Infant Communion

You referred to Infant Communion as being an ancient practice in the Eastern Rite. I have been thinking a lot about it; it makes so much more sense to me than the Roman practice. Can you help me understand better how ancient this is and why the Roman Catholic Church does not do this?

In the ancient Church, both Western and Eastern, it was very common for infants to receive communion immediately after Baptism. In the East, it was the norm for them to continue receiving the Eucharist each week. In the West, it was more typical for them to only receive the Eucharist immediately following Baptism, and not again until they were older. Nonetheless, weekly infant communion was practiced in many parts of the Western Church. This changed definitively for the West at the Fourth Lateran Council, and later the Council of Trent. These Councils taught that children must be able to understand what they are receiving, so that they can give devotion to the Eucharist. This teaching did not effect the discipline of the Eastern Churches.

The Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that the Eucharist should not be received by “those who on account of their tender age have not attained the use of reason. For these are not able to distinguish the Holy Eucharist from common and ordinary bread and cannot bring with them to this Sacrament piety and devotion. Furthermore (to extend the precept to them) would appear inconsistent with the ordinance of our Lord, for He said: Take and eat words which cannot apply to infants, who are evidently incapable of taking and eating.” (The Catechism of Trent, on the Holy Eucharist)

Obviously I, as a Byzantine Catholic, strongly favor infant communion. But the Latin Church is entitled to its own discipline in this regard. Both disciplines are allowed to coexist in the Catholic Church, and must be respected.

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