Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Advocacy for and the Practice of the Communion of All the Baptized

From the ELCA's "The Use of the Means of Grace"

The Holy Communion is given to the baptized

Principle 37

Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.65

Application 37A
When adults and older children are baptized, they may be communed for the first time in the service in which they are baptized. Baptismal preparation and continuing catechesis include instruction for Holy Communion.

Background 37B
Customs vary on the age and circumstances for admission to the Lord’s Supper. The age for communing children continues to be discussed and reviewed in our congregations. When “A Report on the Study of Confirmation and First Communion”66 was adopted, a majority of congregations now in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America separated confirmation and reception of Holy Communion and began inviting children to commune in the fifth grade. Since that time a number of congregations have continued to lower the age of communion, especially for school age children. Although A Statement on Communion Practices67 precluded the communion of infants, members and congregations have become aware of this practice in some congregations of this church, in historical studies of the early centuries of the Church, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and in broader ecumenical discussion.

Application 37C
Baptized children begin to commune on a regular basis at a time determined through mutual conversation that includes the pastor, the child, and the parents or sponsors involved, within the accepted practices of the congregation. Ordinarily this beginning will occur only when children can eat and drink, and can start to respond to the gift of Christ in the Supper.

Application 37D
Infants and children may be communed for the first time during the service in which they are baptized or they may be brought to the altar during communion to receive a blessing.

Application 37E
In all cases, participation in Holy Communion is accompanied by catechesis appropriate to the age of the communicant. When infants and young children are communed, the parents and sponsors receive instruction and the children are taught throughout their development.

Background 37F
Catechesis, continuing throughout the life of the believer, emphasizes the sacrament as gift, given to faith by and for participation in the community. Such faith is not simply knowledge or intellectual understanding but trust in God’s promises given in the Lord’s Supper (“for you” and “for the forgiveness of sin”) for the support of the baptized.

Application 37G
When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking Christ’s presence and is inadvertently communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised. That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

An Advocacy for and the Practice of the Communion of All the Baptized (excerpted from Maxwell E. Johnson’s The Rites of Christian Initiation)

The recovery of a baptismal spirituality calls the churches to a thorough reevaluation of communion practices. If it is nothing other than the inseparable unity of water and the Holy Spirit that makes Christians, that initiates people into the Body of Christ, the Church, then it should be clear that the very means by which the church sacramentally and liturgically expresses its self-identity as Church, that is, in the Eucharist, is for all the baptized, all who are initiated into the Christian community, which, at heart, is nothing other than the continuation of the table companionship of Jesus himself… In the words of the LBW, “Holy communion is the birthright of the baptized.”

It is precisely within what some have called the “first stage of faith,” that is, ages two to six, where children possess the greatest and most lasting responsiveness to images, rituals, and symbols. Given this, it should become increasingly clear as well that the denial of the Eucharist to the youngest of baptized children is nothing other than the denial of the primary way in which they actually can participate in the symbolic, ritual, and image-laden liturgical self-express of the faith community. If we wait until age seven or later to introduce them to Eucharistic participation, that is, until a time in which they can be catechized, prepared, and begin to “understand” the implications of the Eucharist cognitively and rationally, we have waited too long. Eucharistic faith is not equal to cognitive understanding. Faith is not only rational but unrational and prerational as well. In the Pauline New Testament sense, faith is not intellectual acceptance of or assent to propositional revelation, but trust. And such trust develops, it seems, only in relationship, only in an environment, in a community of trust such as the family or the church…

My own experiences of children and Eucharist have convinced me completely not only of the desirability but of the sheer rightness of communing all the baptized. My own daughter, age two at the time, who had been a regular communicant—although secretly—from the time of her infant baptism, surprised me greatly during dinner one Sunday noon. After we worshiped at a nearby parish that used a style of bread for Eucharist closely resembling id-eastern pita bread, our dinner that day, although unintentionally, included pita bread as well. I remember my daughter holding a piece of bread in her hand, and, pointing both to a Byzantine icon of Christ above our table and to that piece of bread, she said something like, “Christ Jesus there, Christ Jesus right here.” In her own way, she had some some rather interesting and proper theological-liturgical-sacramental connections. Similarly, in a parish I once served, where we had moved from once-a-month to every Sunday Eucharist, I remember a young mother telling me of the influence this had begun to have on her own preschool daughter, who, without any prompting, had suddenly begun to recite the words of institution aloud as she rode along in the car. Alternatively, I was recently told by one of graduate students of her experience where a young child she knew flatly refused to go forward any longer for a “blessing” at the time of communion distribution. When asked why, the child responded that the last time had had gone he had been “Xed” out by the communion minister, who, instead of giving him bread, had traced an “X” over him (obviously the sign of the cross in blessing), telling him by this gesture that he did not belong.

As Gerard Austin says:

“Such a practice [i.e. the uniting of all three sacraments whenever baptism takes place] would underscore the reality that God takes the initiative, that baptism-confirmation-eucharist form an essential unity, and that admission to eucharist is built on incorporation into Christ and not upon something extrinsic such as knowledge or age…Such an approach would not destroy programs of religious catechesis; rather it would base such programs on personal development and needs and would be ongoing, rather than coming to a halt after the reception of confirmation.”

Perhaps then the churches can get busy on life-long mystagogy and the life-long return to the font as Christians seek to live out in the Spirit the implications of their new birth.


  1. When my son started calling communion "a piece of the Lord given for you" we knew he was ready to receive communion. He was 5 and the first younger person to commune in our church.

  2. That's another excellent anecdote. Of course, "a believing heart" wouldn't necessarily even require that much of a confession, since faith comes from what is heard, and is given by the Holy Spirit through the gospel itself.

  3. Both of my children were communed the day they were baptized, one at three weeks old, the other at about three months. It is my fervent hope that they always know the meal is there for them.

    The congregation I serve has also followed my lead... of course it was easy to move through when I realized that in an effort to keep their children quiet at the rail, many parents were in fact communing their children on the sly... I explained to the church council that if this was happening we might as well move to where the ELCA wanted us to be, AND invoke yearly Sunday school units on the sacraments so that all were being catechized for life not just at first communion and at confirmation.


  4. Yes, I believe we'll need to make the shift to including catechetical instruction for all in Sunday school, as well as for adults as they continue to faithfully appropriate the meal.