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.