

    A beautiful *proper* communion for our little girl today. She kept her wafer down and even managed a very reverent sip from the chalice. She was very pleased with herself, and I’ll confess to having felt very proud of her! The baby was asleep on my shoulder, so we dodged that bullet again this week…

  37. Update: April 11, 2011.

    I thought another update might cheer you, Bosco, as recovery from the latest earthquake continues (I was not a little worried about you in the days afterwards when your site was down). When last I wrote, my daughter (aged 3) had begun her journey as a communicant, and she has continued as she began. It’s a real highlight of her week and has been a starting point for many rather advanced theological conversations together (e.g. “Daddy, why is it called communion?”). The only hitch is that the server administering the chalice often has to be called back to let her communicate in both kinds; but they’re gradually working that out, too.

    But here’s the latest news. We also have a little son, now 22 months old, who has just made his first communion. We never knew what to do about communion for him. Up to now, he has always been either asleep or sucking on a bottle (or banana or arrowroot biscuit…) when we we’ve gone for communion. But lately he has been asserting his independence and insisting on being put down so he can walk up to the front with us. Two weeks ago, he wriggled out of my arms, stood on the kneeler at the altar rail, looked over at his sister to make sure of what to do, and held out his little hands to receive the consecrated bread (making his left hand a throne for his right, as Cyril of Jerusalem would recommend). Our curate, sensing an opportunity, gave him a host, which he immediately consumed on his first try. The following week he did the same again, and before consuming he smiled up at the priest and said, “Ah-MEN!” It just goes to show how much of worship is absorbed rather than taught. The chalice may prove to be a bit trickier… But here, at least, is one child of God who will never remember a time when he was not welcome at his Father’s table.

    On the subject of liturgical absorption, you might be amused to know that one of my most effective parenting tricks for getting our daughter to sleep is whispering long stretches of Latin liturgica in her ear (I’ve never been able to make up “sweet nothings”, but I have memorized quite a bit of liturgy!). Her very favourite is the Roman Canon of the Mass, which is a nice text to whisper anyway given that it is always whispered in its traditional “performance”. You can imagine how surprised I was when, on one occasion, she turned to look at me and joined me in saying, with perfect sotto voce diction, “Hoc est enim corpus meum.” I wonder if she’ll be relating that to a psychiatrist some day. Are there support groups for children of liturgists?

    You continue in my prayers.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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