19 April 2009

Let the Little Child So Examine Herself

What is a pastor to do, when one of the baptized faithful looks him in the eye and asks to be given the Body and Blood of Christ? One who is pious and sincere, a devout believer, ongoingly catechized in the chief parts of the Christian faith, a lover of Christ Jesus, adoring of His Passion, regularly in church, not living an immoral or scandalous life, not propounding false doctrine, and not belonging to any other confession or communion than that of our own congregation and fellowship. One who happens to be three years old.

Yes, I know, let a man so examine himself, and so partake of the Sacrament. But what does this mean for us? And what does that look like, per se? Must it be and look the same in each case? Or does this self-examination belong to the propria of each particular communicant? Does it require that, without the assistance of parents and pastors, an individual must know certain texts by heart and be able to recite them, cognitively comprehend the grammar and syntax of them, and discuss them intellectually? Is self-examination an internal matter of the heart, or a matter of public confession, or both, or neither?

When St. Paul admonishes the Church to let a man so examine himself, the holy Apostle addresses, specifically, the case of those communicants who were failing to discern and distinguish the Body and Blood of Christ from ordinary food; and who, so failing in that discernment of the sacramental Body, were making distinctions between the members of the Body of Christ, in the way that ordinary food may be distinguished according to class and kind. That failure strikes me, not as a lack of rational knowledge, but as a lack of reverence before God and a corresponding lack of courtesy toward the brother and sister in Christ. It is a failure of faith and love, not of inadequate memory work.

However, I am not here contemplating the prospect of "infant communion." I'm considering the case of a three-year-old who does have a rational knowledge of Christ and His Word, and who does verbally confess the faith in which she has been baptized and in which she continues to be catechized. She may not know all the vocabulary words, but she knows her own need, and she knows her dear Savior. She knows and loves Jesus for who He is and for what He has done for her. She also knows what the Sacrament is, and that it is a good and blessed gift, and that she desires to receive it from her pastor as from Christ, her Good Shepherd, Himself.

Should she simply be confirmed and be done with that? In my opinion, no; although I am not nearly so hung up on the why, when and wherefore of the man-made rite of confirmation as I am concerned with the catechesis of the Word of God and the actual administration of the Holy Communion. Catechesis is, or ought to be, an ongoing and lifelong activity for every Christian. Discipleship is a way of life, a living and walking in the way of Christ, not a plateau that is reached at some particular point, whether early or late. The baptized continue to grow and mature in the faith and knowledge of Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Therefore, I resist the notion that "confirmation" should be treated as an arrival at some threshold of Christian achievement. It is a public confession of the faith, and an adult assertion of one's place vis-a-vis the church and the world. If I had my druthers, as I have mentioned elsewhere in the past, the rite of confirmation would be reserved until the verge of adulthood, whether at 18 or 21, at the point of going off to college or getting married. But, in any case, I think that has little to do with readiness or worthiness for the Holy Communion.

The self-examination with which a person is to approach the Holy Communion, I believe, does not derive from one's cognitive abilities, capacities or knowledge, but is a matter of the Word of God having it's way with the Christian: the Law of God that kills the sinner, and the Gospel that raises the dead to newness of life in Christ through the forgiveness of sins. Does that work of God and a Christian's self-examination happen on a cognitive level? Surely it does; not as arising out of cognition, but rather as the Word of God engages the whole person. The same self-examination occurs in the rite of Holy Baptism, and belongs to the repentant faith which defines the entire Christian life.

There is a need for discernment of the Body of Christ, both the Body that is given for us Christians to eat in the Sacrament, and that Body of Christ which comprises the members of His Church. These things go together. But what is the nature and expression of discernment? Is it not demonstrated in a desire for the Body of Christ and in the innocence of a little child who does not discriminate against the members of the Church? Or what is it that we would otherwise be looking for, exactly? I am far less concerned that any of my little three-year-old parishioners will despise or shun their brothers and sisters in Christ, than I sometimes am in the case of adults. And I am certainly no more inclined to question the sincerity and truth of a little child's confession of the Body and Blood of Christ, than I ever am in the case of an older child or adult who is able to recite the blessed words of the Small Catechism.

What I am pressing for is a new way of thinking about and implementing the criteria for admittance to the Holy Communion. I'm not advocating less catechesis, but ultimately more; only not as a completed pre-requisite before receiving the Sacrament, but as an ongoing context within which a person receives the Sacrament. Nor am I suggesting that self-examination and public confession be done away with, but that self-examination and public confession be assisted by those entrusted with the care and catechesis of the communicant, and that examination and confession be undertaken in ways congruent with the communicant's personal capacities.

The three-year-old who looked me in the eye and asked me to give her the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus has been baptized. She has been and continues to be catechized in the Word of God. She knows and prays the Our Father with her family and her congregation. She knows and confesses the Creed with her family and her congregation. She knows that she has needs and hungers, frailties and weaknesses; that she does things she should not, and fails to do things she should; and that her dear Father in heaven loves her, forgives her, and graciously provides for her through parents and pastors and others in her life. She knows who Jesus is, and that He is her Savior; that He died for her and rose again; and that He is the One whom the Church is all about. She knows that the Sacrament of the Altar is the Body and Blood of that same Lord Jesus Christ, whom she loves, and she desires to receive at His Word what He gives.

Though it broke my heart, I did not commune her when she asked again most recently (it was certainly not the first time). But as I have continued to reflect upon her request, and to consider her faith and her confession, I am more and more inclined to say, let the little child so examine herself, and so partake of the Sacrament. Indeed, I am constrained by another Word of the Lord that seems increasingly pertinent: Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them; for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.


Rev. Charles Lehmann said...

Once again it is striking that Saint Paul doesn't say, "Let a man examine himself and decide whether to partake..."

Rebekah said...

Amen, Father Rick. I've gotten to the point of feeling downright uncomfortable about how our six year old keeps asking me when she will be allowed to commune. I'd rather she inquired as to how babies are made.

Anonymous said...

I was one of those --- " not till they're confirmed!!!! " people , until I stepped into my current church... the way these children are cathecized both at church and in their homes...they know and understand far more than most adults sitting in the pews...This little three year has stopped me in my tracks (more than once) on how much she understands and how much she truly believes what has been taught her.......she knows/understands more at three than I did at my cofirmation !!!That's why Jesus talks about having a child like faith. She and all the others are truly a blessing to the church and to the people around them. I thank God for their faithful parents and pastors that continue their growth in the Lord.

Sandra Ostapowich said...

Of course, my son (almost 7) asked me this morning upon returning to our pew, "Why can't I have some body and blood to forgive my sins too??"

