Monday, April 23, 2012

Should Confirmation and First Eucharist be given to infants?

The common practice in the East of giving both Confirmation and Eucharist to infants immediately upon their baptism occasionally causes Catholics of the Latin Rite to question whether such a practice ought to be adopted also in the West.
Especially now that, at least in the USA, a number of dioceses have lowered the age for Confirmation to seven, some individuals would like to see the age for both Confirmation and First Eucharist lowered to infancy.
While admitting that Confirmation and Communion can be given to infants, I will defend the Latin tradition of delaying these sacraments until the age of reason.

In defense of giving Confirmation and Communion to infants
A friend of mine, who is a father of five (three of whom have yet to receive Confirmation and First Eucharist) and who yet manages to find time to study a good deal of theology (thanks, certainly, to his wife’s support and encouragement), mentioned to me that my recent “defense” of the practice of priests blessing children in the Communion line seemed to come close to an affirmation of the Eastern practice of giving Communion to infants and small children.
In the earlier article (where I give my reasons for thinking it is no major problem for a priest to bless infants brought forward by their parents during Communion [here]), I had pointed out that the young children who have been baptized are truly united to the Mystical Body of Christ through the theological virtues of faith and love and that, therefore, it is even quite fitting that they be received in the Communion line wherein the Church is built up and bound together through the Eucharist.
While my friend was certainly not advocating giving Communion to infants, he was quite correct to indicate that my reasoning could be interpreted as a defense of the Eastern practice – since, if the infants are united to the Church, there does not at first seem to be any great reason for refusing to distribute Communion to them.
A further point in favor of the Eastern practice is that, even in the West, infants in danger of death are to receive both Confirmation and Communion, when possible. Dr. Ed Peters summarizes the canonical points well and offers the relevant citations [here].

UPDATE and CORRECTION: The Code of Canon Law (can 913.2) permits the administration of viaticum only in those cases in which the child is able to distinguish the Body of Christ from ordinary food and to receive Communion with devotion.
From all this, some would argue that the Eastern practice is to be preferred. Given that the baptized infant is truly united to Christ and his Church, and given that Confirmation and Communion are important enough for children that the Church insists that they be given when there is danger of death, why not allow the young children to receive these sacraments from infancy as a norm in the West?
Against delaying Confirmation
Before answering our primary question, I will offer a brief defense of the practice of administering Confirmation at or around the age of seven (that is, at the time of First Eucharist). In many places throughout the West, Confirmation is delayed until the teenage years; however, in some dioceses (especially in the USA) there has been a return to the more ancient practice of administering Confirmation as soon as a child attains to the use of reason. To my mind, this practice is theologically sound and pastorally beneficial.
Though Confirmation is not simply and absolutely necessary for salvation (i.e. it is not “necessary” in the way that baptism is necessary), it is necessary after a manner of fittingness. St. Thomas uses the following example: A horse is not absolutely necessary for a long journey (since one could walk), but anyone would understand what a man would mean if he said that he needed a horse to travel from Paris to Rome. 
In the same way, a man “needs” to be confirmed in order to be saved. Thus, it is safer to receive this sacrament at the age of reason, rather than to delay it several years.
Further, we point out that this sacrament strengthens a man in the faith – and, given the assaults against faith and morals which many young teens face, it is pastorally beneficial for them to first be fortified by this sacrament even from the age of reason.
Those who are interested may consider our earlier article on this subject, [here].
In defense of the Latin practice: Confirmation
Confirmation is compared to growth, just as Baptism is to birth and the Eucharist is to nourishment. Thus, as by Baptism, one is born anew in Christ Jesus; by Confirmation, a man is brought to spiritual maturity in the Lord. However, the soul does not age and thus there is no reason why a child cannot receive this sacrament. Such is the argument of St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. ST III, q.72, a.8 [here]).
For this reason, the ancient practice of the Latin Rite has been to administer Confirmation to children upon the age of reason. Since, even from this young age (about seven years old), they are able to be spiritually mature in the Lord.
However, it is more fitting that Confirmation not be given to infants but be delayed until the attainment of reason on account of the fact that the spiritual maturity which this sacrament effects is only capable of being expressed by those who have the use of reason.
Further, while Confirmation strengthens the soul to resist assaults against the faith, the infant has no need of such defense since his faith cannot in any way be hindered until after he attains to the use of reason and is able to commit sin.
Again, Confirmation is not absolutely necessary for salvation, and thus there is no urgency to warrant that it ordinarily be given to infants – however, in danger of death the sacrament should be given.
Finally, it is better that this sacrament be administered by a bishop, who has the fullness of Holy Orders.  This emphasizes the Ecclesial dimension of this sacrament, which unites the recipient to the universal Church, “to her apostolic origins, and to her mission of bearing witness to Christ” (CCC 1313). However, on a practical level, this necessitates the separation of Confirmation from Baptism, since a bishop cannot possibly confer all the baptisms in his diocese in a timely manner (and baptism must not be unduly delayed). Thus, if Confirmation is to be given by the bishop and is thus separated from Baptism, it is fitting that it be delayed until the attainment of reason which is the age in which the child is able to actively participate in the reception of the sacrament.
[In the East, the sacrament is given to infants at their baptism, but is then administered by a priest rather than a bishop. Thus, while the relative necessity of the sacrament is clearly seen, the Ecclesial dimension is all but lost.]
In defense of the Latin practice: Communion
In the case of delaying First Eucharist to the age of reason, the Latin Church affirms the devotion which one ought to have when receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Clearly, an infant (even in the state of grace after baptism) can have no devotion, since he lacks the use of reason. On this account, Communion is not given until around the age of seven in the West.
Though it is true that a baptized infant is most pure and is truly united to the Church through the theological virtues, yet it is not proper to give him Communion because he has no devotion for the Sacrament. The graces of the Eucharist benefit the soul in this life only in proportion to the devotion with which one receives the Sacrament. Therefore, the infant ordinarily ought not to be given Communion, since it will be of no personal benefit to him.
And we must mention that there is even less reason to give an infant Communion than there is to give him Confirmation. At least in the case of Confirmation a sacramental character is bestowed, together with the increase in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the virtues. In the case of Communion, there is no sacramental character and neither is there an increase in virtue, since there is no devotion (not that there is any fault in the infant, but only that he has no need for nor can he make any use of the Blessed Sacrament).
Why give Confirmation and Communion in danger of death?
Still, although the Latin Church is right in delaying these sacraments to the age of reason, she is also correct in affirming that they should be given to infants in danger of death.
While Confirmation and Communion are of no great benefit to an infant before the age of reason in this life, yet they are of great spiritual benefit to the soul after death.
Thus, an infant, who is confirmed and who then dies, will attain to greater glory in heaven on account of the sacramental character (as well as the other graces) received in Confirmation. (cf. ST III, q.72, a.8, ad 4)
Likewise, if possible, the Western Church deems it fitting for a dying infant child to be given First Eucharist, since the Blessed Sacrament is then received as Viaticum unto spiritual benefit in heaven.

