DO INFANTS RECEIVE HOLY COMMUNION?
Did you know that in the Eastern Rites Catholic Church (the other half of the universal Catholic Church) infants and children start receiving Holy Communion from the time they receive their Infant Baptism? In the early Church, among the early Christians, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist (Holy Communion) were seen as one sacrament. One was baptized, confirmed and given Holy Communion on the same day, in the same ceremony. With time and with a developed understanding of the Sacraments, the three were later separated into individual Sacraments of their own becoming what we now know as the three Sacraments of Christian Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist.
In the Roman Rite Catholic Church (which we belong), infants were baptized but Confirmation and Holy Eucharist were delayed until the child got to the age of reason. Initially, in the Roman Rite, Holy Communion and Confirmation were given from age 14 which was the age of reason then. However, in 1910, Pope Pius X reduced the age limit and set the age of reason at 7 years which is the current practice in the Roman Rite (the Catholic Church that majority of us belong to). So at present, children receive Infant Baptism then from 7 years they can take Holy Communion and later receive Confirmation.
However, the Eastern Rites (the Catholic Churches that are not part of the Roman Rite but are part of our universal Catholic Church. The two, Roman Rite and Eastern Rites together form the Catholic Church), maintained the “older version” of receiving Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Communion at the same time, in the same ceremony. Because of this, till today, infants and children (in the Eastern Rites) receive Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist on the same day they are baptized. They don’t receive Infant Baptism as children and wait to grow to receive Holy Communion and then wait again to receive Confirmation from a Bishop as we do in the Roman Rite. Everything is done on the same day. And for them, Holy Communion is always given under both species (they receive both the Body and Blood) using a little spoon by dipping the Body into the Blood (by intinction).
As we have seen, the older order is to receive Baptism, then Confirmation and then Eucharist (the same order we use when listing the 7 Sacraments) but for pastoral (“practical”) reasons, we in the Roman Rite receive Baptism, then Eucharist and later Confirmation (a change to the order of Sacraments of Christian Initiation).
So, don’t be surprised when you see babies receiving Holy Communion in the Eastern Rites Catholic Church. It is not new in the Catholic Church. It is actually an older tradition than the tradition we have in our (Roman Rite) Catholic Church.
By: Fr. Anthony Agnes Adu-Mensah