I totally understand the dilemma.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I am a cold, heartless man with no children as of yet. Hence, I can respond coldly and cruelly to the hypothetical questions of my children. There are times we wait. We wait for presents until Christmas. We wait to drive the car until we get our learner's permit. And we wait for communion until. . . until. . .

Well, when should we wait until. I would suggest there should be two aspects. First, when can the child confess what occurs in the Supper and what benefits the Supper brings. That is the requirement for safety for the child.

Second, when will the child communing not be a scandal to those whom they are communing with. Communion isn't just an individual thing - it isn't just me and Jesus time - we are stepping into a Body of Christians as well. Thus, part of the consideration of when to begin communion has to be what the Body can handle. And this is precisely part of Christian love - and if a person (adult or child) can't understand why they would have to forgo their own rights for the sake of the neighbor, that person (whatever age) may not be prepared to commune.

I think the solution is public examination, myself. You want someone to commune, you ask them questions before the Congregation concerning what the Supper is and why it is to be received. Then, what is there for a person to complain about. If they know and have examined themselves, let them go.

It's just we assume that the examination is part and parcel of Confirmation. It doesn't have to be - but it has typically been associated there. If you are going to separate the two, make sure the examination is something public, tangible, and witnessed, so that if anyone asks, many may bear witness. Same reason any one who is driving needs to be able to produce a license - to bear witness that they have been deemed competent and safe to drive - thus also with the Supper, a far great privilege, and a Gift that can be more direly abused.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for the various comments.

Brother Brown, I appreciate your input and constructive criticisms, but I would disagree with several of your points and comparisons.

This isn't a matter of sentimentality vs. cruelty, nor of emotion vs. coldness. It is a question of what our Lord Jesus Christ does and says in giving His disciples His Body and Blood to eat and to drink, and what He says concerning the faith of little children and their place in the Kingdom of God.

I do agree with you, of course, that the Holy Communion is not simply a "me and Jesus" thing, nor a "me and the pastor" thing, but a public confession and practice of the Church as the Body of Christ. Yet, it is the pastor who is called to be a faithful steward of the Mysteries of God, and it is the individual Christian who either does or does not receive the gifts Christ freely gives. In the case of little children, God has set their own fathers and mothers next after Himself as being responsible for them, to teach them and to care for them. These things all are factors.

The Law of Christian love, in this regard, certainly runs both ways. You suggest that a prospective communicant ought to love the congregation enough to forego his or her "right" to receive the Holy Communion; and that if he or she is not willing to bear with that situation patiently, then perhaps he or she is not worthy to commune in the first place. Hmmm. That seems to turn St. Paul's whole discussion on its head, doesn't it? What of the congregation who withholds the Sacrament from those who ought to be receiving it? Is there not a lack of love to be found in that discrimination? We would say so, surely, if it were based upon the color of skin or social standing. Then why should it be legitimate on the basis of cognitive ability? I don't buy it.

I'm not sold on this business of a public "examination" in front of the congregation. That works well for some folks -- who enjoy an audience and are born for the stage. Others, though, are painfully shy, or simply quiet and more demuring. Similarly, there are those who memorize quickly and easily, and others who struggle to memorize texts over time. These distinctions do not separate the worthy from unworthy communicants.

The comparison to a driver's license doesn't work for me. The Lord's Supper has communal implications, and there are "dangers" involved, to be sure; but that is no less the case with Holy Baptism. What do we suppose is at stake when an infant is set against the devil, all his works and all his ways? A driver's license is a temporal privilege and responsibility that is earned, whereas the Lord's Supper is a free divine gift that cannot be earned but only received in repentant faith. And for such faith, the Lord Jesus holds up, not the competent adult, but the dependant little child.

As far as Christmas presents are concerned, it is true that most parents wait until Christmas to give them to their children. However, they do not, in the meantime, withhold food and clothing, shelter and protection, nurture and education. To compare the Sacrament to Christmas presents falls into the trap of regarding the Sacrament as an unnecessary "icing on the cake," rather than a fundamental means of grace and the beating heart of the Church's life.

It seems to me that we have assumed adult sins of little children, and have wanted to demand adult abilities of them before they are allowed to commune, but we do not take seriously the gift of faith which the Lord works in their hearts by His Word and Spirit, and to which He Himself testifies on numerous occasions.

The man-made rite of confirmation can serve a godly purpose, perhaps, but it should not be allowed to set the bar or provide the norm for admittance to the Sacrament. Then things have been turned around backwards. The self-examination that St. Paul calls for is not satisfied, once and for all, but such a man-made rite. Nor is the catechesis of the Word of Christ something ever completed or mastered in this life on earth.

Part of the problem with confirmation, as it has been practiced, is that it has not only meant that the Sacrament is unduly withheld from those who ought to be receiving it, but has also implied that once it has happened, then a person is "done" with catechesis and examination. What I suggest is not a lower standard, but ultimately a more rigorous one, though undertaken in the lifelong receiving of Christ's gifts. For what it's worth.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A few responses to a well thought out response.

1) I was not meaning to say that any desire to give communion to children of a younger age was simply emotional (indeed, I have known several who I think would rightly be considered well prepared at 4 or 5) - but that when it comes to considering such things, we ought be clinical on it and not be influenced by tugs on the heart strings. This is simply to make sure we are basing actions on Scripture and not other additions.

2) I think you neglect the warning that abuse of the Supper leads to spiritual death. The context of 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 provide us a warning of people taking our Lord's Body and Blood unto their damnation. We never have such a warning attached to Baptism - so there is a difference, a distinction to be made between the two. Yes - the Supper is part of the Christian life - but it is also a part of the life that has dangers of misuse attached to it.

This is why I still like the image of a drivers' license. There are dangers associated with driving a vehicle; if you do not know what you are doing or are careless, you can easily kill yourself. Paul says the same of the Supper - therefore care ought to be taken.

Now, the analogy to driving isn't meant to establish an age (I'm not arguing for waiting until 16), but rather that there be training and education and examination as well.

3) I will agree that congregations that have a knee-jerk refusal to commune someone who should be deemed prepared is indeed wrong. But I'd contend that putting the concern on them is precisely what Paul would point towards -- they would be the weaker brother who would be offended. This is especially true when it comes to introducing a new practice of communion age that - change (even if it is a right and salutary change) can bring offense to the weaker brother and thus ought to be taken slowly. However, I envision this coming into play more when a child who is communed in his home parish visits a congregation where a 7 year old communing would be scandalous. (Even saying that - I'd talk to the visiting kid myself and then commune them if they could tell me what the Supper was and why they needed it).

