Infant Communion and Confirmation


#1

I have been spending some time in the Eastern Catholicism forum and learned fairly recently that at baptism, infants also receive Holy Communion and Confirmation (Chrismation).

Why is it the practice of the Latin Church to offer First Holy Communion only after Confession, and then Confirmation during the early teenage years (usually). If I understand it, the Latin Church used to practice infant communion and confirmation, but that changed.
When and Why did that change? and is there anything in the currents that points towards a return to that practice?


#2

That may take a little research.

However in former Spanish colonies, priests would confirm and give first communion to infants at baptism, as the infant mortality rate was very high. The indult to do so was so the graces of the sacraments could be availible to the little one’s soul. The practice was still present among Hispanic Catholics in New Mexico and Arizona up until the 1950’s in some places a little later.


#3

In the local Latin diocese, I understand that they try to confirm as soon before first Communion as practical.


#4

And in “old” Mexico even later evidently. I teach 9th grade CCE and about every other year, we get a 9th grader who was Confirmed as an infant in Mexico. Usually they have not received FHC. These kids would have been born in the 90s.


#5

This is a very complicated topic and history. Personally, I wish the current practice would be aligned to the ancient (and current Eastern) Catholic practice of fully initiating people at one time rather than spacing the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation/Chrismation, Eucharist) over a number of years…

There are a number of historical, human reasons why the originally unified sacraments of initiation became temporally separated in the Roman Catholic Rite.

It changed in the Middle Ages, for reasons that may or may not be valid or practical now.

Hope this helps.


#6

Thanks for the replies all. I know that it is possible for an infant to be confirmed in the Latin Church, since one of mine was confirmed and annointed since he was fatally ill. But that seems to me to be an extraordinary circumstance and indeed, since the confirmation was administered by my parish priest at the time, it was extraordinary in that he had to get permission from the Bishop to confirm my son.

But this makes me wonder why it would have been inapporpriate in any way to have given the Eucharist to him as well. I agree that it seems more fitting that all the sacraments of initiation should be done closely together, if not all in one ritual, if possible. (I think that, like baptism, it seems that it’s improper to wait until someone is older to do it, since you run the risk of that person dying in the meantime - with the Eucharist, you run the risk that the person will never get the chance to “taste and see how good the Lord is.”

As is demonstrated by Tradition and the current practice of the Eastern churches, the age of the person has NOTHING to do with the validity of the sacraments of initiation. Obviously the common (and my own until about three days ago) misconception in the West that Confirmation is sort of like a Christian Bar-mitzvah - and that understanding it is necessary to receive it, is wrong if it is valid and licit for infants to receive it (and indeed has been the ancient practice of the Church).

Hopefully someone will be able to come up with some early history that sheds light on why it was changed (possibly to combat some heresy?-I don’t know, but that would be my guess, since that is often the impetus for liturgical and ritual changes.)


#7

From the CCC:

1288 "From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church."99

1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian,” which means “anointed” and derives from that of Christ himself whom God "anointed with the Holy Spirit."100 This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means “chrism.” In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms baptism and strengthens baptismal grace. *

Two traditions: East and West*

1290 In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament,” according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. The East has kept them united, so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the “myron” consecrated by a bishop.101

1291 A custom of the Roman Church facilitated the development of the Western practice: a double anointing with sacred chrism after Baptism. The first anointing of the neophyte on coming out of the baptismal bath was performed by the priest; it was completed by a second anointing on the forehead of the newly baptized by the bishop.102 The first anointing with sacred chrism, by the priest, has remained attached to the baptismal rite; it signifies the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ. If Baptism is conferred on an adult, there is only one post-baptismal anointing, that of Confirmation.

