Lutheranism is a movement within the Church that is always reforming, ever on the lookout for the new ways that God is speaking and working in the world.
One of the observable areas of change within our tradition has been the gradual movement among our congregations to lower the age for first Communion. A position paper from the ELCA concludes, "There is no command from our Lord regarding the age at which people should be … first communed."
The age at which baptized members of Lutheran congregations receive their first Communion reflects a variety of practices and understandings. A few congregations follow a pattern familiar to older generations of Lutherans with Holy Communion first offered on the day of Confirmation. A generation ago, many of our congregations opted to provide catechetical instruction for children to receive their first Communion when they reached fifth grade. This is the practice our congregation endorsed and has practiced for decades.
Today there is a growing awareness that focus on a specific age may not be the best primary factor to determine when first Communion is received. Martin Luther wrote, "Therefore let all heads of a household remember that it is their duty, by God's injunction and command, to teach their children or have them taught the things they ought to know. Because they have been baptized and received into the people of Christ, they should also enjoy this fellowship of the sacrament (Holy Communion) so that they may serve us and be useful. For they must all help us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight against the devil." (The Sacrament of the Altar from the Book of Concord.) I concur with Luther, believing that children do help all of us to believe, to love, to pray, and to fight against evil.
Earlier this year, the Church Leadership Team engaged in conversation with me about opening the age of first Communion to younger communicants. The CLT authorized me to introduce a process to make this happen, thereby eliminating any specific or arbitrary age to receive the Sacrament.
These were factors that influenced our decision to move forward:
- Scripture does not identify a specific age at which a person can or cannot receive Holy Communion.
- God is the one who acts in the Sacrament. God is the giver. We simply receive. Martin Luther said that a person is rightly prepared to receive Holy Communion if she or he has a "believing heart" (they trust God).
- Many sister congregations have found it useful, edifying, and joy-filled to have moved away from a fifth grade requirement to receive Holy Communion.
- Messiah has a growing number of new member households with children who have been communing in their previous congregations. As we have welcomed them to receive the Sacrament at the altar, we also have a complicated, if not incongruous, situation for older children who have grown up at Messiah.
- Many of our children are ready.
FAQ's for parents
1) At what age should my child receive Holy Communion?
Readiness should be an assessment made by a child's parent(s) and not tied to a specific chronological age. There is no theological reason to rush a child from the baptismal font to the altar rail. There is also no theological reason to deny a baptized child who indicates that he or she wants to receive the wine and bread with a "believing heart."
2) Where and how will my child learn about Holy Communion?
First and foremost, children learn from attending worship. Here they see and experience the key elements of worship and begin to understand and interpret the Sacraments. Additionally, from your actions and conversations with your child, he or she sees that Holy Communion is important to you and that participating in it is something you do on a regular basis. Children recognize parents' reverence at the altar as they kneel, hold out their hands, pray, etc. These movements speak and teach volumes. For a child to imitate you and your actions indicates that he or she is gaining understanding of the Sacrament's importance. At Messiah, your child will also learn about Holy Communion in Godly Play® and again in confirmation instruction.
Additionally, I will be offering two identical forums this February (see the schedule below) for parents and their child(ren) to attend together to explore readiness to receive Holy Communion. These forums are specifically for families who feel their child(ren) may be ready for the Sacrament.
3) What are some signs that my child is ready for Holy Communion?
Questions to ponder:
Has your child asked?
Have you asked your child if he or she wants to receive Holy Communion?
Does your child imitate your actions at the altar rail?
Does your child watch what you do at the rail?
Has your child put his or her hands out to receive?
These are all good signs that your child is on his or her way to being ready to receive.
4) How will I make my child's First Communion special?
Choose a date when your family, extended family members, and friends you may want to invite are available to celebrate with your child. This will allow all of you to receive the Sacrament. You may also want to plan a special family gathering after the event. After the celebration, talk with your child about the event. Ask what it was like to receive Communion or wonder with him or her with such questions like, "I wonder if that is the same type of bread Jesus ate?" Be sure to pray with your child before and after the event. Let your child lead the prayer where possible and encourage your child to express his feelings in the prayer.
5) What is a simple way for me to describe to my child what is happening in Holy Communion?
Read together A Place For You by Daniel Erlander. This is an excellent little book for persons of all ages and will be available at the church.
First Communion Forums
Two identical educational events led by Pastor Kathy, Intern Mary, and Joy Studer, (Director of Children and Family Ministries) for parents and their children to attend together.
Wednesday, February 15 at 6:00-7:00pm in the Prayer Chapel
Sunday, February 19 at 10:50am in room 103