4) You make an excellent tie to faith. The only reason why anyone may receive the Supper in a worthy fashion is due to faith, which is a gift of God, and is not simply a matter of intellectual assent (indeed, the faith teaches may things which are beyond the ability of our intellects to comprehend). I think this is part of the weakness that is rampant in Lutheranism.

5. The public examination was more an idea off the cuff - mainly something that might be needed for the benefit of other parishioners. . . if the Pastor's word wasn't enough to calm their minds about the communicant understanding. Also, I think memorization is vitally important. . . but also overrated as a sign of understanding. If you can talk to me, then I can tell you understand. At which point, I think there can be safe communion.

6) I think one of the best things that would come from establishing an independent, individual age for communion based upon individual confession apart from Confirmation is that you wouldn't have Confirmation be viewed as a Christian B.A.

Susan said...

Pr Brown commented on the necessity of a young child not being a scandal to the other communicants. A scandal, though, would be something that could cause people to trust in themselves and their own works. It seems to me that communing a young child (such as Pr Stuckwisch described) might actually be less scandalous than allowing people to think that their worthiness to commune consists (at least in part) to what they have memorized or what they've studied in class.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Your points are well taken, Brother Brown. And, actually, we are largely in agreement regarding the several concerns to be taken into account.

I should clarify that I don't expect any changes in thinking to translate immediately into changes in practice; nor do I anticipate that any changes in practice would happen all at once, or in the same way everywhere. I'm pushing the conversation for the sake of thinking through things carefully, and then wherever that may lead needs to be exercised with pastoral care and discretion.

You are correct that considerations should be made objectively, or clinically, rather than emotionally. Nevertheless, I cannot help but have a passion for the little children entrusted to my pastoral care. The emotion does not drive or direct my thinking, but it does prompt me to persist in thinking and discussing, for the sake of the faithful administration of the Gospel. Our Lord, also, was not without emotion in His responding to offenses against those little ones who believe in Him.

I appreciate your distinguishing between the propria of Holy Baptism and the Holy Communion. It is not my intention to flatten them out and homogenize the two. Yet, the necessity of faith and the seriousness of the divine things administered in each case are held in common between them.

It is not that I fail to consider the risk of communing unworthily. Rather, I am challenging the way we go about discerning worthiness and preparedness for the Sacrament. "We" have, I fear, intellectualized the process and criteria, and have thrown the individual back upon himself of herself when it comes to examination. Little children know and believe and confess the Word of God with which they are catechized. Older children and adults have no higher recourse than that same Word of God; they have only the ability to discuss these things with a more sophisticated vocabulary, and in so doing are more easily tempted to sophistry and hypocrisy.

This is why I'm pressing the point of self-examination, what that entails and how it is expressed. A three-year-old, such as the one I have described in my post, is able to discern the Body of Christ in the same way that anyone else is: on the basis of Christ's Word. Any other sort of discernment is no worthiness of faith. A three-year-old is also able to recognize and receive his or her brothers and sisters in Christ without the discrimination to which we all become more prone, not less, with our growing up in a sinful world. A three-year-old is also able to receive the Law and the Gospel, which is fundamental to any proper self-examination. If this is not articulated in a systematic theological vocabulary, I don't believe that undermines the truthfulness of the matter.

In all of this, I would disagree with any notion that self-examination must be done without the assistance of parents and pastors. On the contrary, I would argue that true self-examination always depends upon the preaching and catechesis of the Word of Christ that one receives from those the Lord has given to speak it.

The threshold that separates the sort of case that I am here addressing from "infant communion" is the ability to express in some discernible way a knowledge of the Body of Christ and a desire for it. I separate the case because it is different, and therefore requires a different conversation. In the case at hand, what I am advocating is not a change in criteria, but in the way those criteria are measured. The Six Chief Parts are the criteria, because they are a short summary of the Christian faith and life, of the Law and the Gospel. Likewise, I suggest, as the Small Catechism briefly summarizes and explains those Six Chief Parts, so can they also be summarized and expressed even more simply and succinctly, or differently, for and by the littlest children. Not as a substitute for learning the Small Catechism as they continue to grow in the faith and knowledge of their Lord Jesus Christ; but as appropriate to their capacities and abilities at each stage of life. Our Lord Himself grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man; though He was never lacking in faith and love. He increased in His knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; He studied and learned; He asked questions and listened to the preaching and catechesis of the very Word that was always about Him! So, too, those little ones who believe in Him are faithful disciples of His and therefore worthy communicants at His Altar, while they are yet growing into greater knowledge and understanding of His Word. So I am urging that we find ways to serve those little ones faithfully with both the Word and Sacrament.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Susan - just quickly - it isn't wise to bring a change in practice, even if it is good, to shake people up. While there are times I think it would be great fun, pastors are not to be the theological equivalent of radio shock jocks. A scandal isn't something that puts a trust in works (that would be an erring faith), but rather something that shakes and ruins another's faith.

Rev. Stuckwish - There are many things in English that make teaching theology difficult. One of these is the idea of "worthy" communion. In the US, especially with the English, we think the worthy refers to us - if we have done X then we become worthy. Worthy describes not us the manner in which one communes - is the Sacrament being approached in the proper, worthy way. Worthiness isn't a character or moral judgment but about preparation and understanding - in other words about receiving in faith - which is as separate from works as can be.

I think this is an idea that will have to be more firmly established as a move towards younger communion age is introduced. If I might make a patriotic analogy - you don't have to have gone through boot camp to demonstrate a love of country. If you've got the pledge of allegiance down and dig July 4th, that's a good sign. The problem is too many people think of Confirmation as theological boot camp. . . and even then not in terms of something that shapes you and prepares you for future struggles, but in terms of "Look, I've run the obstacle course, I'm ready to go."

The only thing I would add is again another warning against passion. Passion is both a blessing and a curse - especially in how it impacts you. My advice would be to not feel guilt over using a communion age which is higher than it could (or should) be. God has given us multiple ways in which His Word is applied to us - the lack of one does not mean that a person is not receiving good care.

That's one of the problems I have with changes in practice - if they become "one should" it becomes law - if you should and you aren't, behold your failure. Rather - would X be good, meet, right, and salutary. If so, be free to do it. . . and even let others move that way too. But let not the desire for totally perfect practice (which we will never see in this world) become a burden.

Ah, yes, the motivational call of "aim low!" >=o)

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

I appreciate the conversation, Pastor Brown, and also enjoy it. Thanks.

I'm getting ready to head out the door for the day, so a quick response for now, and anything else will have to wait (probably until tomorrow evening). I do hope that others will chime in, as their time permits, also.

Perhaps I have given a false impression with my comments. I feel no burden in this matter, other than the burden of my office, which is the "easy yoke" of Christ. Nor is my "passion," such as I mentioned, an emotional reaction to the particular situation I described. My passion is for the principle of the case, and it is driven by my passion for the Gospel.

