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Children and Communion
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Children and Communion

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What is the history and the issues involved in allowing Children to communion before confirmation?

What is the history and the issues involved in allowing Children to communion before confirmation?

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  • Two sacraments were instituted by Jesus: Baptism & Communion The other 5 (confirmation, confession, marriage, ordination, and the anointing of the sick (unction) are not all held as sacraments – some are seen as sacramental acts. Sacraments not only convey the grace of God but are a sign to reassure of the grace of God as well.
  • Making clear the unbreakable link between the divine and human, using actual or material form to embody a spiritual reality.
  • The efficacy or effectiveness of the sacrament is not dependent on the person receiving it, nor is it dependent on the worthiness of the minister. God’s action is above and beyond human frailty
  • Sacraments are not private and personal. The Church gives the space and opportunity for them to be celebrated publicly and within the community.
  • Just some of the phrases from the Common Worship Baptism Service – rich imagery
  • The symbols used in the baptism service pick up the imagery – they give visual and physical reminders of the invisible grace being conveyed
  • Neither Jesus in his institution, nor Paul in his recollection of the institution, used full understanding or spiritual maturity as a pre-requisite for receiving communion. Paul’s rebuke is to the adult community who treated the celebration as a private indulgence and in doing so forgot those who were less well-off and of whom the Gospel speaks so eloquently
  • Many images are used in the Communion service – it is a richly complex yet simple sacrament. Is there the possibility that in our desire to keep it ‘special’ we have shrouded it in too much mystery? Yet a mystery is what it is – and a mystery cannot be fully comprehended. Hence the need for faith.
  • Bread – the very basics of life
  • The Bible records that whole households were baptised and given Christ’s teaching on the place of children and importance of caring for them. Accordingly, this implies the inclusion of children.
  • Several of the early church Fathers make mention of infant baptism, which at that time would also mean receiving communion. The two rites went together. Often there was (for adults) a preparation time through Lent and then baptism and communion would be administered and celebrated on Easter Day. This would be a bishop’s duty.
  • St Augustine of Hippo developed the doctrine of original sin – without it being washed away through baptism, heaven was not assured. So infants were encouraged to be baptised as early as possible. However, with the growth of the church, Dioceses were becoming too large for bishops to travel round freely. So the baptismal rite was divided. The local priest performed the part where water was poured over the infant (or the infant was dipped in it!) and signed the child with the cross. Laying on of hands and anointing with oil was delayed until the bishop's visit. However, receiving Holy Communion was still associated with the water of baptism, not the bishop’s laying on of hands.
  • As the Eastern and Western churches developed their own traditions, the Eastern practice was that the priest performed the full baptismal rite, using oils blessed by the bishop. Orthodoxy still continues with this, with the baptised receiving communion from the moment of baptism. Western Christianity has followed the practice of local baptism but laying on of hands by the bishop.
  • The continuing pattern was baptism – communion – confirmation, but the growing doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the consecrated communion elements meant that the wine was withdrawn from the laity and sometimes children were denied the bread as well
  • Bishops were still not able to travel easily around their Dioceses, so although the recommended age for confirmation was between 1 – 7 years, the chances of a bishop turning up were not great. So more and more of the laity were not getting confirmed. In 1281, Archbishop Peckham was so fed up with this, that he issued a regulation that unless you could give a good reason, those who had not been confirmed should not be able to receive communion. And at the Council of Trent in the 16 th century confirmation was held as necessary for receiving communion. Adults were only to receive communion in one kind, and children had no need to receive communion at all: Finally, this same holy Synod teaches, that little children, who have not attained to the use of reason, are not by any necessity obliged to the sacramental communion of the Eucharist: [Page 143] forasmuch as, having been regenerated by th by the laver of baptism, and being incorporated with Christ, they cannot, at that age, lose the grace which they have already acquired of being the sons of God. Not therefore, however, is antiquity to be condemned, if, in some places, it, at one time, observed that custom; for as those most holy Fathers had a probable cause for what they did in respect of their times, so, assuredly, is it to be believed without controversy, that they did this without any necessity thereof unto salvation
  • The Reformation brought a divergence of emphasis, rather than a polarisation of views. The Catholic view, emphasised sacraments as conveyers of God’s grace. The Protestant view emphasised they were to be administered on evidence of a personal response of faith. Both acknowledge grace and response. Understanding became an element in both communion and confirmation
  • Railways meant that Bishops were able to travel more easily. There was no excuse for not getting confirmed – you didn’t have to wait years for a bishop to come along. Confirmation became seen as the completion of baptism – and had to be administered before Communion could be received. 20 th century saw the rise in the Parish Eucharist movement. Matins and Evensong had been the normal diet of worship for most Christians. Communion services were not the main service. But the growth of this movement meant they were! So what about the children who appeared at the Communion rail again and again?