CORRECTION: The Latin Church is particularly generous in encouraging pastors to consider carefully whether a young child who is below the age of seven may perhaps have sufficient use of reason to have devotion in receiving Communion. However, the Code of Canon Law (can 914) specifies that pastors must not distribute the Sacrament to those children who are not sufficiently disposed and who are too young to receive the Eucharist with devotion.
I do not here intent to claim that the Eastern practice is sinful or disordered, but only to show the logic of the Western Rite. There are good theological and pastoral reasons for the Latin practice of delaying these sacraments until the age of reason.


Jack said...

Infant Communion was the original practice of the Western Church as well.

I don't know how she fell away from this Apostolic custom.

jiml said...

Hi Father,
Great post. I would like see a movement of reordering the Sacraments of Initiation to: Baptism, Confirmation, and then reception of the Holy Eucharist. I know some bishops have done this recently, and that Pope Benedict has praised the move. But I guess this is a conversation for another day!
God bless,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm not sure that the historical question of infant communion as an apostolic custom is truly settled.

In fact, one of the primary arguments made for infant communion comes from a quote by St. Dionysius the Areopagyte (Eccl. Hier. ii) ... whom almost every modern scholar claims was not truly the convert mentioned in Acts of the Apostles, but was a much later author writing under the pseudonym "Dionysius".
[personally, I am not too concerned one way or the other as to the question of who this Dionysius really is]

And even that citation seems to be incorrect, since it is more likely that St. Dionysius is speaking of newly baptized adults rather than newly baptized children.
(cf. ST III, q.80, a.9, ad 3 -- )

... in any case ... I'd love to see some citations of ancient sources ...

Anonymous said...


Wonderful post; however, I'm wondering what the spiritual benefit in heaven received by the infant from reception of Viaticum is if the infant receives no benefit from the Blessed Sacrament due to lack of devotion.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

That is a tricky question ... certainly, it is only very recently that the Latin Church has allowed dying infants to receive Communion ... I think that there is room to debate (theologically) as to whether this is a good practice.

St. Pius X made it very clear (in his many writings on Holy Communion) that grace is received in accord with the devotion of the recipient -- so theologians do need to look closely at the question.

However, I suppose that there is some sense (by an analogy of some sort) in which the devotion of the Church could supply for the Viaticum of an infant ... perhaps?

Peace! +

Jack said...

\\what the spiritual benefit in heaven received by the infant from reception of Viaticum is if the infant receives no benefit from the Blessed Sacrament due to lack of devotion\\

This way; lies gnosticism--the idea that we must "know things" for God to work in our lives.

Don't forget, similar objections are raised about infant baptism by many Protestants: Babies don't "understand".

Once an Orthodox 3 year old was asked what the Priest gave her to eat in Church. She said, "Jesus bread." Her 5 year old sister, more theologically savvy, said, "Well, it looks like bread, but it's really Jesus."