We have not had a "communion age" at Emmaus for as long as I have been the pastor here. There was already some precedent here for the separation of First Communion from Confirmation, and I simply built on that. Children are not automatically communed at any particular age; nor adults, either, for that matter. First Communion occurs in the context of ongoing catechesis. It typically occurs around the age of six years, but it has varied from as early as four years to as late as ten or eleven or twelve years. Catechesis precedes, accompanies, and follows First Communion. I have generally had my catechumens in class with me, as their pastor, for anywhere from four to six years. The youngest communicants are those who are immersed in the catchesis of the Word of God and prayer within their homes and families. The three-year-old I mentioned will receive her First Communion soon; I was only struck by the particulars of the situation the other day, which brought home to me, again, the flaws involved in identifying readiness for the Sacrament with cognitive ability and academic achievement.

My "argument" here is for the sake of the wider discussion of the brethren (both pastors and laity). I am suggesting that "self-examination" should be thought about differently than it usually has been, and assisted in ways other than it often has been.

Your comments about "worthiness" are spot on. No disagreement here. That person is truly worthy and well-prepared to receive the Sacrament who has faith in the Words of the Lord. Little children are able to have such faith, and do have such faith; and they are able to confess such faith, even if not yet with the verbal eloquence they will gain in their ongoing catechesis.

Gotta go for now. Thanks again.

Reformationalist said...

I'm with Pr. Brown. Having raised seven kids, four from infancy, I've seen the pleading eyes of the young. They plead for the sacrament, for new toys, for some of the wine at dinner that the adults are drinking, for permission to stay up late at night, und so wieder. They wish to be "grown ups," and indeed it is our responsibility to get them there, through guidance, modeling, restrictions, behavior training, etc., and the shaping of awareness and appreciation for the things of God. In almost every aspect of raising children, they want what they are not yet able to have.

As to examination -- 1 Corinthians, no matter how one understands "discerning the body," calls for inner examination, and children are not developmentally capable of doing that! They can discern outward things, and series of behavioral or emotional events. But they cannot examine their inner being -- that happens somewhere around puberty. It is the experience of being "outside" myself and looking from that perspective on myself. It is the place where the children comes to the shocking, unavoidable awareness, not just that they DO sins here and there, but that they are an unchangeable sinner to the core and that they know that they are going to continue to be that same sinner to the core tomorrow and that they cannot change. That is the examination that ought precede the reception of the body and blood of Christ.

Moreover, there is another side to communion, and that is excommunication. If one is not a proper object of excommunicating, that person is not a proper object of sacramental communicating. Might there be an "exception" clause here? Yes, I would grant. However, when it becomes a general exception (rather than a specific exception, based on some rare and special need), such an exception breaks and destroys the rule/principle.

I have, over the last few years, moved confirmation downward by a year or two, and based on individual circumstances. I hereby formally and publicly repent of that pastoral misbehavior -- as I've come to see that it is so -- and, while I will still work with parents for a proper time to begin the confirming process, the general time, it now seems to me, to be confirmation at puberty, and when a child is able to discern that inner core of corruption that he/she has and cannot shake.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I know that anecdotal evidence is not always that helpful, but here's something to chew on. I had a VBS a few years back in which we discussed the saying of Jesus: "I am the Bread of Life." At the end of the day the kids (not all of whom were members of the church) wanted to have Communion. Go figure.

One of the boys, probably about eight or nine at the time, did come to church regularly with his dad, and asked, "Why can't I have the Lord's Supper?" So, I asked him, "Why do you want to go to communion?" He said: "I don't know, 'cause it's cool." I said, "That's why we have instruction first."

Perhaps there is something to be said about having some spiritual maturity before being admitted to the Sacrament. This could occur at a different age for any given person. We don't feed babies solid food right away. First we give them milk. And we gradually wean them and introduce solid food. Perhaps not every child "in the Faith" is ready for the Solid Food of the Sacrament (I'm speaking spiritually here).

I think that we have to stick with the Confessions: no one is admitted to the Sacrament unless they are first examined and absolved of their sins. Examination presupposes some amount of catechesis.

Steven A. Hein said...

I have appreciated this discussion about first communion of our baptized children and its relation to catechesis and confirmation. In response to many fine contributions to this discussion, it seems to me that the critical question is and should always be: What constitutes sufficient catechesis for pastoral supervision and salutary Communion participation? and pastoral

When Confirmation was rejected as a Christ-instituted sacrament, it was retained, in my understanding, as a salutary connection for the baptized to link initial catechesis to salutary communion participation and the pastoral supervision which that entails. Strictly speaking, confirmation, as we Lutherans understand, is a prayer for catechumens who have been instructed and confessed the faith into which they were baptized. The Church prays the blessing of the Holy Spirit for confirmation in the faith as confessed, suffering all things even death rather than depart from it. It is the recognition that a foundational awareness and appreciation of the faith, which includes self examination of sin and the nature and blessings of the Supper, is necessary for the child to receive the Sacrament beneficially under the spiritual care of the pastor. In other words, the vital connection between baptism and communion participation is a sufficient level of catechesis, not the other ritual elements connected with confirmation.

If I understand these things correctly, it seems to me that the important questions are always centered on: What constitutes sufficient catechesis for the baptized (especially children) to be prepared to come under the ecclesiastical supervision of the pastor and receive the Holy Supper beneficially. The matter of confirmation, it seems to me, should be seen as secondary, being simply a salutary ceremony and prayer that can follow sufficient catechesis for the Supper. The matter of examination can be public or private as may seem best for the catechumens and pastor, but need not be a part of the ceremonial elements. The challenge of instilling the idea that catechesis is life-long is neither created nor removed regardless of the age in which first communion takes place, IMO.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

One of the things that is interesting in this whole discussion is that in the rite of Confirmation as we have it, there is clearly human action involve. An oath is sworn to defend this faith and hold to it, even to the point of death. The kit and kaboodle (a very precise liturgical term, I know) that goes along with Confirmation is highly focused upon the actions and words of the person who is being confirmed. There ends up being a sudden shift, from active (I confirm my faith and vow to hold it) to passive (I am being confirmed).

Maybe this tension/confusion is what aids in the tension/confusion of this issue today?

rev.will said...

Great discussion. A quick point of clarification regarding Pastor Brown's statement referring to St. Paul's warning that the Supper can be taken to one's damnation. The Greek word is not "damnation" but "judgment."
Pastor Paul Willweber

sarahlaughed said...