  • 20 th century saw a growth in the Parish Eucharist movement, making children visible and bringing their place in the community of faith back to the forefront. 1954 – report affirmed the inherited order – baptism – confirmation – communion 1971 – The Ely Report – concluded that baptism is the complete sacramental initiation into Christianity and should be the basis for admittance to communion. However, Synod voted 60:40 not to proceed with a change Some Diocese became ‘experimental’ and started admitting children to communion. 1985 - The Knaresborough Report – recommended that regulations for admitting baptised persons to communion should be drawn up and approved. Synod ‘took note’ but did nothing further 1991 – The House of Bishops brought a report on initiation to Synod. Their motion for early confirmation was accepted, but their request that the experimental Dioceses stop their experiments was rejected.
  • 1993 - The three experimental Dioceses reported that a substantial majority of the parishes who had been admitting children to communion were convinced of the positive value of such a practice 1995 – On the Way was a national report that encouraged parishes to review their patterns of initiation. This included considering whether it should be admissible to admit children to communion and reserve confirmation as an adult rite of commitment and the beginning of adult ministry 1996 – The House of Bishops published Guidelines on the admission of children to communion. These were welcomed by Synod. They made clear that each Diocese could make its own decision as to whether to follow them.
  • Currently about 39 of the 43 Dioceses allow parishes to admit children to communion and about 10% of parishes have requested permission to do so (slightly more in London). However, many have been following the practice without asking permission! In the Diocese of Exeter, a few parishes have formally requested permission and a few others have proceeded without asking permission. Following the General Synod of February 2006, the Guidelines have become Regulations, bringing them under the Canons of the Church of England (though NOT effecting a change in Canon Law)
  • Is grace a gift offered freely by God or a reward for the recipient’s understanding and knowledge?
  • PCCs and schools should follow the Diocesan Policy which sets out how to proceed. It includes a draft resolution to proceed (or not), guidance on the preparation courses available, and details of the administrative process that must be followed.


  • 1. Children and Communion
  • 2. What is a sacrament?
    • A sacrament
      • An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us, ordained by Christ himself as a means whereby we receive the same and a pledge to assure us thereof
      • Book of Common Prayer
  • 3. What is a sacrament?
    • A sacrament
      • Incarnational
        • Rooted in earthly things but conveying a heavenly truth
        • The use of physical material to convey the spiritual reality eg water washing us clean, refreshing us
  • 4. What is a sacrament?
    • A sacrament
      • Incarnational
      • Divine action
        • Not dependent on the changing or subjective response of the human recipient but on obedience to the divine will
  • 5. What is a sacrament?
    • A sacrament
      • Incarnational
      • Divine action
      • Mediated through the Church
        • Not private and personal, but belonging to the whole people of God and celebrated publicly
  • 6. The sacrament of Baptism
    • A sign and seal of new birth
    • Adding to those whom the Lord calls
    • The start of a life-long journey of faith
    • Calling out of darkness
    • Dying to sin and rising to new life
    • Claimed by Christ
    • Cleansed from sin
    • Received into the Church
    • Touched with God’s love
    • Welcomed into the fellowship of faith
    • Images found in the Common Worship Baptism service
  • 7. Signs and Symbols of Baptism
    • Light
      • From darkness to light
      • The light of Christ
      • A place with the saints in light
      • Walking in the light
      • Understanding
  • 8. Signs and Symbols of Baptism
    • Water
      • Creation
      • Freedom
      • Cleansing
      • Refreshing
      • Sustaining
      • New life
  • 9. Signs and Symbols of Baptism
    • The Cross
      • The cross of Christ
      • Sign of salvation
      • The Christian’s invisible badge/mark
      • A way of life
  • 10. Signs and Symbols of Baptism
    • The Oil of anointing
      • A sign of strengthening
      • A sign of blessing
      • A sign of marking out
      • A sign of God’s Spirit
  • 11. The sacrament of Holy Communion
    • ‘ Do this in remembrance of me’
      • Luke 22.19
    • ‘ Day by day they broke bread at home…and ate with glad and generous hearts’
      • Acts 2.46
    • ‘ For I received from the Lord……you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’
      • 1 Corinthians 11.23-26
    • ‘ Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner…..’