'Nuff said?

Christ is risen!

Deacon Bill said...

Hopefully, we will soon see the end of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation as some sort of adolescent rite of passage or Christian bar mitzvah. I would certainly like to know where all of that nonsense came from.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

But you can't conflate all the sacraments ... as though the mere fact that baptism is given to infants means that all the sacraments should be ... after all, I am sure that when I say a man must intend to receive Holy Order when he is ordained a priest, you would not respond that this is a protestant idea which will lead to claiming that children need to intend to receive baptism when they are baptized.

Communion is different from Baptism ... and the requirements for the fruitful reception of Communion are different from those of Baptism.

"'Nuf said?" +

Seraphim said...

I have only one response.

"Let the little children come to me."

And also, the defunct "age of reason" psychology should be scrapped as modern developmental psychology shows a much more sophisticated understanding of the gradual process of coming into the use of abstract thinking.

Stomachosus said...

Father, I am confused about where the Latin Church permits communion to dying infants. I thought I knew the canon law, and I didn't find anything contrary to my understanding in the Ed Peter's link you provided.

Can. 913 §1. The administration of the Most Holy Eucharist to children requires that they have sufficient knowledge and careful preparation so that they understand the mystery of Christ according to their capacity and are able to receive the body of Christ with faith and devotion.

§2. The Most Holy Eucharist, however, can be administered to children in danger of death if they can distinguish the body of Christ from ordinary food and receive communion reverently.

Unless there is something I missed, they still must be able to distinguished between the Eucharist and ordinary food and receive reverently. The earlier canon law wasn't all that different

Can 843 §2 In periculo mortis, ut sanctissima Eucharistia pueris ministrari possit ac debeat, satis est ut sciant Corpus Christi a communi cibo discernere illudque reverenter adorare.

In danger of death, that the most holy Eucharist can and ought to be given to children, it is sufficient that they know to distinguish the Body of Christ from common food and reverently adore it.

So the only difference between 1917 and 1983 is "reverently adore" verse "reverently receive" In either case devotion would be required. An infant unable to distinguish between the Eucharist and common food could not receive communion.

Of course, that doesn't explain what benefit the Sacrament has for infants in the East.

James Joseph said...

There is a logic indeed.

A while back I being no scholar of any qualification of type decided to sit down and spend an entire weekend translating the Catechism from Latin into English. One thing that struck me were some words and phrases that when rendered in English became ambigious, and then could be taken and run with. In defence of my practice of working through the Latin word by word, I have done this with several documents and each time I walk away from the marathon session enlivened in spirit. Here, I am thinking of the Instruction for the Roman Missale (I still have dents in the plaster walls of my house). I should note that there is an issue. It is my understanding that the English translation could be descended from the Latin but instead came from Cardinal Schoenburg's manuscript.

I am compelled to re-iterate that I am no scholar but in my simple man's understanding of the spiritual life, it seems to me in my very-falliable opinion that the Church indeed does greatly desire to Confirm very young children before holy Eucharist.

The last line of my private entry is, "It is indeed against Justice to intentionally delay Confirmation to the innocents." The hook on the word Justice is how I have come to understand it. At it's root Justice literally means 'ritual purity'. It is a very old Indo-European root. And, with this understanding of Justice one can naturally progress to consider Mercy (misericordia); that is, the helpless-heart. If someone is ritually-pure and with a helpless-heart it seems that Love would be compelled to greater perfect the nature of an innocent while they are most disposed to recieving the grace.

Alas, I can see there is a certain prudence to the wishes of the supreme Pontiffs to Confirm very-young children. And, in obedience it should be the widespread practice. The argument of a bishop Chrismating directly at the end of the day does not hold water. Generally, speaking I have found it is not even the ordinary who administered the Sacrament but is an auxiliary (a bishop with spiritual authority over another land).

I do plenty of simple writing like this. I sure most of it is heretical and so I keep silent and patiently wait for death and judgement.

Christopher said...

Father, thank you for this blog, it's become one of my favorite.

I was hoping you could help me to understand how receiving Jesus in the Eucharist could not be beneficial for anyone receiving, no matter the age or mental capacity. Jesus is really, truly and substantially present under the species of bread and wine and, correct me of I am wrong but, as Catholics, we don't believe that His presence is only there to the degree that people believe? So, since He is really present, doesn't it make sense to give an infant that extra strengthening grace to prepare them for a life of holiness? I mean, what better way to assure that they grow up to adore Jesus than by receiving communion in infancy?
Thanks and God bless you,

Irenaeus of New York said...

To add to points already made. In Exodus 12:49 – no uncircumcised person shall eat of the lamb. Baptism is the new circumcision for Catholics(Col 2:11-12 ), and thus one must only be baptized in order to partake of the Lamb i.e. the Eucharist. The idea that babies were circumcised on the eighth day is also an apologetic for early infant baptism.