Two ha'pennies worth of comment:

Reformationalist said;
"As to examination -- 1 Corinthians, no matter how one understands "discerning the body," calls for inner examination, and children are not developmentally capable of doing that! They can discern outward things, and series of behavioral or emotional events. But they cannot examine their inner being -- that happens somewhere around puberty. It is the experience of being "outside" myself and looking from that perspective on myself. It is the place where the children comes to the shocking, unavoidable awareness, not just that they DO sins here and there, but that they are an unchangeable sinner to the core and that they know that they are going to continue to be that same sinner to the core tomorrow and that they cannot change."

I can't agree with a blanket statement like that simply because it does not hold with my own experience. I distinctly remember as a child of 6 pondering my sinfullness and repenting in tears, distraught by the realization that try as I might,I would sin again in the exact same way. I knew my sin and the condition of my nature very deeply (if not as precisely as a theologian) and pleaded for forgiveness daily. (Sadly, my consciousness of my sinfullness was not properly addressed with the Gospel until much later, as my early understanding was shaped by Anabaptist teachers.)

This is not to say that all children are capable of such introspection. I also distinctly recollect that two years previous to this, around the age of 3-4 years old, I had asked my parents why I couldn't have the snack with them at church, at which point my Mother explained the Sacrament to me for the first time. At that time, I was not discerning my own condition nor Christ's atonement as fully as I should have; though I would not say that no child of that age would be capable of what I was not.

Ironically, my understanding of my sinfulness and Christ's forgiveness really began when my Father introduced me to corporal punishment. (My Mother had been firmly opposed to corporal punishment in all forms until I was about 4 years old.)When I was spanked for misbehaviour, felt the pain, and saw the tears in my parents eyes I was finally enabled to begin to understand what sin was and what forgiveness was all about.

To sum up, some children may be incapable of introspection and examination, but it would be a gross mistake to think that all must be so. Ability to introspect is gained as a child grows as he or she is instructed and disciplined (two closely related words). The point at which a child is able to comprehend his/her condition and recognize Christ's body and blood WILL differ because of this, but oughtn't it be of great concern to parents and pastor alike to discern this point? It should not be extremely difficult to distinguish the child who desires Christ's Sacrament because of promised forgiveness for sin from the child who simply wants a "cool" nibble and sip.

Anecdotal evidence again, but, heh, that's all I've got.

And second side note:
Isn't the original sense of the confirmation ritual that the catecumen is "confirmed" in Christ by Christ out of which his profession flows? Or am I incorrect?

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Regrettably, I don't have the proper time for responses to the good discussion here. I hope it continues, and that I will be able to participate further, myself, after tomorrow (out of town again all day, to a meeting this time).

Very quickly, before I must put myself to bed:

I don't propose that anyone should be communed apart from catechesis. I disagree with the notion that catechesis must be "completed" prior to First Communion. I don't believe that catechesis is ever completed.

Those who commune are subject to discipline and excommunication. That would include little children. Any of my young communicants who live immoral and scandalous lives, or who persist in teaching false doctrine and refuse to repent, would be excommunicated until such time as they did repent. So far, that hasn't happened.

The particular case I described, and other cases I have dealt with and here have in mind, are not a matter of little children thinking that the Holy Communion is "cool" or "neat" or "nifty," but who know and confess that it is the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, their Savior, which He gives to His disciples with His own Word. No one should suppose that the Body and Blood of Christ are ever doled out indiscriminately in my parish or pastoral practice.

I appreciate the comments regarding pastoral supervision and care; for this, I believe, is a key factor in admission to the Holy Communion. A fundamental aspect of that care is the giving of the Body and Blood of Christ to those who are His baptized and faithful disciples. And that goes hand in hand with ongoing catechesis, not only in focused class time, but in the Divine Service, in Confession & Absolution, etc.

Respectfully, Pastor Schaibley, I would press you on your definition of "self-examination," as that is very much to the point of my post. Your caveats in that regard, with respect to young children, have implications for the baptismal rite as well as the question of preparation for the Holy Communion. It is not a stage of psychological development, but the Word of God, the Law and the Gospel, which reveals and forgives sin, calls forth and nurtures faith. To say that little children are incapable of recognizing sin for what it truly is would seem to contradict that. So that is why I would press the point.

Also, what I have not introduced here, but which seems pertinent to the discussion, and especially in view of the idea that eighth-grade confirmation is the norm from which we are to begin: The normal practice through most of the Church's history was Communion following Holy Baptism. By the time of the Reformation, that connection had been severed by various extingencies, some of which were contrary to the Gospel (and others incidental to it). But the norm among the early Lutherans was First Communion at seven or eight years of age.

The norm indicated in the Large Catechism is the primary texts of the first three Chief Parts, with an assumption of ongoing catechesis within the home and in the life of the congregation.

Okay, I've already taken longer and written more than I should have at this point. Thanks again to everyone for their input. Do carry on, please.

Reformationalist said...

My dear albeit unidentified friend,

I did not carelessly toss out a blanket statement. The observation came from my doctoral studies in systemic counseling at the University of Wyoming, namely, in the discipline of developmental psychology. Obviously, there can always be exceptions to the proven pattern of the birth of introspection in the developmental point of puberty. And I certainly will not dispute your experience. But, I must say that your own account of it can be fully explained in the pre-pubescent perceptions of guilt in series of events.

Since the days of being buried in developmental psych and structural family therapy, I have come upon some interesting and even earth-breaking studies that find specific impacts of pubescent hormones on the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex, that together trigger a systemic awareness of guilt that is more pervasive than guilt tied to wrongs, or in our syntax, guild tied to sins. It is the combination of these studies, my previous training, and extensive counseling and informal work with pre- and early-adolescents that bring me to hold the position that I have proposed.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Who can discern his hidden faults? Not me, nor the Psalmist, nor the Lutheran Confessors.

Nor could I, not by my own reason or strength, not by my own psychology or power, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts me and the world of sin, by the way and means of the Word.

And it is the Holy Spirit who has called me by the Gospel; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth - not excluding the little children.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A few more points to bring up.

1) Thinking about whether or not a person is prepared, the two words that come up are examine and discern. The question is this. Are these words denoting a matter of cognitive action/ability, or a matter of apprehension via faith?

If you look at these as being cognitive in nature, then a later date is much more appropriate - simply due to the growth and development of the mind. The doctrine of the Real Presence requires some mental heavy lifting, let the mind develop first.

If you look at these terms as describing how faith holds on to or understands the Supper, than an earlier date is quite appropriate - because faith is present even prior to logical understanding (indeed, I would argue that we are all of us here, even, to be growing in our intellectual understanding).

