I had originally planned to do a history of infant communion as part 2 of this series, but fortuitously, today is Hildegard’s second baptismal anniversary. (Happy day, Hilda!) I think that gives me an opportunity to clarify that this proposal of mine is not a recommendation that we keep everything the same except confirming and communing all baptized infants. In fact, if we did keep our catechetical structures while simply communing infants, I have no idea what the results would be. I expect it would work better for some and less well for others, and I don’t know that it would be more effective, overall, at integrating the sacramental and spiritual lives of Catholics or other Christians. Rather, what I’m suggesting we consider is the gradual but structural implementation of a new marriage of sacramentality and spirituality. New wine in new wineskins, as Fran Rossi Szpylczyn put it in her comment on Facebook.
In my own experience, sacramental reflection is a more powerful model for this integration than we often realize. This is very similar to what we call “mystagogy” when it’s done formally and homiletically through the local church, but it can be simpler, and much younger, and far more long-lasting, than we normally realize.
Just as an example, my family celebrates the baptismal anniversaries of our children. Celebrating anniversaries, most notably for the mourned or venerated dead, is a deep part of the Christian tradition, of course. In our house, we keep it simple: the child chooses where we’ll have dinner, we light the child’s baptismal candle, we pull out the photobook containing the child’s baptismal photos and talk about who came and what happened. We point out the icon of the child’s baptismal patron. We might have a small gift related to spirituality. We read a book about baptism for bedtime. It’s a very calm celebration.
Of course this isn’t by any means the only time we talk about baptism in our house, but it puts each child’s baptism on the calendar, and that’s central, I think. It provides a structure for periodically returning to the font. As a result, Hilda, who’s not yet 27 months, already will say, when the subject comes up (as it did last weekend when she saw a child baptized at our parish), “My baptized Abbey Church,” and can recognize pictures of the church she was baptized in, even though she hasn’t been there in a year. It stands in her imagination: she distinguishes “My church” and “Abbey Church.” She says certain songs are “Abbey Church song” (generally very fancifully, although always about liturgical music – it has occasionally been chant, which would make Anthony happy). She and Thomas both know at least one song that was sung at their baptism and find that song meaningful (Julie’s baptism, alas, had no music). Finally, all the children know one another’s godparents and the foundation of that relationship in baptism, one another’s baptismal stories, and who attended each of their baptisms, despite all the moves we have made between and since. As they get older, we draw on the experience to talk about the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, about leaning on Christ through hard times, and so forth. Basically, each child, as appropriate to his or her development and personality, finds his or her baptism meaningful as a foundation for who he or she is.
Though incomplete, I think this is a model of what might be in sacramental formation. In short, what I am suggesting is not that we keep all other things the same but simply commune infants and have done with them – in fact, I would like to put the notion that we ever “have done with” any particular sacramental celebration, either individually or communally, off the table altogether and forever. Right now, our catechesis is structured around the “worst case” – those notorious Catholics who drop their kids off and leave – and it’s meant to give the kids the absolute necessary formation. I want us to supplement with a structure that supports a “best case scenario” – with the hope being that the best case would, gradually, over a generation, become the norm.
As such, I recommend we consider whether or not in some situations, where the local toolbox is adequate to ensure sacramental reflection, full infant initiation might avoid the strain on the child-church relationship that results from sacramental exclusion and also provide for more grace, and more meat, for the ongoing relationship between child, church, and God. I will say more about this at the end of the series.
For the first part of this series, “5 quick pastoral reasons why we should restore infant communion,” click here.