My other observation would be that the West kept the apostolic tradition of having the Bishop remain as the ordinary minister of the Sacrament of Confirmation whereas the East abandoned this tradition and gave this faculty to every priest as the ordinary minister. I think they let ordinary priests do it for the same reason the West separated the sacraments in age. The rapid growth over large expanses of territory did not always allow the bishop to be present for every baptismal sacrament. The East have no qualms about waiting months to baptise an infant (at least more than 40 days). The Western tradition is do it as fast as possible. So allowing confirmation at a later age allowed the West to maintain the bishop as the ordinary minister. I am not saying this is the chief reason, but I think it plays into it.

Also, both scripture and early tradition attest to only bishops doing confirmation which was aligned with Western tradition up until VII I think.

Acts 19:5-6 – Paul confirms. He is part of the episcopate.
Acts 8:14-17 – Peter and John confirm people. They are part of the episcopate.

Even in Eastern Catholic traditions, the Bishops must prepare the chrism used by priests.

“And when he was healed of his sickness he did not receive the other things which it is necessary to have according to the canon of the Church, even the being sealed by the bishop. And as he did not receive this, how could he receive the Holy Spirit?’”
Pope Cornelius (251-253 AD)

“He would likewise be permitting this to the Apostles alone? Were that the case,He would likewise be permitting them alone to baptize,them alone to baptize, them alone to Confer the Holy Spirit…If, then, the power both of Baptism and Confirmation, greater by far the charisms, is passed on to the bishops…”
Pacian, Epistle to Sympronian (392 AD)

“That this power of a bishop, however, is due to the bishops alone, so that they either sign or give the Paraclete the Spirit…For to presbyters it is permitted to anoint the baptized with chrism whenever they baptize…but with chrism that has been consecrated by a bishop; nevertheless it is not allowed to sign the forehead with the same oil; that is due to the bishops alone when they bestow the Spirit, the Paraclete.”
Pope Innocent [401-417 AD]

Eliyah said...

15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Eliyah said...

Note that in the Gospel of Luke 18... Jesus lay his hands on infants. That is the Tradition on which the church must follow. Not reasoning by human minds put following Christ and obey Him in Everything.

Concerning Holy Communion in the same Gospel of Luke chap. 18... We see Jesus ordering the apostles: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these."

This should suffice any priest or bishop to obey Christ. To be a disciple of Christ is to follow Him and obey Him... Do not forget that what is important is the will of God not the will of human minds.

And to the theologians wanting elaborate reasoning Jesus says further:

17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”


Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. E,

I don't think that's what Jack is saying. He is not claiming that because one sacrament is given at infancy, all should be. Rather, he is saying that the same logic behind the abandonment of infant baptism is at work in the abandonment of infant confirmation and communion. I would agree with him in saying that you taught the Protestants to think the way they do: "the grace of said sacrament has no affect on the unreasoning, unwilling, uncooperative infant."

As for your suspicion of the historicity of infant confirmation and communion, are you arguing that the Orthodox Church pushed confirmation and communion BACK to infancy? Or, perhaps, that the Apostles instituted two diverse customs, one for one part of the empire, another for the other? Do you have some evidence of this?

You seem to be aware that the practice for adult baptism was to Chrismate the baptizatus immediately (which is both Scriptural and Traditional). Do you have evidence of a separate service for infants? How about ancient testimony that it SHOULD be delayed for babies?

As for the fittingness of the delay, the crux of the matter is that you believe confirmation to not be absolutely necessary. This may be consistent with RC theology, but do you have any evidence that this is the traditional understanding of the sacrament? Both the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers teach that initiation is not complete without confirmation (cf. Acts 8:14-16). If you know of anything to the contrary, please share.

As to communion, the crux is the idea that one benefits therefrom "only in proportion to the devotion with which one receives the Sacrament." This is neither obvious nor compelling. A mother does not deprive her child of nourishment or affection because the child cannot process it rationally. You will tell me that the Eucharist is spiritual food; but it is not scholastic food. The child has a soul, a spirit, and a life in Christ: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

A child should be sealed with the Holy Spirit and nourished with the bread of life, so that his soul will flourish and grows into the fullness of the stature of the measure of Christ. The use of his rational faculties will benefit from the years in which he was enriched with this Grace.

Eliyah said...

Holy Order is different from the three mysteries (sacraments). Not all are called to be priests. But all are called to be partakers of the divine nature...

Baptism is the incorporation to Christ Body where the seed of Faith is implanted in the heart of the new faithful, where Confirmation (Chrismation) is the reception of the mark of the Holy Spirit, sealing and protecting the new follower of Christ. Now Holy Communion importance comes from the nature of this Mystery (Sacrament) where the holy Resurrected flesh of Christ nourish the spiritual seed (Faith) in us and the holy blood increases the presence of the Holy Spirit in the partaker...

This whole mystery is cut off from the most worthy of all,the little children by priests and bishops who lost the sense of the holiness of the christian family... Very sad! But the Lord will send Elijah to put everything in order as He says in His gospel in Matthew 17:

11 Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood,[a] saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. 2 But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months. 3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.”

