Children are gifts to families and the Church. Jesus loves and welcomes children, teaching His followers, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:16b-17)
With this understanding, there has been a movement in the Anglican Church globally of welcoming baptized children, regardless of age, to fully participate in Holy Communion. Our own province, the Anglican Church in North America, in its founding Canons (Laws), welcomes this practice, stating: “The admission of baptized young children to the Holy Communion is permitted in this Province” (Canon 4, Section 3, Number 4). In Canada our Bishops, through prayer and studying Scripture, have come to the same conclusion. Welcoming baptized children to Holy Communion is now a common practice within the Anglican Network in Canada, and historically has been the practice of this parish.
As Jesus welcomes children into His Kingdom, we too must strive to love children, to nurture them in faith and welcome them to our worship, including Holy Communion.
Sacraments as Grace
A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace. The bedrock of Anglican faith is The 39 Articles, which state, “The sacraments instituted by Christ are not only badges or tokens of the profession of Christians but are also sure witnesses and effectual signs of God's grace and good will towards us. Through them he works invisibly within us, both bringing to life and also strengthening and confirming our faith in him. There are two sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord in the Gospel—Baptism and the Lord's Supper... It is only in those who receive them worthily that they have a beneficial effect or operation. As Paul the apostle says, those who receive them in an unworthy manner bring condemnation upon themselves” (Article 25).
The first thing to note is this: no one on their own merit can receive either sacrament worthily. We don’t deserve baptism and we can’t earn Holy Communion. It is grace – for all of us, including young children! Both Baptism and Holy Communion are free gifts; profound signs of God’s mercy and love for us received by our faith through Jesus’ sacrifice.
Sacraments and Children
For Anglicans, the argument for children to participate in Holy Communion is quite simple: If we welcome an infant to receive the sacrament of Baptism, as a sign of the communal faith they inherit from their parents, then the exact same principle should apply for Holy Communion. We must be consistent in our theology. And we should welcome children to both Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.
Is faith a pre-requisite?
Is communicating (giving communion to) a young child, with limited or no apparent faith nor understanding of Holy Communion, a violation of Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27, which some may quote to oppose the practice? The key to resolving the conflict around this passage is its context and faith involved for receiving Holy Communion.
First, Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27-31 is not talking about children receiving Communion. Rather, his concern is love for all Christians and the order of the church. Paul is writing against a practice in the church in Corinth where the wealthy Christians are celebrating Holy Communion (or love feast—a meal before the Communion) exclusively, not inviting the poor Christians sisters and brothers to share their food, with some even getting drunk. Communion is intended to unite all Christians, to Christ and to one another, and is celebrated to reflect Christ’s love for us in an orderly fashion. To violate this, Paul says, is to receive it in an unworthy manner, which will bring you under God’s judgment. To celebrate Holy Communion with children orderly is by no means a violation of this teaching but actually an affirmation of Paul’s desire: reflecting the love of God for all of us and our love for children.
Secondly, our faith is revealed in Scripture as a shared faith, with parents leading their households in faith and therefore children of believers always being included within the faith community. When God makes his covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17:7, God includes Abraham’s children – even though none have been born yet! If God can make a covenant with an unborn, unconceived child, and the parent can answer on behalf of that unborn child, then what we see is biblical precedent where the faith of the parent is passed onto the child, irrespective of age. This is why Paul can write in 1 Corinthians 7:14 that children are “made holy” by their believing parent. It is a familial, shared faith. And because of this, young children can participate in Holy Communion through the faith of their parents.
Educating Children in Holy Communion
Within the Anglican tradition, we receive and submit to the authority of our spiritual leaders as they seek to lead us under the guidance of God’s Word. We therefore both baptize and communicate young children, believing we are honouring Scripture and our Lord’s commands. That being said, children in our church must be raised to grasp our shared faith that they participate in through the sacraments. We are committed to educating parents and children in how and why they receive Communion.
Pastorally, we must make room for the parents’ wishes within our convictions. If parents are uncomfortable with their children receiving Holy Communion until they have personal faith or have been confirmed, we as a church should respect the parents’ unique God-given vocation as the spiritual leader of their children. Alternatively, if a parent wants their child to participate fully in Holy Communion from a very young age, we would welcome them as long as they participate in an orderly and respectfully way. However, for pastoral reasons, young children will not be given wine but grape juice for Communion until they reach the age of confirmation.
Communion is a celebration of underserved grace that results in our union with Christ, and our unity with one another. It is a profound, visible sign of the invisible grace that we are all covered with. In it we are strengthened, by faith and in faith, and also in unity with God and one another. Starting Easter Sunday in 2019, we will celebrate with children the communion we have been given.