2) I do not think that we can simply say that this is a matter of intellectual discernment because the Lord's Supper is a mystery that is beyond human reason. Rationally, my mind does not wrap around the idea that this bread IS Christ's Body - the logic and math do not seem to add up. Therefore, I don't think we can choose cognitive development as the sole point of preparation. The Supper is not a matter of logical or emotional development, it goes beyond that.

I think the warnings of Luther on the misuse of the old "whore Dame Reason" apply here, and also our Lord's commendation of a childlike faith serve to remind us.

3) If you push the second view completely, however, you can end up at infant communion. The logic (ah, even here Dame Reason infests us!) is as follows: Infants have faith - examination/discernment is simply a matter of faith -> therefore dip your finger and commune them.

I do not think that is a safe practice given the warning Paul makes. I am not willing to conclusively say that an infant who communes does so to judgment - I say rather than because I have not heard the public confession, I can not be sure (as sure as anyone can be in this life)

(Side note: I would equate this with damnation, as the folks who have died seem to be a matter of spiritual death, not physical - something we see this day as well)

4) I would posit that for a safe practice both aspects need to be present. The role of talking to the pastor prior to communion is to show that the potential communicant has examined him or herself and is discerning the Lord's Body.

Note, to not commune a person is not to deny that they possess faith - it is to say that in your estimation, based upon their public confession (either being lacking or erring) that it is not safe to give communion. Again, to not commune one ought to be a matter of Pastoral Care and Christian love.

5) I then posit that a safe practice requires some type of examination where the would be communicant must demonstrate that he discerns the Body and also the reason for the Supper. This includes being able to tell what the Supper is, but also why one communes. "Everyone else does" isn't an acceptable answer. "I want to" isn't enough.

6) Concerning a lack of understanding of guilt - I'm not sure if we can safely say that this would preclude communing. The simple reason is that many adults bear false guilt - would this then mean that they are not prepared for the Supper? Again, I will echo Stuckwish echoing the Psalmist that we cannot discern our own error. I would also posit that simply acknowledging that there are errors and showing that there are places where one might do better in life (for strength is another aspect of the Supper) is sufficient.

7) *** Historical Note -- do not do this *** I am reminded how in the Early Church there was a debate as to whether withhold Baptism until after puberty, because a Christian is supposed to be chaste and decent, and practically speaking, pubescent folks are almost the definition of unchastity. This position was (wisely) rejected. Sometimes we just understand that children are. . . slightly crazed and off kilter. . . yet part of the Church.

8) Simple statement - I'd imagine typically a child of 7 or 8 could be prepared -- some before, some later. This echoes Luther's assertion that a child of 7 or 8 can tell you where the Church is - the Gospel preached and the Sacraments rightly administered. That seems to imply that Luther thought a child of this age could tell when the Sacraments were not being administered rightly.

What does this then mean? Talk to the to the person and then base your decision on their discussion. This is the insidious side effect of the way we do confirmation - everything is pushed back and grouped together. Instead of being an individual thing, it becomes a group thing. I love the focused time of teaching - but people are different in their development - the 1 size fits all public school approach isn't the best I think.

Sorry for trying to turn this topic into glue by my continued beating. This is intellectually stimulating - something I enjoy.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Pieper made a distinction between fides directa and fides reflexa. Fides directa, said Pieper, was the faith necessary for salvation, the faith that was required for baptism, etc. Infants and young children clearly would fall under this category. Fides reflexa is the faith that is able to be reflected on, thought about. This ability to reflect on one's faith, for Pieper, was required for worthy participation in the Supper.

Perhaps the question must be asked: For what has the Supper been instituted? Luther always seemed to see the Lord's Supper as being secondary to Baptism, something "added for the special strength and comfort of the Christian." I've always wondered, at what age did the Israelites begin feeding their children the flesh of the Passover lamb? Obviously they circumcised at 8 days, but I doubt they put lamb's meat down the throat of that 8 day old infant.

John Berg said...

My goodness, what does an infant believe?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Faith isn't just knowledge, it is trust. An infant can trust. . . that's why when the little squirming brat I'm holding starts to wail, I'll hand her over to her mother - whom she recognizes and trusts to sooth, even if she hasn't gotten the concept of "mama" in her head yet.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Dr. Martin Luther, the chief teacher of the churches of the Augsburg Confession, makes it quite clear in the Large Catechism that persons receiving Holy Communion in the Lutheran Church are able to recite, by memory, with understanding, the basic texts of the Catechism:

Ten Commandments
Lord's Prayer
Apostles' Creed
Confession texts
Baptism texts
Holy Communion texts

And such recitation is done with understanding of the meaning and how they pertain and apply to the individual.

Simply because a toddler asks for something, does not mean it is given to him.

I believe it would be wiser to stick with the practice of our Lutheran Church and make sure the Sacrament is being given to those who have been examined and absolved and who are capable of cognition and recitation of the core catechetical texts.

There is a reason why we find Luther and others referring to a "ten year old child" — this was the age at which most children were receiving their first communion.

I am also not pleased to see some among us who keep trying to "push the envelope" on these issues.

I have often heard it said that when these conversations take place, it appears to many that the "words behind the words" is the issue of giving communion to infants. I can't help but think this observation has validity.

I do not believe that giving communion to toddlers is responsible and it does not help us work together toward separating first communion from confirmation.

I very much appreciate the words offered here by Brothers Schaibly, Heinz and Brown.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Deliberately calling into question the veracity of what I have written is neither charitable or helpful. I have quite clearly distinguished what I am discussing from infant communion. Not only that, but on every occasion that the prospect of infant communion has come up, whether here or elsewhere, I have indicated that, while I am interested in seeing that discussed, I do not advocate the practice. At some point, if I am not to be taken at my word, there is little else I can do.

The assertions that you make, Brother McCain, regarding the Large Catechism are not accurate. If you wish to make such a case, you need to back it up with the actuall words of Dr. Luther and the Confessions. You rather invest those words with your own interpretive paraphrases and expansions, which already presuppose your own conclusions.

Not only have you passed judgment on me, but you have also passed judgment on one of my members, whom you do not even know. You have made judgments, not based upon knowlege; certainly not based upon any examination of the young child I described; but based upon your own assumptions, seemingly deriving from an attempt to read my heart and mind (contrary to my own clear statements of fact).

I have not here advocated that anyone (child or adult) should be given the Sacrament apart from being examined and absolved. I have questioned the way in which such "examination" has been understood and practiced in the past, and have offered some ways of thinking about that differently.

I have attempted to discuss this on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions. There is more yet to be said and discussed. Perhaps others will still be interested in doing so.

The examination that St. Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians is not an introspective searching of the heart, but a consideration of the Body of Christ: both the Body that our Lord gives in the Sacrament, and the members of His Body, the Church. These are not internal matters of feeling or psychology, but external and objective, known on the basis of the external Word.

