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If infant baptism is acceptable, why not infant communion?
Posted By Eric Sammons On August 9, 2010 @ 8:17 am In Eastern Christianity,Sacraments | Comments Disabled
Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary  of the papal decree which lowered the age of first communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of waiting until the age of 12 or 13, first communicants are now allowed to receive the Eucharist at the “age of reason”, which is usually interpreted to be around 7 or 8 years old. This decree has been a wonderful blessing in the Church and I know that I am very thankful that my own children have been able to receive the Eucharist before they reach their teen years. However, at the risk of sounding ungrateful for this decision, I do have to say:
I wish children could receive the Eucharist at an earlier age, even as infants.
Some might argue that communion should not be given to someone until he understands what it is that he is receiving; in fact, this is one of the primary arguments for waiting until the “age of reason.” However, this fails to appreciate the mystery involved in all the sacraments, including the Eucharist. After all, does anyone really understand what they receive at communion? Sure, we can acknowledge that it is the Lord Himself, body, blood, soul and divinity that we receive in the Eucharist, but it is impossible for the human mind to comprehend this great mystery. Reason simply is unable to grasp what is happening. So connecting the Eucharist to “reason” seems to me to be a tenuous connection at best.
Another argument against an earlier communion age is that one should receive confession before receiving communion. And it is true that once one has reached the age of reason, he should go to confession before making his first communion. Since a person can truly sin after they can reason, they should learn that confession is an integral part of receiving our Lord in the Eucharist. But obviously an infant cannot commit actual sin, and since he is baptized, he has been washed clean of the stain of original sin. So in fact such a child would be more pure to receive the Eucharist than most adults.
A third argument for waiting for the age of reason is that small children might not be properly respectful of this great gift – they may simply look at it as a “treat” they receive at Mass and not as the life-giving food it really is. However, children have always received the Eucharist in the Eastern churches (including Eastern Catholic churches) and they have never encountered this problem. Furthermore, this argument sounds much like the apostles’ protests about children “bothering” our Lord during his ministry. Christ told them, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus treated little children as co-heirs to his kingdom, not as “extras” that needed to wait until they were mature to be full members of it.
The Western practice today is to baptize infants, give first communion at the “age of reason” and confirm in the teenage years. Aside from the ages that these sacraments are given, there is something irregular about this setup, as it changes the ordering of the Sacraments of Initiation from its original order of baptism, confirmation, then communion. This order is still preserved for adult converts such as myself, who receive confirmation at the Easter Vigil before they receive their first communion. But for cradle Catholics, it is communion first, then confirmation. So I would argue for embracing the complete Eastern practice of infants receiving all three Sacraments of Initiation at once: baptism, confirmation, then first communion. In today’s world I believe our children need as much grace as possible, and as early as possible, to withstand the enormous obstacles to holiness that they will face growing up. Receiving all three sacraments soon after birth, and regular reception of the Eucharist after that, would go a long way in helping them. Our Lord wants all children to come to him, and infant communion would be one way to obey that command.
Obviously, I submit to the practice of the Church and I follow her rules in this matter. Individuals like myself do not have any authority to change such practices and should never break the guidelines set out by the successors to the apostles. But I do wish and pray that one day the Church will change the practice of the Latin rite so that even the smallest children can be part of the Eucharistic feast.
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2010/08/09/if-infant-baptism-is-acceptable-why-not-infant-communion/
URLs in this post:
 100th anniversary: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-prefect-says-todays-world-merits-lower-age-for-first-communicants/
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