4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God[b] of the earth. 5 And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6 These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Seraphim, et al.
regarding the quote "Let the little children come to me" ... there is absolutely no reason to think that this means that we should administer all the sacraments to children!

The little children are incorporated to Christ in baptism ... and any who are so impious as to claim that a child who has been baptized has not yet been brought to Christ is making a grave error.

Thus, to "Let the little children come to me", I say, We in the West bring out little ones to Christ through baptism.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (7:33am),
First, please have the decency to use a pseudonym as requested.

Second, The Council of Trent has defined that Baptism is sufficient for the salvation of infants ... it is a heresy to claim that confirmation and communion are also necessary.
So, no, Confirmation is not absolutely necessary for salvation.

Third, each of the sacraments work according to their own logic ... thus, there is no reason to claim that, merely because Eucharist should be received only by the one who has active faith, this would necessarily lead people to think that the same holds for baptism.

After all, baptism can only be received by one who has not been baptized ... but nobody would say that this would lead us to think that Confirmation can only be received by one who has not been baptized.
Thus, it is clear that, from one sacrament to another, the requirements of the recipient are diverse.

Finally, yes, I suspect that the East has mistakenly pushed communion to an early age and that this was an innovation. See the article where I detail this point regarding St. Dionysius. +

Sosn (Anonymous 7:33am) said...

I already acknowledged that this was consistent with RC teaching (Trent, et al.). My point was that you can't show it to be consistent with the tradition of the Church (pre-schism, if you like).

"Each of the sacraments works according to its own logic." I don't understand this argument. My point is that you seemed to have applied a new logic to confirmation and communion. Sure RC teaching reflects it. But it's wrong.

You "suspect that the East has mistakenly pushed communion to an early age and that this was an innovation." Can you be more specific about "the article where [you] detail this point"? Because this would be exceedingly difficult to prove, seeing as it is common knowledge that chrismation was administered to adults at baptism without a different ceremony for infants.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Sorry, I should have said, "see the comment above" (April 23, 10:16am), where I detail that the East refers to a passage from St. Dionysius (Eccl. Hier. ii), as a justification for the practice ... but this reference is mistaken on their part. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You ask a good question ... to answer, we must understand that one can receive the Eucharist: Sacramentally and spiritually.

Whatever man eats the Eucharist, receives it sacramentally (even if he be in the state of sin).
However, only the just man in the state of grace receives the Eucharist spiritually.

Now, in the case of infants, it seems to me that they receive Christ sacramentally but not spiritually, insofar as they have no devotion.
Still, there is no sin involved in the Eastern practice -- but neither is there any great benefit for the infant (excepting, perhaps, when the child is dying). +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Yes, you seem to be correct. Also, Canon 914 specifies that pastors must be vigilant to make sure that children who do not have use of reason are not given Communion.

On a more careful read of Dr. Peters' article, he says the same.

I will correct this immediately! +

Capreolus said...

Father, even though you may hold the identity of the author of the "Celestial Hierarchies," "Divine Names," etc., to be of little concern, your patron and mine, St. Thomas Aquinas, certainly considered his authority as among the very highest. And isn't it true that in theology argument by authority is more important than by reason, and that a near-apostolic authority is greater than a pseudonymous Byzantine scholar's?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

As far as the argument of this particular article goes ... it does not matter whether St. Dionysius is truly the Areopagyte or not ... because the Eccl. Hier. does not say what the Greeks think it says.

However, in the big picture, I suppose that there is some importance to the question of authorship -- as you say, he is used as an authority.

However, St. Thomas has greater authority than any particular Father of the Church (so says Pope Paul VI, though I don't have the citation handy) ... so, for me, the Angelic Doctor's reliance on St. Dionysius gives those works sufficient authority even if the author is not clear.

Peace! +

ABehm said...

For quotes from the Fathers, there is Augustine (last two sentences):

“Those who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are denying that Christ is Jesus for all believing infants. Those, I repeat, who say that infancy has nothing in it for Jesus to save, are saying nothing else than that for believing infants, infants that is who have been baptized in Christ, Christ the Lord is not Jesus. After all, what is Jesus? Jesus means Savior. Jesus is the Savior. Those whom he doesn’t save, having nothing to save in them, well for them he isn’t Jesus. Well now, if you can tolerate the idea that Christ is not Jesus for some persons who have been baptized, then I’m not sure your faith can be recognized as according with the sound rule. Yes, they’re infants, but they are his members. They’re infants, but they receive his sacraments. They are infants, but they share in his table, in order to have life in themselves.”
Augustine, Sermon 174, 7

I also found this article about infant communion (because I'm too lazy to find references myself):

I does present an interesting article as well.