1292 The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.


#8

One factor that led to the change in the Roman Rite was that this Sacrament being reserved to the bishop, as the Church grew it was not as easy to have access to the Bishop to celebrate it. The “local Church” was too big for the bishop to be as present as in previous times. So, people celebrated it when the Bishop was present regardless of their age. Over time, it became somewhat neglected in that way, and depended on how often or when the Bishop came to a certain town or community. As a result, later the Church often passed legislation mandating a “no later than” age for Confirmation. Human nature being what it is, “no later than” became the norm (just like when we tell our kids to be home “no later than” you can bet they’ll wait until that last possible time to be home).


#9

1290 In the first centuries Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament,” according to the expression of St. Cyprian. Among other reasons, the multiplication of infant baptisms all through the year, the increase of rural parishes, and the growth of dioceses often prevented the bishop from being present at all baptismal celebrations. In the West the desire to reserve the completion of Baptism to the bishop caused the temporal separation of the two sacraments. The East has kept them united, so that Confirmation is conferred by the priest who baptizes. But he can do so only with the “myron” consecrated by a bishop.101

1291 A custom of the Roman Church facilitated the development of the Western practice: a double anointing with sacred chrism after Baptism. The first anointing of the neophyte on coming out of the baptismal bath was performed by the priest; it was completed by a second anointing on the forehead of the newly baptized by the bishop.102 The first anointing with sacred chrism, by the priest, has remained attached to the baptismal rite; it signifies the participation of the one baptized in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly offices of Christ. If Baptism is conferred on an adult, there is only one post-baptismal anointing, that of Confirmation.

1292 The practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church.

Wow, that is great stuff. I never would have imagined that the difference was so subtle, and I completely forgot about the need for the Bishop to do it (at least ordinarily) even though I just mentioned that when my son was Confirmed it was by an *extraordinary *minister (my parish priest)! And I do recall that in the Eastern practice everything is doen by the priest. It would seem to be a crazy burden to put on a bishop to be at every baptism in his jurisdiction. :thumbsup::thankyou:


#10

Yeah, restrictive laws and human nature inevitably yield one result - just getting to the edge of the restriction. Speed “limits” for example. I know I get upset when someone is going under the speed limit, even though to a certain degree it’s well within their rights to do it! :stuck_out_tongue:


#11

Does “Age of Reason” mean anything to you guys? What about knowing what is being received?

I’m kinda guessing that if one is receiving the Body of Christ, its a good idea to know what is going on. A child, before he/she reaches the age of reason, if he/she has been baptised, will go to heaven if he/she dies. (he = he/she from now on)

Then, once he reaches the age of reason, he is capable of sinning. So, confession and communion are introduced - they are needed. If, God forbid, the child dies in the state of mortal sin - he goes to Hell. Not nice for one so young. The confession cleanses the soul, and the communion nourishes it.

Confirmation gives the 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. A 7 year old isn’t capable of studying and understanding everything that is reqd for proper reception of the sacrament of Confirmation. In theory, and 13 or 14 year old is. (I received at 13, and I still can’t remember alot of stuff I learnt then - so how would a 7 year old?).


#12

A radio program I recently listened to on Catholic radio brought up this topic, and the presenter gave the argument that this is really a flawed perspective of Communion and Confirmation in the West. (certainly not for Confession, though). Since the Eucharist and Confirmation bestow supernatural graces, there isn’t a need to “know what they mean”, anymore than there is a need for an infant to “know” what baptism is about. The fact that you still can’t remember some of the stuff from your confirmation (and I agree, I am in the same boat) doesn’t negate the Sacramental graces you received. It is just an indicator that we are all called to constantly be studying and nourishing our faith through that study. If everyone had to truly understand the mysteries of the Eucharist and Confirmation before they are received, I don’t think that even the Apostles would have received them when they did. Most likely very few people will or ever can completely grasp the full understanding of these mysteries, because they are divine. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive them. Should a mentally challenged person be denied the Eucharist? Should they be denied Confirmation? I don’t think so. They aren’t sacraments of healing as Confession is (although the graces they bestow are, as you say nourishing to the soul and can be healing - that is not their primary purpose.)


