At what age should my child receive Communion? This is a question many parents ask as they are striving to raise their children in the church. Once we are baptized, regardless of our age, we are welcome to receive Communion. Our Book of Common Prayer (p. 858) indicates that, at the time of Baptism, we receive the inward and spiritual grace of union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family (the Church), forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. Once a child is born into God’s family, that child is welcome to participate in Communion. This represents a change for many of us as parents since we may have had to wait until Confirmation or other instructional opportunities before taking our first Communion.
What caused this shift? The General Convention of 1970 resolved that “children might be admitted to communion before confirmation.” In 1971, the House of Bishops stated, “Confirmation should not be regarded as a procedure of admission to the Holy Communion.”
What about a First Communion Class? We do not offer this type of program because we believe that it is not the church’s decision to determine when your child is ready to receive Communion. This should be a family decision.
How does my child learn about the Eucharist? First and foremost, children learn from attending church. Here they can see and be a part of the service and begin to understand the sacrament they are seeing. Additionally, from your actions and discussions with your child, he/she sees that Communion is important and that participating in Communion is something you do on a regular basis. Children recognize your reverence at the altar from your body language (kneeling, placing your hands one over the other). For them to imitate you and your actions indicates that they have some understanding of the Eucharist’s importance. This is evident in the youngest of our children, even before they have had any formal Christian education.
Finally, your child will learn about the Eucharist at his or her Christian Formation class each Sunday. These classes help our children understand the Eucharist and its meaning. Children grasp this meaning at different ages, and for this reason, the church does not dictate when a child takes his/her first Communion.
In their Catechesis classes, children work with materials from presentations such as The Good Shepherd, Eucharistic Presence, Liturgical Colors, and Gestures, Signs, and Symbols. Through these presentations, they increase their knowledge and understanding, using the foundation that you as a parent have laid.
If you feel that your child might not receive adequate education about the Eucharist from you, don’t worry – attending church and learning from their Sunday morning Christian Formation classes will enable your child to understand fully and to participate in the Eucharist.
How do I know if my child is ready for Communion? Has your child asked? Have you asked your child if he/she wants 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/her hands out to receive? These are good signs that your child is ready.
How do we make my child’s first Communion special? You may schedule an appointment with one of the clergy to meet with you and your child. This will enable the clergy to work with your child on appropriate behavior at the altar and answer any questions you or your child might have. Choose a date when your family and any friends you might want to invite are available. This will allow all of you to take communion together as a family. You may also plan a special family gathering after the event.
Be sure to let your clergy know this date, along with your child’s Sunday morning teacher. This is an exciting day in your child’s life and can be discussed during Sunday morning class time.
Talk with your child about the event afterwards. Ask what it was like to take Communion, or “wonder” questions such as “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/her feelings in the prayer.