"The authority and abundance of extant evidence which witness to the practice of the Church at Rome compelled the author of the article on "First Communion" in the New Catholic Encyclopedia to affirm:

'Almost all ancient ritual books until the 13th century in the West prescribe that children are to be admitted to Communion at Baptism; in the East as well as in some Latin countries this practice is still maintained. Following their first reception, usually under the species of wine, infants were allowed to receive frequently, sometimes after the clergy and sometimes after all adults. Reaction to the Arian controversy... increased emphasis on adoration of the divinity present, and had the result of lessening the frequency of Communion and of preventing children from receiving it until after they had had some Christian instruction upon attaining the age of reason.13'"

yan said...

Hi Fr.,

Thanks for the interesting discussion.

If it is required that children have some discernment of the eucharist before receiving, then, does this rationale apply to the dying or semi-conscious who are adults? And if not, then, it would seem that there should be additional reasons for administering the eucharist available in order to justify its administration to infants on occasion.

Certainly the semi-conscious in many cases cannot receive the eucharist with devotion. Nor the senile [those who we kindly refer to as having Alzheimer's], yet they receive as well, as do others with severe neurological diseases affecting their understanding.

Thus it seems reasonable that there is some theological basis to give the viaticum to dying infants as well. What that might be, I leave to the smart ones!


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The quote from St. Augustine does not seem to be so much a defense of infant communion as infant baptism.
St Thomas and the other Scholastic Doctors knew St Augustine's writings very well ... and they saw no affirmation there of infant communion. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

One who was once conscious and once had devotion is quite different from one who was never rational.

In the case of someone with dementia (for example), the previous desire and devotion suffices for Viaticum.
But, in the case of the infant, there is no previous devotion ... so there is really no comparison.

Hope that helps to make sense of the Church's teaching! +

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dear Father. Thank you for your defense of the Latin Praxis. I find it quite nettlesome that we in the west are almost always told to imitate the East.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

The Proper Age For Confirmation

Here it is to be observed, that, after Baptism, the Sacrament of Confirmation may indeed be administered to all; but that, until children shall have attained the use of reason, its administration is inexpedient. If it does not seem well to defer (Confirmation) to the age of twelve, it is most proper to postpone this Sacrament at least to that of seven years.

Trent has spoken :)

yan said...

Hi Fr.,

That a person that formerly had devotion is different from a person that has never yet had devotion doesn't really clarify the situation to me, since I don't see how past devotion has any relationship to present devotion in reference to making the sacrament effective in the present.

Why should it? If devotion is, as you assert, the sole means by which one can receive spiritually, and it is clear that someone that is senile in many cases cannot be devoted to it, then, how would past devotion remedy that defect in the present?

Furthermore, there are many that have had little devotion or none in their lives, who nevertheless receive viaticum at death. Should they be denied it until inquiry is made into their devotion? Isn't it enough to simply know that they are baptized Catholics?

Fr., you yourself say elsewhere, 'However, only the just man in the state of grace receives the Eucharist spiritually.

Now, in the case of infants, it seems to me that they receive Christ sacramentally but not spiritually, insofar as they have no devotion.'

I don't understand how the conclusion follows from the premise. Surely a baptized infant is just and in a state of grace. If so, then that would be enough for it to be able to receive the sacrament, by your own premise. Was your premise misstated?

Even if your premise was misstated, the practice of the Church seems to require that there be some existing basis, additional to the usual requirement of devotion, which makes the administration of the sacrament both necessary and permissible, in many cases in which devotion is not present.

What that basis may be, I won't hazard to guess; but that it must be, seems correct.


Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

O, and another thing, if we Latins were to change our praxis, that would deprive the Eastern Rite folks of the opportunity of boasting that they have it right and we have it wrong.

Sosn said...

Not only did you ignore my request to substantiate the claim, against general consensus, that the current RC practice (to say nothing of the theology behind it) is the original one, but now you pass over in silence ABehm's citation from the CathEnyc. Your novel claim to having preserved the ancient custom remains unfounded.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Well, the Cath Encyclopedia article on infant communion states that this practice was never universal in the West (and suggests that it was in fact a mistaken idea that came after the time of the apostles ... resulting from a false interpretation of the Bread of Life discourse).
-- so, your absurd claim that everyone in the early Church did this has no support from that source.

As to the East ... granting that it was common by the time of St. Cyprian ... this does not prove that it was of apostolic origin.
Indeed, as the Cath Encyc. article points out --- it comes from a misinterpretation of the teaching of the apostles, such that some thought that an infant could not go to heaven without receiving communion (and that idea is now condemned as a heresy).

There is no evidence that the apostles gave communion to infants.
But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that the idea of infant communion stems from a seriously flawed idea by which baptism is not sufficient for the salvation of an infant. (and this error crept in quite quickly in the East, but was largely avoided in the West)

Good day, sir! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@I am not Spartacus,
I agree!

Notice that I did not even attack the East in my article ... I only said that there is legitimacy to the Western practice .... and yet these fanatics in the comment box are suggesting that the Western Tradition is flawed and that there is no possible way to defend what popes and ecumenical council have explicitly maintained since Lateran IV!

Talk about arrogance!

Sosn said...

