Don't we all?

August 2, 2018


Dear Friend of The Falls Church Episcopal,

As I mentioned last week, I have gotten all sorts of great questions from folks on "churchy" things, and I'm having a blast answer them! Keep 'em coming!  And since our Sunday readings have us in a stretch of the Gospel of John known as "The Bread of Life Discourse," I'm sticking with questions that are related to Holy Communion because it's nice to keep everything on theme. I got a couple of questions from people about receiving Communion, particularly about children receiving Communion.  How old does one need to be before receiving the Eucharist? In the Episcopal tradition, the only qualification for receiving Communion is baptism.  That's it.  And it doesn't matter in which Christian tradition you were baptized, just as long as you were (and if you haven't been and are interested in getting baptized, I'd love to talk with you about that!). Different Christian traditions have different approaches, and there are some who believe that a child must reach "the age of reason" before they receive Communion.  As it turns out, that argument is a much later development in Christian theology than most people think.  It wasn't until the 13th century that people began thinking along those lines, and it was only in the Western Church. In fact, earliest Christian practice was that baptism was not complete until the newly baptized person had received Holy Communion.  So you were baptized in water, sealed by chrism oil, and received the Eucharist all in the same service.  In the first 200 years of the church, Christian converts were primarily adults, but as the practice of infant baptism became more common, they transferred the same principle to the babies.  The liturgy began to include little spoons on which a tiny bit of Communion bread and wine was administered to the infant.  This is still a common practice in Eastern Orthodox traditions today.  So there is long-standing precedent in large portions of the Christian tradition that age does not affect whether or not an individual can or should receive Holy Communion. As to the question of reason, I think my note late week about Episcopal Eucharistic theology can help. Our tradition holds that what happens in the Eucharistic moment is a mysterious, unknowable, and wildly complex. So if we were going to hold people to the idea that you need to understand Holy Communion before you can receive it, then I think all of us would have to sit it out!  Nobody truly understands what happens in that moment, and I don't believe any of us experience it in quite the same way. A quick story to end on: There was a mom at a congregation where I used to work who told me that every time she went to the altar rail to receive Communion, her 4-year-old daughter (who did not receive) kissed her on the lips when they got back to their pew.  The mom began to notice that she always did this, and so she asked her daughter why.  She replied, "Mama, I wanna be close to Jesus too."  Don't we all? See you Sunday, Kelly

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