Letters From a Young Catholic

My reflections as a Catholic young adult passionate about the Faith, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding of God and discerning the will of the Lord in my life.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Reception of the Eucharist at Age of Reason

I just thought I'd share some enlightenment I gained today.

I had a non-Catholic friend of mine recently ask me why it was that in the Orthodox Church infants received first communion at the time of baptism (I know they also are confirmed then, but I we didn't go into that) while in the Catholic Church children receive first communion at the age of reason. I thought that was a pretty good question and it made me curious to dig deeper for an answer that would satisfy. Here's what I found.

There are two ways to look at this issue, one is pastorally and the other is theologically.

For the pastoral reason, we turn to 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

"27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself."

While verse 27 speaks of receiving in an unworthy manner because of the guilt of sin, this wouldn't been an issue for infants since they are already in a state of grace after having been baptised and are capable of no sin as infants. In v.28 and particularly on v.29 there is an emphasis on recognizing what one is receiving, "For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself." Therefore, according to the Catholic Church, the pastoral implication of this verse is that reception of the Eucharist should be reserved for children who are of an age of reason and thus capable of recognizing the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ.

Then there's the theological reasoning. As was mentioned before, an infant who was baptised would be in state of perfect grace. Therefore, receiving the Eucharist would be almost superfluous for them. How can perfect grace be made more perfect? A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. That's a fancy way of saying that the sacraments are means through which God gives us grace. This grace would not be needed nor necessary for a baptised infant since the stain of original sin has been removed from them. Although the effects of original sin remain, theoretically they are not capable of sining until they have reached an age of reason. Until they are able to discern good from evil. Therefore, in this light, it makes sense that they would receive their first communion at the age of reason, because with reason they have (probably, for the most of us) sinned, and thus they are no longer in a state of perfect grace and would benefit from the graces received in the Eucharist.

It seems to me that the Catholic practice makes sense, but I'm curious as to what others think.