Friday, September 5, 2008

A Case for Communing Young Disciples


I believe there is a serious problem with withholding the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar from children who have a desire to receive it. In Luther’s Small Catechism he writes on the worthiness of those receiving the Sacrament: for that person is truly worthy and well-prepared who has faith in these words: “Given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” It is the process of catechization which leads to this holy desire, to receive the forgiveness of sins. Luther’s Small Catechism is the greatest and simplest exposition of the catholic faith: the Ten Commandments, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Confession, and the Lord’s Supper. The Confessions demand that catechumens be familiar with the primary texts of the catechism. My understanding of early communion however, would not be guided solely be the mechanical memorization of every explanation of the parts of the catechism.

It is the position of many churches that one ought to go through a multiple year instruction of the catechism, with rather sophisticated explanations to gear up for an eventual confirmation. Confirmation in turn would be a precursor to admittance to the Lord’s Table. In this way students must be ready and serious with intellectual qualifications to receive the Lord’s Supper. This would come after a confirmation in which they pledge their youthful and adolescent bodies in the service of the church. It is not hard to imagine how a young catechumen might begin to see the Supper as a prize, a goal, and award for hard work and devotion. This would be problematic to a sacrament which offers the forgiveness of sins through body and blood. It comes as gift and invitation to those sorry for sins, and desiring the gifts of the crucified Lord. It is not my intention to undermine the catechetical process but rather to discourage the litmus test of mechanical memorizations or for a certain age group to be prepared for the Lord’s Table.

In this way, admittance should be the job of the Pastor to catechize young disciples that they might confess the Lord’s work on the cross and its benefits. A solid understanding of the basic parts of the catechism would be necessary for a proper confession to receive the Sacrament of the Altar. It is worth noting the pastoral duty to minister to the disabled who cannot confess the catechism as others might be able to. The work of Christ is not dependent upon the physical or mental capacity of those receiving his gifts. He declares righteousness to all people who receive Him with the eyes and ears of faith. If age, memorization, and mental capacity do not guide the readiness of a catechumen, what would? It must be guided on an individual level. Every child is different, with a different household, different needs, different talents, and different struggles. It is the Office of Ministry – the pastor who must catechize and make the decision. Pre-requisites of age and memorization skills should not be guiding principles but the individual readiness one to confess a desire for the Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The ability of a pastor to have this sort of care would be effected by the size of his parish and the contact with the families of the catechumens. If there are, say 70 students, a pastor would have a greater degree of difficulty gauging one’s individual confession. The greater the number of students, it seems the pastor would have to rely increasingly upon more formal methods. This would means a reliance on standardized recitation of the catechism usually for a certain age group. For this reason, I hold a bias for smaller churches, where a pastor has the ability to individually shepherd each student. It is easy for students to get confused or lost in the fold. Furthermore, the pastor should also take into account the family of the catechumen. Are they being raise in a catechetical household – where the teaching and prayers of the faith are central to daily life? This is of great advantage to those who will likely live out a life of continual catechesis – an earlier admittance to the Lord’s Supper might also be suggested for these students based upon their individual confession. Students who receive a mere hourly catechetical instruction once a week with no assistance from home may unfortunately be at a disadvantage. For the catechumen it is necessary that one see their life, both early and heavenly, through the chief parts. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are not isolated events but the means in which one finds their life and very identity.

I am in favor of communing children earlier if the pastor sees that they have a confession of sins and a desire to receive the Sacrament, coupled with familiarity with the chief parts of the catechism. Going to the extreme and communing children indiscriminately as infants is certainly an abuse of the Sacrament, the Scriptures, with a blatant disregard for the Lutheran confessions. The others extreme, marked by a rigid recitation of the catechism void of any personal pastoral care and oversight is also irresponsible. What is important however, is emphasizing the Living Christ with His active Word. Catechism is not a dull class that one might become “eligible” for communion. The catechism should be taught as a daily instruction – a lifetime exercise. It is a joyful discipline, in which one finds his or her identity in baptism. In this one finds life as sinner and saint, death and life in word, water, and blood.

The mysteries of the Lord are not for adults or the matured-minded only. In fact, an argument might go that those already ingratiated and catechized by the world are less apt to cling to the mysteries in faith. One must ultimately become like a child to confess that contained in the catechism and to accept the Sacraments with the eyes of faith. Intellect and reason are more often than not hindrances to faith rather than helpful. The innocency of a young child is a great starting place to catechize one into the mysteries of Christ – namely baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Children will hear their eternal Shepherd through their pastor. They will follow him because the Lord creates faith. Preparation for the Sacraments is not about sophisticated explications of doctrine but rather simple confessions of the profoundly simple promises of Christ, “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

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