Likewise, when Dr. Luther instructs the head of the household as to how he should teach his family to confess, he does not describe an introspective self-analysis, but a comparison of one's outward behavior within one's particular station in life with the external Word of the Ten Commandments. Children can indeed do this with the assistance of their parents and pastors; and their parents and pastors should be doing everything in their power to assist the little children in so doing. Luther makes that clear in his introduction to the Large Catechism.

"Self-examination," in any case, if it is to be the godly examination of repentant faith, is never without the assistance of the Word of God. "Examination" apart from the Word of God is nothing but egotistical self-idolatry. The Small Catechism itself is principally an aid to such examination, for both the young and the old. Such assistance of the Word is not legitimate only when it is read or remembered, but also when it is heard from those whom God Himself has given for the purpose of speaking His Word to His children.

Notwithstanding Pastor Schaibley's comments, which I appreciate but do not entirely agree with, what I have found in my own experience with children -- my own and those of my parish -- is that they are indeed able to recognize their sin and confess it. They do so, as I have suggested, not on the basis of psychological powers and abilities, but by the Word and Spirit of Christ. With Christ my Lord I thank my God and Father that He has revealed such things to babes and nursing infants, while hiding them from the wise and intelligent adults of the world.

Since I regularly have many of my young communicants coming to me for individual confession and absolution, I know them well; not only their familise and their lives, but their confession. You do me and my members a disservice with your assumptions that these little children are unexamined and unabsolved.

The young child who specifically asked me for the Body and Blood of Jesus, such as she has done on many other occasions over the past several months, is not ignorant of the things for which she asks, nor the purpose and benefits of those gifts. I have not said or suggested that every three-year-old should be communed. In fact, I think I have made it clear that I am opposed to the notion of a "communion age." First Communion at Emmaus happens on the basis of catechesis and confession, not on the basis of age, grade level, academic ability or achievement.

In addition to the Scriptural and Confessional bases for this, I have also pointed to the historic practice of the Church catholic. It is interesting to me that men who normally hold the history of the Church in high esteem, on this point retreat from dealing with it.

I have also pointed, repeatedly, to the baptismal rite, which is frankly not taken seriously enough in our theology and practice when it comes to the Christian faith and life of the baptized. But, apparently because there is this rabid fear that "behind the veil of conversation" there is an agenda toward "infant communion," such discussions are not welcome.

Examination and absolution, I maintain, are not a one-shot deal that happens at some particular age. They are part and parcel of the Christian faith and life, and they occur in more than one way. They occur differently, also, in the course of one's growth in abilities, cognitive and otherwise. But they always occur by and with the Word of God.

By the way, I don't know when you last had little people in your home, Brother McCain, but a three-year-old is rather well beyond "toddling." I don't have Pastor Schaibley's degrees in child psychology, but I do know a little something about children and their development.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Hi Rick,

I'd welcome your explanation of why, or how it is, that infants should not be communing, when three years old, apparently, are, in your opinion, capable of communing. I have read what you have said about infant communion, and frankly, I find it coy and unforthcoming. That's why I hear others saying that when they hear you speaking about communing three year olds, they can't help but wonder about your postion on infant communion.

Will you therefore explain why you believe infants should not be receiving Holy Communion?

As for the LC. You can check that for yourself. Luther simply assumes persons communing are capable of reciting, with understanding and cognition, the words of the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer and the instituting texts of Baptism, Confession and Lord's Supper.

I look forward to your additional clarifications and elaborations.

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

"Coy and unforthcoming." Such charity, brother.

I have not advocated "infant communion," precisely for the reasons I have indicated: infants are not yet able to confess their faith. Therefore, to commune infants would cross the threshhold established within our Lutheran Confessions, wherein the criteria for admittance to the Sacrament of the Altar is one of catechesis AND confession. Those who have been paying attention to what I've said will already realize that the young lady I described in my post is both able to and does confess her faith.

You are mistaken in your summary of the Large Catechism; and as I have time and opportunity, I will rehearse that whole discussion again, as I have with you in the past. For the time being, at minimum, you are mistaken in including "Confession" among the other chief parts, since Luther does not even mention it in his preface to the Large Catechism.

The short answer to what I understand to be your basic question, is that three-year-olds, or at least some of them, are able to know and to confess the Word of God. As I have made that clear from the get-go in this conversation, I find it frustrating that you simply proceed to respond as though I have ignored that matter at hand.

What separates the three-year-old I described from an infant, on the one hand, is that she is able to confess what she knows and believes. What separates the three-year-old I described from most older communicants is that she is not yet able to read for herself, and she has not yet memorized the Six Chief Parts to the same extent. My position has been, and is, that reading and remembering are not a superior means of receiving the Word than hearing it preached and taught. This little girl, like most of the three-year-olds I know (which is quite a few), is very capable of reciting what she hears and is taught; the very sort of thing that Dr. Luther describes in the prefaces to his Catechisms.

Words like "cognition" and "understanding" are slippery and misleading. I think that Pastor Brown's comments in this regard have been very helpful. The means of grace are not apprehended by sensual investigation, but by faith in the hearing of the Word of God. The sacred Mysteries of God are not understood by human wisdom, reason or psychology, but by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit. The Words of our Lord concerning the faith and knowledge of little children have been sidelined for so long, no one even supposes they must be dealt with; but I'll stick with Jesus in this respect.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Rick, I've not before read you being this clear on why you believe infant communion is wrong. Thanks for the clarification. I hope others take your words to heart on this point.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

>=o) Besides, we all know that we are only supposed to commune when the Red in the LSB tells us too >=o)

See, that's a snarky comment that doesn't do much to advance the discussion. But I'm tired, and I thought it was fun. I'll go off and sleep now.

Reformationalist said...

My dear brother Richard,

I'm going to take one more swing at the plate here, and if I don't connect, I'll just let it go.

I am not advocating some position that replaces the Scriptures with "child psychology." Child psychology address children with discourse aimed an accomplishing some change. I'm simply pointing out that the mind develops over time, and this development informs what we can expect from children and adolescents on their way to adulthood.

As this relates to our discussion, I maintain that children are incapable of a certain level of self-understanding. Are they capable of faith? Yes, from infancy. Is that the same as being capable of confessing "I, a poor miserable sinner..."? No, it is not.

Little children can understand the terms "right" and "wrong" and "sin", and their understanding may even be correct! Is THAT the same as confessing: "I, a poor miserable sinnerl..." If by "same" we mean that they are able to articulate the words and relate them to given wrongs/sins that they have committed? Certainly!

