early communion

Back in the day (you know, like, two years ago), I took a class on Baptism from Dr. Arthur Just. A few days ago, I stumbled across one of my papers, “Let the Little Children Come to Me: An Analysis of and Case for Early Communion.”

{Helpful editorial tip: Any time you want to sound impressive, insert a colon into the title of your thesis.}

Rather than curing your insomnia by posting 20 pages of the paper here, I’m going to toss out a bunch of words I used in my argument, insert the final page of my conclusion, and then let you all discuss whether you think the Church ought to re-start the early Communion discussion or not. Deal? Deal.

_________________

Blah blah. Chrismation. Confirmation. St. Cyprian. Double Sacrament. Council of Florence. Conference of grace. Luther. Baptism. 1 Peter 3:21. Catechesis. Ongoing. Pietism. Yadda yadda. Rationalism. Individual intellect. Orthodoxy. Catechumenate. First Communion. Lord’s Supper. Small Catechism. LSB rite. 

“While the idea is somewhat foreign to modern lay understanding, one could certainly advocate for young, baptized members of the Church partaking in the Holy Communion in conjunction with intense catechesis throughout their formative years. This would satisfy both the pastor’s duty to faithfully teach, preach, and administer the Sacraments to all of his parishioners, not simply the adults, as well as the baptized members’ need to receive the gifts given in the Sacraments of the Church. This would also lead not only to children well-educated in the doctrines of the Church but also to their early and frequent reception of the Lord’s Supper and all the gifts and benefits distributed therein, as understood through their own Baptisms.

Confirmation ought to be understood as just that. It should confirm that the baptized have faith that is alive and active. That faith will, in turn, flourish when it is fed by God’s Word and the Holy Communion. If, then, the two Sacraments are are the focal points, confirmation will not simply be understood neither as an extension of what occurs in Baptism nor as a completion or graduation of theological understanding. Instead, it will serve, as the Rev. Donald Deffner deemed it, as a simple “progress report,” ensuring that the baptized are continually catechized while not withholding God’s gifts from them. It will not provide a means to an end but instead be an indication of a hearty, able faith.

Confirmation is a noble and pious practice within the Church, and it certainly ought to be preserved and maintained. Perhaps, however, its usage could be better served by removing the emphasis on its completion and, instead, placing it on the connection between the catechumen’s Baptism and subsequent reception of the Lord’s Supper. To deprive children both of this understanding as well as the comfort of the Gospel in the Lord’s Supper would surely do a disservice to them and to the words of our Lord: ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 19:14).

So. Early Communion.

Ready.

Set.

Discuss.

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20 thoughts on “early communion

  1. I am not opposed to early communion, but I do have some practical questions. So if we commune them early and separate confirmation from first communion, is there any indication that they will not then go on to become a sad statistic also? What if they pull the plug on their catechesis and decide that being confirmed is no big deal? And yet, they continue to come to divine service and commune… albeit erratically. If sinful human nature is any predictor, then I fear this outcome. I sincerely am asking these “what if” questions as I wrestle with the possibility, so please, just take what I’ve written at face value with no hidden meanings or agenda. I truly am trying to sort this out, for once I do I then can present it and educate the flocks I serve with it.

    • 1. The Sacrament does have power to strengthen faith.
      2. Late communion (that is, waiting until a child is 10 or 14 or whatever) teaches him that we think he can live without it just fine. Then he learns the lesson, exactly as we taught. And he doesn’t think it’s important to commune when he’s 16. Why should we be surprised?

      3. This, of course, is not guarantee that the kids who commune when they’re 5 will continue in catechesis for the next 10 or 80 years. But if they don’t go on to be confirmed, wouldn’t they be approached in the same way as if they were confirmed? The problem would be despising the preached word and the Supper, and that’s something to be dealt with regardless of whether the person is confirmed.

