Many dioceses are currently adopting or considering the “restored order” of initiation, which means baptism is followed by confirmation before the Eucharist. This order serves as a reminder of the natural connection between baptism and confirmation, and also promotes the Eucharist to the consummation of initiation, where it should be. I commend these bishops, diocesan staff, and the many parents who are thus engaged in theologies and practices of initiation that don’t match their own experience. Nevertheless, I think we should, as a church, consider going further.
Here are five quick pastoral reasons why we should consider communing infants right after their baptism at least in many cases (more on this “many cases” in a later post):
1. They’re more able to recognize the real presence than their parents. Since young children haven’t demythologized their world, they are still much more sensitive to the awe-inspiring presence of God in the Eucharist and elsewhere. It’s those of us that have reached the age of reason, and thus need to be able to explain it to ourselves, that find this faith difficult to maintain. As one of my undergraduates wisely said last semester, “You really need a first naivete to be able to attain a second naivete.”
2. An “age of reason” theology of communion greatly impedes our ministry to the developmentally disabled as well as to young children and their families. And the church did ministry without it for centuries, so we probably don’t need it that badly.
3. The “age of reason” theology also misleads people into believing that the Eucharist is the reward for a proper amount of knowledge and piety, rather than the absolutely free gift of God’s grace that elicits our response of ecstatic thanksgiving.
4. By giving communion to the newly baptized, we would be standing ecumenically not only with the Eastern Orthodox churches, but also with many of our Eastern Catholic brothers and sisters. At the same time, putting the priority on God’s grace rather than our preparation is a theological solidarity with Protestant sensibilities.
5. Then Catholics wouldn’t think that “First Communion” was one of the seven sacraments, instead of the Eucharist.
Intrigued? Angry? This is the first post in a series dealing with the question of infant communion. Come back for a series of discussions on the topic, including further exploration of the history, anthropology, theology, and practical feasibility of infant communion. Read part 2, on sacramental reflection and formation, here.