      • 1 Corinthians 11.27
  • 12. The sacrament of Holy Communion
    • Sharing in the body of Christ
    • Though we are many, we are one body
    • Draw near with faith
    • Remembrance
    • Thanksgiving
    • Feeding/sustenance
    • Cleansing
    • Images found in the Common Worship Holy Communion service
  • 13. The sacrament of Holy Communion
    • Sacrifice
    • Forgiveness
    • Trusting in your manifold and great mercies
    • Covenant of grace
    • We are not worthy
    • Telling the story – that all are children of GOD
    • Sending out into the world
    • Images found in the Common Worship Holy Communion service
  • 14. Signs and Symbols of Holy Communion
    • Bread
      • Freedom from slavery
      • Manna in the desert
      • Feeding the 5000
      • Bread of life
      • Broken for us
  • 15. Signs and Symbols of Holy Communion
    • Wine
      • Offerings to God
      • Wedding at Cana
      • The true vine
      • Shed for us
  • 16. History
    • New Testament
      • Baptism is the sole entry rite into the church.
      • No explicit teaching on children and communion.
  • 17. History
    • 3 rd Century
      • Anointing and laying on of hands added to baptism. Children shared in all of this – including communion
  • 18. History
    • 4 th & 5 th Centuries
      • Augustine of Hippo and original sin
      • Growing size of Dioceses
      • Baptisms performed by local priests
      • Laying on of hands delayed until the bishop’s visit
      • Admission to communion associated with baptism
  • 19. History
    • Eastern practice
      • Priest performed full baptismal rite, including infant Communion (oils blessed by Bishop)
    • Western practice
      • Baptism was performed locally but anointing and imposition of hands was delayed until a visit from the Bishop
  • 20. History
    • The Middle Ages
    • Baptism – Communion - Confirmation
      • Growing theology of the ‘real presence of Christ’
      • Laity denied the wine
      • Children sometimes denied both bread and wine
  • 21. History
    • 13 th Century
      • recommended age for Confirmation varied from 1 – 7 years
    • 1281
      • regulation that those not Confirmed should be barred from Holy Communion
    • 16 th Century
      • communicating unconfirmed adults and children was finally abolished (Council of Trent)
  • 22. History
    • The Reformation
    • Catholic View
      • Emphasis on what God does – imparting the Holy Spirit
    • Protestant View
      • Emphasis on a person’s response – individual response of faith
    Cranmer’s 1549 Prayer Book emphasised the Catechism as the pre-requisite to Communion ‘ there shall none be admitted to Holy Communion until such time as he can say the catechism and be confirmed’
  • 23. History
    • 19 th Century
      • The rise of the railways! Bishops no longer had to rely on horse power to get around
      • Confirmation became seen as the completion of baptism and therefore the gateway to Communion
    • 20 th Century
      • The growth of the Parish Eucharist Movement meant children were visible in church and present at the Communion service
  • 24. History
    • 1954
      • Baptism and Confirmation Today
    • 1971
      • Christian Initiation: Birth and Growth in the Christian Society (the Ely Report)
    • 1985
      • Children and Communion (the Knaresborough Report)
    • 1991
      • the House of Bishops brought a report on Initiation before General Synod
  • 25. History
    • 1993
      • Three ‘experimental’ Dioceses had been admitting children to Communion prior to Confirmation.
    • 1995
      • On the Way was published, encouraging parishes to review their patterns of initiation.
    • 1996
      • The House of Bishops published Guidelines on the admission of children to Communion
  • 26. History
    • 2005
      • Synod received a report on the current state of play in England
      • Most Dioceses permit parishes to admit children to Communion before Confirmation
      • The Diocese of London has done this since 1997
    • 2006
      • The Guidelines become Regulations and are included in the Canons of the Church of England
  • 27. Theological issues
      • The priority of grace
      • Baptism as complete sacramental initiation into Christ
      • Children as part of the covenant people of God
      • Understanding or faith?
  • 28. Liturgical issues
      • Parish Eucharist means children attending communion but how do they participate?
      • Need to make sense of their place in the service as a whole
      • Eucharistic prayers for use with children present
      • Continuing teaching about the Eucharist
  • 29. Pastoral issues
      • Baptism
      • Parental support
      • Involvement of children’s leaders
      • Teaching on the meaning of communion
      • Regular parochial opportunities for renewal of baptismal vows
      • Parents who have chosen thanksgiving for the birth of their child
  • 30. Pastoral issues
      • The school Eucharist
      • An overall culture which enables children to be worshippers
      • Children wanting to emulate their peers
      • Inter-parochial mobility
      • A minimum age?
      • The place of confirmation
  • 31. The next step…..
    • Each PCC must resolve what to do
    • Foundation governors in church schools must decide how to proceed, in discussion with their PCC
    • Advice is available from the Council for work with Children and Young People for PCCs and schools