Father Ryan,

This was my first time on your blog, and judging by the theme which you chose to present, I was mislead into thinking that it was sober in nature. But I notice from your tone in the responses that you are far from scholarly in your intent. I invited you to defend your claims. If that makes me an arrogant "fanatic" (originally even without decency!), then you are obviously not interested in real discussion.

As for the absurdity of my beliefs, I return to the fact that you offer absolutely no support for your claim that the current RC practice is traditional, aside from clarifying that the CathEncy does not refute it. And it should be obvious that it is not enough merely to show that the Orthodox claim is inconsistent with RC doctrine to prove that it is erroneous.

1) Where is the evidence of a bifurcated tradition for receiving Christians, one for adults and one for infants, the latter omitting chrismation and holy communion?

2) Where is the evidence that this "devotion" doctrine has any claim to legitimacy aside from being the peculiar teaching of Roman Catholicism?

This is a summary of my points--points which have gone unanswered. Unless you have anything to add, I accept your "good day, sir" and thank you for posting my comments.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

My goodness! I have not attacked the East, I only said that the West has good reasons for its own tradition ... yet this is not good enough for you ... you must insist that the West is failing in its care of infants and that the Roman Church has lost its way.

Well ... since it is impossible to prove a negative, I certainly cannot satisfy your request to prove that the practice of infant communion didn't happen in the time of the apostles.

But what I can do is ask you for proof of the practice (which you have not yet provided) ... the only "proof" given (not by you, I add) was a reference to an article from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
To this, I responded that the Cath Encycl claims neither that the practice is from the apostles nor that it was universal, but only that it sprang up fairly early on in the East and that it arose from a false interpetation of the Bread of Life Discourse.

In other words, the very source cited as evidence for the Eastern practice turns out to be contrary to the Eastern practice and to say that it is not original to the apostles.

Here is the direct quote from Cath Encycl.
"In the East the custom was pretty universal, and even to this day exists in some places, but in the West infant Communion was not so general. Here, moreover, it was restricted to the occasions of baptism and dangerous illness. Probably it originated in a mistaken notion of the absolute necessity of the Blessed Eucharist for salvation, founded on the words of St. John (vi, 54)."

Now, as to the rest ... I said that you lacked decency, I refer to the fact that (after reading an entire article) you didn't take the time to read the instruction of how to leave a comment -- rather, you left your extremely LONG comment anonymously.

Finally, as I have already said several times ... in an earlier comment I show that the eastern practice is defended often by a reference to St. Dionysius -- and this is not only dubious (since there is doubt as to the authenticity of those works), but also errant (since Dionysius isn't saying what the easterners say he says).

It's not that I haven't given evidence.

And the point remains that you are dismissing Ecumenical Councils (or, if you are a heretic or schismatic, you should at least call them "General Synods of the Western Church") as though they mean nothing at all and have no authority.
In that respect, yes, I say you are a fanatic.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

No, the line is correct: A man who is in mortal sin only receives the Eucharist sacramentally and not spiritually -- because he receives no grace.

Now, an infant can certainly receive the Eucharist sacramentally ... but it is at least doubtful whether he can receive Christ spiritually (or whether this reception is truly profitable to the soul in this life).

Certainly, it is not a sin for an infant to receive (as it is for a person in mortal sin), but neither does it seem (to the West) particularly good or helpful.

The difference between an infant and a man with dementia is that the man with dementia once had a desire for the Eucharist, but the child never did.
This makes all the difference ... since an unconscious person cannot be absolved if he did not express a desire for the sacrament while still conscious.

Communion is efficacious in our soul according to our devotion ... and the past devotion of a now insane man will still suffice, since his soul is still essentially ordered toward the devout reception of communion (by the previous willful choice which was never rescinded).

I don't know how to say it any clearer than that.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think that you are missing the logical meaning of the words: "Only those in the state of grace can receive the Eucharist spiritually"

That doesn't mean that all those in the state of grace can receive spiritually, but that only these can.
Hence, it is possible (and in fact the case) that some in the state of grace -- namely infants -- probably cannot receive the Eucharist spiritually.

And I don't set that forward as premises and conclusion ... but as a summary of what the whole article is proving.

Hope that clears things up a bit more!
I know that I can sometimes be a bit hard to understand! :-)

Anonymous said...

Holy Communion is the mystery of growth in the Lord. The flesh of Christ is real food and the blood is real drink.

Why deprived the little children of the same divine food that all other baptized faithful receive?

The goal of all Christians is to be a saint, which mean to attain the full stature of Christ.

How grow to the full stature of Christ without the divine food offered by Christ at the Great Passover?


yan said...

Hi Fr.,

Thanks; that does clear things up for me. Thanks for taking the time to explain!

The idea of the soul remaining essentially ordered to a particular end, although I do not understand it from a psychological perspective, makes sense as being a means to the end which logic requires in this case.

And, I should have read your premise more carefully; you are quite correct that you didn't say that being in a state of grace was a sufficient condition; that it is merely a necessary one was a fair interpretation from the context, which eluded me at the time.