    • Dear Pastor Meyer,

      For years I catechized during the 7th and 8th grade years and then admitted children to the altar and confirmed them at the end of 8th grade. Sadly, as we all know, a whole bunch of them dropped out of the Church not to be seen again, if ever, until they wanted to get married. 8th grade confirmation has terrible statistics when it comes to what you fear with early communion. Really, really, really terrible. So bad, in fact, that it is almost impossible for it to be worse with early communion. Could it happen? Yes. Would that really be any different than it is with 8th grade confirmation? No. So the risk is quite low.

      In fact, the statistics, in my experience, are far better. I suspect that is because the children have the benefit of receiving the Sacrament and the Sacrament actually strengthens their faith. But it may also be that the necessity of ongoing catechesis is better understood when it is done this way and that we are establishing habits that last a lifetime.

      Here is what I tell the children and the parents: if we admit the child to the altar and he stops coming and/or refuses further instruction he will be excommunicated, the same as an adult. I’ve been admitting children to the altar as young as 4 or 5 years old, when, instructed by their parents, they can recite the primary texts of the Catechism and the defining questions, can articulate a desire for the risen Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, and complete a short 6 week course with me, for 7 years. The children come back for a more detailed and thorough, intense instruction with me later and are confirmed – usually when they are about 10 years old. So far, by God’s grace, not one of them has dropped out. In the same period, I’ve still had some families who prefer the old ways and want to wait until 8th grade and have continued to instruct and confirm adults as well. The statistics for those groups aren’t so good.

      Yours in Christ,

      Dave Petersen
      Redeemer, Ft. Wayne

      • Dave,
        Thanks. That is helpful and gives me much to consider. Are there any materials or studies on this subject that you’re aware of? It would be powerful if I could cite a study which indicates that introducing this practice might help to reverse the pathetic loss of our Confirmands after the day they make their vows to God. Thanks again!

        Don

  2. Can I ask what should be required of a younger child before admittance to the rail? My assumption is that the child should be able to explain what the Supper is and what the Supper works (i.e. understand that section of the Small Catechism) and that this would be enough. Thoughts?

    • How about faithful attendance in church and catechesis, and a desire to receive God’s gifts? How about knowing that he is a sinner and that Jesus is his salvation? (Hopefully, we *assume* that these naturally go along with a desire to be communed. But you did ask if an explanation of the Supper “would be enough.”)

  3. The thought of my husband is to give children communion on a case by case basis when their pastor and their parents believe that they are ready And when the child desires it. Then he thinks confirmation should be pushed back a few years so that the child/adolescent is not dependent on his parents to take him or her to church. If you are taking a vow “unto death”, shouldn’t you be able to drive yourself to church regardless of your parent’s church attendance. Our congregation’s confirmation is morphing into more “What does it mean to be a member of the Church?” We have a midweek class grades 3-6 which focuses on the catechism and church/biblical history. They learn so much easier at this age and you don’t have to deal with the oh-so-fun additions of hormones and peer pressure. I do have to say that there is a lot of resistance to this separation of 1st communion and confirmation in our church still, but showing families the actual rite in their LSB goes a long way in opening their eyes. We are desperate to get Joshua (9) to the sacrament. He gets it. He longs for it. And it breaks his dad’s heart to pass him by with only the blessing week after week simply because of tradition. This is a fight worth fighting. It is a hill we will die one. And I’m sure that they will try!

  4. After a mother teaches a child or two the Sixth Chief Part and they start begging for the Lord’s Supper, only to be told “No, you’re not old enough,” it makes it very hard to continue teaching that part of the catechism. It almost seems better to hide it from the children. (And that is NOT the right response.)

  5. I completely agree with early communion. While teaching my children from the small catechism, my 8-year-old piped up and said, “Mom, that’s crazy that they don’t give communion to kids. I need forgiveness of my sins, too.” So how do you tell an 8-year-old, who believes that we receive the body and blood of Christ in communion, that the church thinks she is too young to understand? Youth are leaving the church in droves, so maybe strengthening our children’s faith through Word AND Sacrament while they are still young is a good idea…

  6. I don’t disagree, but wonder if you are going to commune them, why not confirm them? I confirmed two children, 7 & 8 years old this year. I’d put them up against any older catechumen!

