From time to time parents have asked me, “When is my child old enough to receive communion?” It’s a common question for parents. As with most questions of this sort, the search for an answer begins with your baptism.
“Full membership in Christ’s body, the Church” – that’s what our Book of Common Prayer says baptism gives us, full membership. Nothing, not confirmation, not ordination as a deacon, priest or bishop, makes us more of a member of the Church that we already are in baptism. And if baptism is what makes us full members of the family of the church, then Eucharist is what sustains us as members of that family. You wouldn’t fix a wonderful meal in front of your whole family and then let certain people eat and others sit and watch. The Eucharist is our family meal, given to us by Christ. All baptized Christians; all members of the family of Christ are welcome to the table.
Some argue that you should not receive the sacrament of the Eucharist until you can understand what it is about. While it certainly is good to know what you are doing, I don’t think any of us fully understands what happens in the Eucharist and the depth of what it means. What all of us, especially children, can understand is when we are welcomed and included and when we are not, and those messages come through more strongly than we might think. Welcoming children at the Eucharist lets them know, in a very powerful way, that the Church is for them and that, by participating in this special act, they are special people too.
Ultimately, at what age a child receives Eucharist is a parent’s decision. If you have any questions about you or your children’s participation in any of the sacraments of the church, please come and talk to me. If you want to prepare for the First Holy Communion, please speak with me. And talk with each other as well. As we share these conversation and these decisions about spiritual discernment, we learn and grow together. Thank God for the gift of Eucharist!