I also followed your interesting dialogue with Sosn, and I am glad you responded so thoroughly. I will continue to think about it but I think you have the better argument there. [Though I don't think he is a fanatic :)].


Alessandro said...

Dear Father,
The text in the Catholic Encyclopedia appears to affirm that Communion was given to infants as a final step in the Initiation process. But the text seems also to say that the Blessed Sacrament wasn’t received anymore until the age of reason, since the child had no need for it. “[In the Western Church], moreover, [Communion] was restricted to the occasions of baptism and dangerous illness.” So, they gave this Sacrament only within the rite of christening and as a viaticum, then the Sacrament was no more received until the age of reason. This is a very interesting point, though I don’t know what proofs did the Encycl use to derive this knowledge. I take it for granted and I consider it a very interesting option: the child received Communion only in order to complete his initiation and in fulfillment of the Gospel passage on the Bread of Life. They considered the once-in-a-life reception of the Eucharist as something necessary to be fully incorporated in the Church. From an ecclesiological point of view, that sounded good and I think that a single sacramental (yet not spiritual) Communion might have even had a positive effect; yet I fully agree with you that the Eucharist without devotion cannot be received spiritually.

As for the Eastern tradition: Is the age of reason the same for everyone? Is it right to postpone this sacrament on a fixed age decided by bishops? I ask this because I always thought of the 7-years age as a “minimal common denominator.” By then, all children have sufficient intelligence to understand what happens on the altar and show devotion to the Host and the Chalice as real “tabernacles” (forgive my use of this word!) of Christ’s Real Presence. Yet, there might be children with a premature understanding of religion and even of sin. Some minor sins can be committed even at an earlier age (namely, violations of the 4th, 7th, 8th and 10th commandments), and I’m sure that many of them are committed with full intention and understanding. Isn’t it risky for these children to have no supernatural remedy (i.e. the Eucharist) to be fully helped in their path towards God?

As much as the Eastern tradition might prove inexpedient on many grounds (how useful might be continually receiving Christ only sacramentally, I really don’t know), it is nevertheless true that it allows children with an earlier age of reason to receive Christ since the very beginning of their consciousness. I don’t claim that to be a solution, but I wonder if there might be other remedies, such as letting the priest decide case by case if a child is ready much earlier than the others, and satisfy his spiritual need to receive Jesus. Also, this matter makes me anger for the choice of the Italian bishops to generally delay Communion even to 9 years of age, when children often commit dangerous sins with full intention and understanding. Doesn’t that endanger their spiritual life? What do you think about it?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think you make some very good points.
In fact, the Church is quite clear in her teaching: If a child shows devotion at an earlier age (and parents and priests should be keen to look for this among children), then he should be admitted to Holy Communion even before the age of 7.
On the other hand, even some 7 year olds have perhaps not really reached the attainment of reason -- and thus should not be admitted to Communion.

Indeed, while a general rule is helpful (and 7 seems about right to me), it must not be dogmatic ... pastoral prudence is extremely important in this matter.
And also, as you hint, first confession should not be delayed either.

[I don't mean this as a critique of the Italian bishops ... only to say that priests have a duty to apply the law appropriately and pastorally according to each individual case.]
Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Careful! You are coming very close to saying that a baby isn't really a true Christian without the Eucharist!
You are getting near the heresy which claims that baptism isn't enough for children -- such that they are "missing something" if they do not receive Communion.

In any case, I am treating children just like I treat all the baptized faithful: They are able to receive Communion only in proportion to their devotion -- so, if a grown man is baptized but has no Eucharistic devotion, he should not receive ... and if a infant is baptized but has no devotion, neither should he receive.

The Eucharist is "food", but it is not baby food -- it is the food for adults of which St. Paul speaks ... meaning that those who have devotion are fit to receive this food.

Finally, to be very clear ... you said that our goal is to become saints (that is, get to heaven) ... now, it is a matter of faith (held by both east and west) that an infant who dies after receiving only baptism will surely attain salvation and become a saint.
You simply cannot imply that they will not be saved and will not become saints without the Eucharist. +

Anonymous said...

Is it not the pope John Paul who taught that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life?

Source for what? Summit for what? Is it not Jesus the Lord our God who says:

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.

Did Jesus said except little children?

Also does it mean that protestant are saved being baptized only. Is he not saint James who wrote that faith without love is dead?

The demons believe that God is one and they tremble... Believing without obeying is faith without love, for love is given by Holy Communion who gives you life... The obedience to the Word Made Flesh is crucial to be saved...

P.S.: Dear priest I'm anti-protestant for they deny Christ each day not believing the Doctrine on the Divine Bread... Let us not imitate them!!

Thank you!


Elizabeth said...

I am coming in a little late here,but here goes,if anyone is still reading. Father,what is the difference between "spiritually" receiving Jesus in Communion and "fruitfully" receiving? Trent taught that infants do fruitfully receive the sacrament, which seems somewhat more than sacrament ally receiving.

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