Children’s menu

Yesterday my daughter Juliana, who’s four, refused to go up in the communion line with us. “It’s not fair because I don’t get anything to eat or drink!” she said loudly. My husband leaned over, whispering something I couldn’t hear, trying to calm her.

She subsided and just said wistfully, “They should have ice cream for kids.”

Matt and I couldn’t help laughing, which made her smile. And Thomas with the superiority of six-turning-seven explained, “It’s an old time type thing, from before they had ice cream.”



  1. Once in a communion line I heard a six year old girl blurt out: “I wanta cookie,too!”

    The moment has made me laugh for years.

  2. I think it was Erma Bombeck who told the story of one her young ‘uns refusing to put anything in the collection: “I don’t eat, I don’t pay!”

  3. In our tradition children are baptized, chrismated, and communed in infancy. On visiting a church which did not permit children to commune, my three and a half year old was deeply saddened by this. On a subsequqnt visit, she went up for the Children’s Message, and bypassed the youth minister and went sat right at the foot of the altar. I asked her why, and she said, “Because that’s the closest they let me get to Jesus.”

  4. Fr. Lyons, I appreciate your child’s witness. I would be very much in favor of a restoration of the ancient tradition of full initiation in the West, coupled, of course, with reflection on the experience.

    It seems unfortunate that my kids, seeing their parents’ joy in receiving, feel alienated and angry instead of inspired to emulate us. And it’s difficult to teach them about what the Eucharist is when they have only sporadic visual interaction with it.

    Your daughter’s reaction sounds similar to my son’s, which I wrote about almost exactly three years ago now:
    In fact, he was deeply disappointed by the parish pastor’s response. So disappointed that ever since, he has very rarely been willing to speak to the priest after mass.

  5. I just read your story, Mrs. Belcher. Hilarious, in part, moving, in part, and complete truth in full. Thanks for sharing.

    I often hear the argument tossed forth that children should not receive the Eucharist until they are old enough to understand what it is. That’s the same argument that those who favor credo-baptism exclusively throw out there.

    As members of faith communities who see, in a child, the ability to have faith from infancy, a faith nurtured by the power of the Spirit, we must – IMOH – have a consistent ethic of how the Spirit works to form believers. If we call a child a member of the Body of Christ through baptism (“You have put on Christ, in him you have been baptized! Alleluia! Alleluia!) then we lose logical cohesion when we say that the Spirit cannot form that same child to receive the Eucharist.

    Pish-posh to that.


  6. Thanks, Rob. You can call me Kim.

    In the West the theological development that resulted in our detailed and sophisticated theology of Eucharistic presence unfortunately also spawned (and in some ways responded to) a fearful scrupulosity about receiving the Eucharist. Many Catholics even today worry that recipients with an inadequate understanding (not only children, but developmentally disabled or, in some cases, aged Christians) will commit sin, or at least not receive benefits, from their reception. More theological work to do!

  7. Kimberly Hope Belcher : Thanks, Rob. You can call me Kim. Many Catholics even today worry that recipients with an inadequate understanding (not only children, but developmentally disabled or, in some cases, aged Christians) will commit sin, or at least not receive benefits, from their reception. More theological work to do!

    I actually had a hosptial chaplain tell me once that he wouldn’t give communion to a patient with cognitive disorders (Alzheimers, dimensia, etc.) because he could not be sure they were in a right state to receive the Eucharist.

    About 14 years ago, I worked in a hospice… a patient with Alzheimers who hadn’t spoken a word in nearly a year, echoed a strong AMEN when I brought communion to her. Her husband told me that it was the first time anyone from a religious entity had come to visit her in a year. I asked why they stopped coming, and he said, “Because they thought she was nuts.”

    Indeed, Kim, much more work to do!

  8. Thank you, Kim, for sharing your daughter’s story. Our four-year old daughter receives communion at every liturgy. I am always amazed at the site as we begin distributing communion: a line of children, who kiss the icon, cross their arms, receive communion, and then kiss the cup, performing the ritual with incredible precision.

    When I was a child, the situation was the reverse from the one you described. As a rule, only children received communion at every liturgy. Adults only recived once a year, on the Sunday of Lent following their annual confession.

    In 2006, a few Russian bishops and priests debated the question of who should receive communion on Pascha in an online periodical. One bishop taught that only children are allowed to receive, and that adults who receive communion lack humility. Other pastors disagreed, arguing that everyone should receive. In the last two years, the Russian patriarch has encouraged people to receive on Pascha, and Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, in a formal lecture on Eucharistic ecclesiology, also encouraged people to receive frequently, since no one is ever worthy of communion.

    I wonder what the future holds for frequent communion. I say this because infrequent and even rare communion has been the rule for most of Christian history, and I sense that the tension on the question of attaining worthiness to receive remains largely unresolved. That said, I am grateful that I was allowed to receive every Sunday as a child. I see this as a reminder that the Eucharist is always a gift from God, and cannot be earned.

  9. Very interesting, Nick. The historical picture is complicated: sometimes we have had authority figures urging frequent reception (often with little success) and sometimes limiting that reception (against the wishes of people who want to receive). The key theological issue that needs development seems not to be worthiness (as far as I can tell, the Christian tradition is univocal in asserting that human beings are not worthy), but what is the purpose of the Eucharistic celebration and how is it accomplished. What particular circumstances hinder that accomplishment (and thus should hinder reception)? Etc.

  10. A few years back, while I was still pastor, a family came to see me. The parents had one son, Danny, aged 5yo.
    Danny did the intro talking, asking me if he could make his First Communion. I asked him why he didn’t want to wait and prepare with the other young people. He told me he knew “all the catechism book for First Holy Communion.” The parents nodded in affirmation. So I asked Danny why he wanted to do it now. He looked at me with those large dark eyes and with the gravity of a learned theologian told me: “Because I love Jesus so much I want to be closer to Jesus.”

    I was going to tell this holy young man that he had to wait? Not on your life! He made his First Communion the following Sunday, with a little special ritual to make it easy to remember the day and the time. I believe it is very important to listen to God’s Holy People, to allow them to tell me about their life in the Lord and be edified by their faith and devotion.

    I wonder if some day he will prepare his own children in the Love of the Lord as he was. This is one of the special moments I am remembering as I celebrate 50 years of Ordination this month.

  11. Fr. Rob – I’ve been a hospice chaplain for some 20+ years and have rarely NOT attempted to give communion to end stage dementia patients. For many of them, hearing the old prayers, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, clicks something in their memory. I have seen patients who clearly had dementia, whose conversation made no sense whatsoever, become extremely appropriate when I offer them communion, down to making the sign of the cross, folding their hands, etc. Many are more than willing to impart a kiss to my cheek as well, when I ask, even though everything else in our visit made no sense.
    Jesus gave us himself as bread for the journey, especially for these folks who are at the end of their lives. They should always be offered communion, and then see how it goes. I don’t think we need to “protect” Jesus. He seems to be able to take care of himself. Tom K.

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