Children and receiving Holy Communion
How can we admit young children to Holy Communion?
A baptised person is a full member of the church. We do not need to grow up before we are really members. Children are admitted to Communion on the basis of their baptism, and after appropriate preparation according to their age.
Don’t you have to be confirmed first? I was!
In the past Confirmation did precede receiving Communion for most people. However there is no real reason for this. Nothing in the Confirmation Service says that this person is now admitted to Holy Communion. You do need to be older to be confirmed, since you are taking on yourself the promises made on your behalf at baptism, so you need to understand the commitment this means. It is a public declaration of personal faith and commitment, and intention to live as a Christian.
About 1/3 of parishes in our diocese admit children to communion before confirmation and it has been permitted in canon law since 2006.
A young child can’t understand what the Communion means.
The Orthodox Churches administer Holy Communion to all immediately after baptism. In their theology, any person, however wise, falls so far short of God’s understanding of the mystery of the sacrament that there is no point quibbling about age!
Indeed none of us fully understand it: the important thing is that we grow in our understanding of Communion as we grow in other ways.
Children who are very young can know that this bread and wine are special, not like the food on the kitchen table at home. This is enough as a start. They are very aware of atmosphere and can sense the reverence of the adults and learn from it.
Does the Bishop approve of this?
Yes, Bishop Michael supports children being prepared to receive Holy Communion and feeling that they are fully part of the church. Our PCC has previously passed a resolution to admit children to communion after preparation.
Where in the Bible does it say this is right?
Jesus welcomed children to be blessed; he rebuked the disciples for turning them away. He told them that they, the adults, must become like a little child in order to enter the kingdom. Adults should learn from children – that’s what he said – not the other way round.
In this same tradition, the Jewish Passover rites give the youngest child present a most significant role; he or she has the job of asking the key questions, the questions that cue the telling of the story of the Passover and Exodus, the escape from Egypt. In this tradition, it is understood that children are full and fully valued members of the faith community; moreover it is recognised that through repetition, learning and passing on of this story and this identity, this sense of belonging, the Jewish faith will continue from generation to generation.
It’s quite possible that there were children present at the last Supper –in a middle Eastern culture then as now, meals would usually include all the household, adults and children alike; children were not fed at separate times, or given any different types of food. In Acts we read about whole households being baptised together; children are not singled out for any different treatment, presumably they were baptised with their parents and joined in the Lord’s Supper with them too.
In our church today we are recovering the sense of children having their own spirituality and a valuable role within the faith community. We are beginning to realise that we have underestimated children’s spirituality. Children can be very spiritually aware.