    • No doubt, your 7 & 8 year olds could recite the memory work as well as any 13 year old. But it is unlikely that they could explain, in their own words, much of what they said as well as a well-catechized 13 year old – though they could probably do better than most 13 year olds.

      The difference, however, is less drastic between 7 & 8 year olds and 13 year olds then it is between 4 & 5 year olds and 7 & 8 year olds. We admit children to the altar when their parents have taught them to recite the primary texts of the Catechism and the defining questions, as early as 4 years olds, after they are examined by the pastor and confess their sins and receive absolution. But it is difficult to do as much instruction as we desire at that age. So we bring them back for a more detailed and thorough catechesis that leads to confirmation when they are older. Still, of course, our goal is that catechesis continue even beyond that.

      In any case, that is the reason, it seems to me, for separating admittance to the Altar and Confirmation: we want a time, when they are older, for thorough and intense instruction.

      • Fr. Petersen,
        I’m not sure I understand your statement, “But it is unlikely that they could explain, in their own words, much of what they said as well as a well-catechized 13 year old – though they could probably do better than most 13 year olds.” Are you contradicting yourself? I actually do believe they can explain in their own words what they are saying. I don’t simply require them to memorize the catechism and then confirm them. That would be irresponsible catechesis on my part. They must learn. They must explain, and they must be examined, confess their sins and be absolved. Catechesis must definitely continue into the future and be a life-long learning. I am not against your practice of earlier communion, in the manner you have described.

      • Dear Pastor Kumm,

        You originally wrote: “(I) wonder if you are going to commune them, why not confirm them?” I was simply trying to give a reason why the two, admittance to the altar and confirmation, might be separated. I wasn’t criticizing your practice. I certainly don’t advocate waiting for 13 for confirmation. I think that is far less than ideal, but we must admit that a 13 year is more intellectually developed than an 8 year old and can be taught more.

        When I wrote that your 8 year olds could probably out perform most 13 year olds, I meant it as a compliment. Certainly they can’t out perform themselves at 13. They will continue to grow and learn. So they will be better catechized then than they are now. To remove it from the realm of though expiriment, try it this way: when they are 13, having been instructed and confirmed at 8 but continuing in Catechesis and being fed by the Sacrament of the Altar, they ought to be able to out perform their younger siblings just being confirmed. Capisch? But, of course, we know that many 13 year olds are confirmed utterly apart from their knowledge simply because they are 13 and it is time. Thus, I have no doubt that your 8 year olds would out perform most 13 year olds.

        Anyway, I really was just trying to say that separating the two can make sense and I think is a reasonable approach – if not the only approach.

        Yours in Christ,

        Dave Petersen

    • I think Pastor Petersen means that a well-catechized 13-year-old has better emotional maturity and understanding to explain the catechism rather than just repeat it, as a younger child might. But that a younger, well-catechized child could do better than a less-catechized 13-year-old. Makes sense to me. I memorized the catechism in third grade, age 8, but didn’t really understand it until much later.

      I’m in favor of early communion. Isn’t the age we’ve decided on as American Lutherans somewhat arbitrary?

      • Fr. Petersen,
        We are of one mind in this matter. I obviously was not reading/comprehending correctly. I truly am amazed and grateful to God for the abilities of the younger children to comprehend and understand. I give more thanks for faithful parents who truly teach and live out a catechetical life in the home. I have been blessed. God’s PEACE to you, Dear Brother,
        Michael Kumm

  7. Hilarious opening. But I agree totally and wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a while in my congregation before we will even begin to talk about it. The poor folks have already seen so much “new” stuff in the 2 1/2 years I’ve been here.

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