#13

Erich,

have you found anything that explains why the Roman Church waits until after Confession for First Holy Communion?

thx,
Will


#14

See para 87: vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/ccdds/documents/rc_con_ccdds_doc_20040423_redemptionis-sacramentum_en.html


#15

Thanks Diggerdomer, this linke helps explain what the current practice and norms are, but doesn’t help with the question of why it’s this way in the Roman Church and not this way in the Eastern Churches.

I do want to clarify my previous statement. I didn’t mean that understanding in not necessary at all. What I mean by this is that our knowledge changes all the time, our understanding evolves and matures. The fact remains that it is perfectly valid for the Eastern churches to give Eucharist and Chrismate infants - and in fact has been the perrennial practice as far as I know.) By virtue of this, it stands to reason that full knowledge or even awareness of reception are not de facto prerequisites for receiving the sacraments, just as the case with baptism. This doesn’t remove from us the requirement to learn about them later in life, but prior knowledge isn’t necessary to receive them (in the case of infants or children prior to the age of reason).


#16

It became more important in the West during the Middle Ages with all the controversies about real presence, transubstantiation, etc. Also at that time people fell away from common reception of communion for fear of being unworthy. So, the (over)emphasis on human unworthiness and the emphasis on the “real presence” led people to infrequent communion. So before one DID receive, you better make sure you’re not making things worse by being in a state of sin…so you go to confession first. At least that’s my short take on hundreds of years of history.

Strictly speaking, if there were legitimate reasons, first (and any) communion could be given in the Roman Church without being preceded by sacramental confession.

Personally I think the system that has endured in the Eastern church makes more sense.


#17

WARNING personal guestimation/opinion/unsubstantiated hypothesis***
Perhaps there was a heresy that claimed that baptism didn’t fully wipe away original sin and that communion of infants was necessary for their salvation, even though they had been baptised and had committed no actual sin. To combat this maybe communion was restricted to after ones first confession to demonstrate the blameless nature of children until the age of reason? (This is wholly my imagination at work here and if it conincides with Church History it is totally by chance.)

At any rate, I do agree the the Eastern practice makes more sense, especially in the aspect that it has remained the consistent practice for longer than the Western church, but I think that if there ws some heresy or misunderstanding among the people regarding the Eucharist in the West, there should be some catechesis on it, to explain why the current practice is still necessary, or it should be allowed to fall back to the more ancient tradition, shared by the East.


#18

Does “Age of Reason” mean anything to you guys? What about knowing what is being received?


**This implies we have to have some mental understanding for God to act in our lives through the Holy Mysteries.

This is nothing more or less than gnosticism.**


#19

I was going to say something un-nice to you about that little comment bpbasilphx. As it is, I’ll just say, “rack off, there was no need for that”.

I ain’t no gnostic. There is nothing at all wrong with having knowledge of the Sacrament and its effects before receiving. I never said that the gifts couldn’t be received if one didn’t understand what was going on.


#20

I am glad you posted this, it is a point I was going to make.

The whole “age of reason” argument is a problem on more than one level.

First, we know that sacraments are efficacious whether or not we understand. It is the Holy Spirit at work, not us at work.

Secondly, this idea of understanding the sacrament is all part of a complex of ideas we have inherited out of the scholastic era. A sort of “glorification of the intellect”. It isn’t what we know that saves us, it is our values and virtues, and how we act them out. In other words we “put on Christ” and become new men.

Thirdly, this concept (of the value of understanding) when carried to a logical extension leads to the idea that one must be cognizant before baptism. In other words, that is where the Baptists got their ideas from.

Well put!

Another point I should like to bring up is that by delaying communion until the age of reason, we have made confession an initiatory sacrament. I first read this in a Catholic article, and I agree that is wrong.

One theory I have for the delay of communion is that the withdrawal of the cup from the laity and the introduction of the dry unleavened hosts (which were not at first universally used in the west, I believe this originated in North Africa) made it difficult for infants to commune. It literally becomes a choking hazard. This is just speculation on my part of course.


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