Infants sharing in the Lord’s table

CatholicExchange has a good article on the practice, preserved by the Eastern Orthodox but lost in the West, of giving Holy Communion to infants after they are baptized and chrismated (confirmed). Fr. Robert Taft is quoted: “And the true ancient tradition of the whole Catholic Church is to give Communion to infants. Present Latin usage is a medieval innovation.” Read the story here.

12 comments

  1. Again, I’m totally in favor of this, because I deny any notion of “organic development” in the Catholic Church, which (in my view) is total nonsense. It is wonderful to have a blog like this, where my views are affirmed.

  2. “It is wonderful to have a blog like this, where my views are affirmed.”

    Subtle satire of the blog medium?

  3. Reverting to infant confirmation and communion isn’t something I would necessarily object to. It would restore the proper order for the sacraments of initiation. It’s not something I would consider to be totally untraditional, nor would I consider it to be dubious antiquarianism. And I speak as someone who completely believes in organic development.

    I could see some people objecting to it for one practical reason – having communion and confirmation at later ages requires one to enroll their child in CCD, and some parents will “disappear” from the church until it comes time for their kids to receive a sacrament (or so the confirmation teachers at my parish tell me). I could also see some objecting since it would do away with pretty first communion dresses and parties.

    1. I have often thought that what is needed is a solid sociological study on how Orthodox (and other Eastern Rite) Christians “retain” their youth. The assumption, of course, is that unless we have the carrot of a sacrament to dangle in front of youth and their parents that neither will pursue faith formation for themselves or their children. But the fact of the matter is that Orthodox (and other Eastern Rite) Christians have been providing the three sacraments of initiation at infancy for many centuries during which time such churches have neither failed to sustain themselves nor in theological production. Therefore such an initiatory practice must be at least as viable as an approach that treats the sacraments as something one must attain or will to possess lest it be withheld for didactic or bureaucratic reasons. I think a study of “retention” (perhaps asking how many of the ten who are washed clean return to glorify the Father by giving thanks to the Son?) would go a long way in dispelling the catechetical myth that unless the earthly reward of a social occasion awaits that there is no reason to be part of a community of worship, study, and service. At the same time I think it would reveal the difficulties such an initiatory process might entail and therefore allow us to think through how to best address such concerns without employing the ordinary means of grace as exclusionary barriers.

  4. I’m a little bit confused here, if there is no development, how do sacramental signs and symbols speak to people of different ages? Of course, the symbols themselves do not change but the language of grace has to have some connection with how people actually speak. While tradition does favor reception of the sacraments as an infant, because sacraments are free gifts of grace, engagement with psychology and the nature of choice can challenge the tradition and force us to ask the question. No matter what the response, isn’t there still an “organic development?” Also, if there was no organic development in Catholic ethics, there would be no usury, and we would have no formal Catholic social teaching, would these be things you desire as well? I’m not being sarcastic, but I can’t honestly see how anyone could try to have a faith with no reason for development. Ralph, if you could answer for me that would be wonderful.

  5. I am particularly grateful for the reference to our early history in the article. Deeper meaning of sacraments can unfold through this.

    I am often puzzled that people are so accepting of infant baptism and question such reception of confirmation and communion. Do we still not yet realize what baptism calls us to?

    The article’s reference to RC theology and the emphasis on children understanding Eucharist before they are permitted to receive it is off the mark; the meaning of Eucharist is not cognitive, it is pure mytagogy. And this is not only a stage of the RCIA (although we can learn from this) mystagogy is a way of being.

    As a religious educator I maintain that our teaching efforts ought to be inter-generational. We need to work toward reversing the “carrot” idea and instill a deeper sense of living eucharistically (i.e as the baptized in the world) and this is something that develops over time – from infancy. (see my praytell post in Children for more thoughts on this). If we offer communion (and confirmation for that matter) to infants we do so because as a family this is a way of being in the world, and, the teaching-learning about this way of being takes place over one’s lifetime.

    Off topic, but important for any discussion, I often see reference to CCD; this is antiquated language. Language is extremely important for meaning; what we mean to reference is “catechetical programs for children.” More recently referred to as “faith formation.”

    1. “the meaning of Eucharist is not cognitive, it is pure mytagogy. And this is not only a stage of the RCIA (although we can learn from this) mystagogy is a way of being.”

      Can you explain what you mean by this? “mytagogy” as best I can tell is, even when used on the Vatican web site, a misspelling of “Mystagogy”.

      As I understand it, however, mystagogy, is certainly a cognative process, though not only a cognitive process, as the Mysteries have revealed cognitive content. We take the English word (says the OED) from the Mystagological Lectures of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (19-23 of his Catechetical Lectures here), which were given to the newly inititiated Christians after their reception at Easter. There’s lots of content there for sure.

      1. Samuel,
        (Sorry for the misspelling of mystagogy); I was referring to mystagogy as a reflective process. As a stage in the RCIA, mystagogy is a time to reflect on the mysteries/sacraments. However, we are all called to this kind of reflection throughout our lifetime.
        The meaning of Eucharist is not something we know in our heads, once and for all. Rather, its essence unfolds gradually.

    2. As I understand it, mystagogy is about being led into what is hidden. If there is “revealed cognitive content” it is pointed toward what is beyond that content, to what is hidden or mysterious.

  6. This is an obvious ‘restoration’ of the proper situation for the initiation of infants, and all Christians. However, to implement it will run afoul of the ‘catechetical complex’ — which is an industry as dangerous to polity (and true belief) as the ‘military industrial complex’ warned against by President Eisenhower. If this approach could/would be implemented, what should happen in the ‘catechetics courses’ would be a mystagogy — not adding to the quantity of knowledge of the Church gained from usual sacramental practice along with the parents, but rather a ‘qualitative deepening’ of the faith. Therefore, not something to ‘graduate from’ (as in the present situation) but rather to ‘grow into’ as a whole life time project — which was certainly the ‘original idea’ found in the Church Fathers and the practice in the Eastern Churches.

  7. Like the guy who posted a comment at the original article, I too have often found myself fumbling to provide an adequate answer to my young kids who want to know why they can’t receive Jesus at Communion time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *