Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Infant Communion, again

To my previous post on Infant Communion ("Suffer the Little Children"), Bruce posted a comment asking why the Roman Catholic Church does not generally commune infants while the Eastern Orthodox Church does. My response to this was going to be a bit too large to fit into a comment box, so I have reposted his question here along with my answer:

Father Michael, Great article. Helps me with some things. I have a question regarding this. Last year I went to my Grandson Ezra's baptism. What has bothered me was not the fact that he was baptized. It it the fact that in the aftermath of the baptism he will not receive communion. In fact I guess that the Roman Church will not commune him for years! Why do they do this? I take it that this is something they changed along the way? If so, when? Perhaps you can respond a bit regarding this on you general blog site. For many of my Protestant friends, they like to lump me together with the Roman Catholics. Although I'm sure this bigger subject would be best served for another article, it would be great if you could give a general overview of how we are different than Rome.

Hi Bruce,

Yes, the Roman Catholic custom of not communicating infants, except in emergencies, represents yet another change from the tradition of the ancient Church. A number of the early fathers, including St. Cyprian, mention the practice of giving communion to infants and young children. Yet in the West, this accepted custom gradually fell to disuse and by the time of Charlemagne was not widely practiced in Rome and its environs. It might be remembered that Charlemagne, in his bid to gain control of the empire, sought to marginalize the authority and dignity of the Eastern bishops by falsely accusing them of an assortment of heresies including—most astonishingly--of removing the philioque addition from the Creed! During his reign, the Council of Tours made official the by then predominant Eucharistic practice of the West by barring the communication of infants except in cases of near death. This more or less solidified the continuing routine of the Catholic Church to accept only its own customs as “universal” and ignoring the practices and input of the Christian East.

The contemporary justification for not communicating infants is ultimately based on the argument that there needs to be a reasonable understanding of the sacrament in the mind of the communicant for it to be valid. Interestingly, there is sufficient evidence that Catholic belief itself repudiates this assertion—Catholic infants are allowed to receive communion under extreme circumstances as previously mentioned, which would be an indicator of its perceived validity despite the apparent lack of any advanced understanding in an infant—yet the contemporary practice remains to not serve communion to the little ones under normal circumstances. The appeal to reason as the validating condition for a sacrament is of course the very heart of the Protestant argument against both infant baptism and communion, yet Rome seems to apply this selectively, with little regard for consistency with Orthodox practices or, it would seem to me, with its own.

The error of the Protestant and Roman Catholic position on this lies in making human reason the prerequisite to validate what is in essence mystery. The Christian East has always appreciated the contradictory and self-defeating nature of this practice and does not attempt “to stuff the mystery of God into the sausage skin of the human intellect” as the saying goes. By contrast, Eastern Orthodoxy seems less concerned with its communicants understanding the sacrament as it is with them partaking of it in a worthy manner; that is to say, that one continually grow in awareness of his own fallen condition and thereby continually increase in humility and true repentance with the help of God. In that respect one could say that there is little difference between children and adults, for both need to grow in self-awareness in relation to their Creator, and increase in their faith and love and in the Christian life. Here we understand that we must indeed become as little children and participate in the grace of God available through the sacraments in order to grow and mature as God intends.

Since little children are the very model for this which Christ put before us, it seems very odd indeed that any church would deny needed spiritual nourishment to these on the basis that they lack an adult’s sophisticated “understanding” of things. It would seem that such folks are putting into practice the exact opposite of what Christ commands, and misunderstand His intentions entirely.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and post your comment!

Fr. Michael


At 4/13/2006 10:14 PM , Blogger fixer30 said...

Ere, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture that would prevent a parent or a priest from givng communion to a child. Are children somewhow excluded from Jesus the Christ? Or did Jesus make his will plain for the Children?

Peace be unto you Ere, we miss you on the KF forum. INOW perhaps us wilderness brethern need a mature voice in the struggle for Faith. Come back to us ere,

If not, then peace be with you, you are loved.

At 4/16/2006 7:14 AM , Blogger Fr. Michael Reagan said...

Thanks Andrew. I plan to return to the KF after Pascha. I probably will have a lot of catching up to do there, but it will be fun as always. See you then.


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