But, is THAT what the words comprehensively mean? No! it is not. Children can comprehend "I screwed up!" But they cannot comprehend (comprehend is different than verbalize, let the reader undersand) "I am screwed up, utterly, pervasively, and unchangeable!" And it is the latter comprehension is a capability that does not develop in a person until sometime around puberty (for most people -- perhaps a little earlier form some child more gifted in this way; and sometimes much later, and for some profoundly limited persons, never, in this present life).

That's one of two points I am attempting to make. It's a point that is embraced by the traditional practice of Post-Lutheran orthodoxy. Was it so practiced by the first generation of Lutherans? No! Why not? Because they came out (more properly, booted out) of Roman Catholicism which minimized the import of catechesis and simply majored in the practice of first communion, right about that seven-year level that some here are pointing to in advocating earlier communion.

And this brings me to the second point, namely that there is a value in catechetical instruction as a prelude to a puberty-level confirmation, before which the Sacrament in not administered. It happens not only to have recent orthodox Lutheran practice in its favor -- it has support going all the way back to Old Testament, and to the preparation that our Lord Jesus Himself went through before being received and recognized in the fullness of the faith, a point which is presented to us by the only account of Jesus after infancy and the beginning of His adult, public ministry.

And the reason for delaying confirmation is precisely because "examination" and repentance is inward and pervasive, not simply outward and sequential -- I'm a screw-up, not just I screwed up here and here and here. It is the comprehensive understanding of contrition and repentance that is at the heart of Lutheranism for it is at the heart of a true understanding of how Law and Gospel works.

That's it! Those are my two point: little children lack the capacity to be grasped by the totality of being a sinner, and to be grasped by the totality of being a sinner is at the heart of the Lutheran faith, which we presume as a necessary basis for participation in the Sacrament at Lutheran altars.

I only further add this point: citing infant baptism and what is revealed to infants and is hidden to adults, is to miss my point, not refute it. Whether the "miss" comes from my failures at communication or the reader's unwillingness to hear, I leave for others to figure out.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you for your further comments and clarifications, Pastor Schaibley. There is no failure in your communication, nor any lack of willingness on my part to listen and hear what you have to say. If I have misunderstood or misinterpreted your comments, forgive my error, but please know it is done in innocence, not stubbornness.

I find your comments helpful, even though we are not in agreement in our conclusions, because you have clarified the actual point of my post: namely, what it is that entails "examination" on the part of those who desire to receive the Sacrament. I maintain that what St. Paul and the Catechism set before us is not the sort of internal self-awareness that you are describing, but an objective exercise of repentant faith on the basis of the external Word of God. For me to say that does not refute the points that you have made, but it does clarify the actual point of our disagreement.

The history of admittance to the Sacrament of the Altar is rather different than I was previously aware. It appears that children in the Roman Church were not typically communing at seven or eight by the time of the Reformation, but were routinely not brought to the Holy Communion until eleven or twelve; for reasons that had nothing to do with faith in the Gospel or catechesis and confession. Along with emphasizing catechesis, as they certainly did (and I do, too!), the Lutherans were also communing children regularly again at the earlier age of seven or eight. Just as they celebrated the Mass more religiously than the Roman Church, and actually had the people communing instead of simply paying and observing.

I may be mistaken, but I believe the move toward what we have recently had in the form of eighth-grade confirmation as the criteria for the Holy Communion grew as much or more out of Pietism and Rationalism than Lutheran Orthodoxy.

Your comments regarding the Old Testament and the example of our Lord Himself are well taken and helpful. I should say that I do in fact emphasize the very sort of catechesis that you describe; only not as a pre-requisite for First Communion. I typically have my catechumens in class with me for at least four years, and more often five or six years. Anyway, in the case of our Lord and His faithful Old Testament ancestors, they were not waiting until puberty for participation in the Passover, which was clearly given to entire families and households.

Well, it is not my desire or intention to weary or frustrate you with my discussion. Bear with me, please, as my sole aim is to be faithful as a steward of the Mysteries of God. Perhaps in my flailing about, even where and when I am shown to be mistaken, I will assist others in their faith and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. A blessed Eastertide to all.

Karin said...

I am just a lay person here who is usually timid to say anything on these posts but....the things that occurred to me in this whole discussion were that if 'knowing the catechism by memory' or even knowing what the words "the six cheif parts" mean, is a requirement for taking Communion then that would mean that most people in the LCMS really shouldn't be taking it that already are. I know few churches in the LCMS that require the catechism to be memorized even for Confirmation. I shouldn't be taking communion either then as I don't know all of it by heart. I'm working on it. So why would we require young children to live up to this expectation while most parents don't know it and most churches don't want to burden their young people with it. Why is that the point that is being made at all. As a retired Sunday School Superintendent who addressed the age of communion with her previous congregation I was struck by the adults emphasis on what was wrong with the youth today and why they don't stick around etc. and really nothing to do with Communion itself. It seemed another opportunity to whine. My response was to say "do not point the finger at the kids before you consider the role of the parents in catechizing (spelling?) their children. Pastor Stuckwisch did point out that he considers the ongoing catechesis in the homes of those he communes. It upsets me when children/youth seem to have to bear the full weight of 'the blame' for their lack of knowledge of God's Word. It is the responsibility of the pastor and the parents to see to the confession of God's word in their parish's and in their homes. It also upset me when at this same meeting I asked if the adults present could please explain if they understood the meaning of Communion themselves to us as they too felt that a young child should be able to explain it and fully understand it. Well they couldn't say they could completely understand or explain it either and they had been in the church longer than I have been alive. My heart's desire for my children is that they love the Word of God and that they know Jesus and know His love and forgiveness.

Perhaps this is not totally what this 'discussion' has been about but for those of you who are unfamiliar with Pastor Stuckwisch's parish, he has the pleasure of usually having more young people than adults in his services and Bible studies and that is not because of his incredible good looks or his ability to charm an audience or his stunning wardrobe, but because of his faithful preaching of of the Word of God and that the Word of God is central to what happens at Emmaus. The Word of God is also central to any family whose child has been admitted to Holy Communion. He knows his parishoners and would be the last person to act in haste. IT seems to me his original post was meant for discussion and his own musing about the subject. What joy I have to see the faithful attendance of the children and their sincere desire to be there. I see kids begging their parents to bring them to extra services and asking me for rides so they can come when their parents can't bring them. They are and have been catechized for their whole life and we pray they will continue to be.

Question I have for you all or someone who would like to tackle it. What about mentally handicapped people? Do we commune them? Are they in need or Jesus's forgiveness of sins? They can not always explain it or may never be able to so how is this issue addressed or handled. They certainly have faith like a little child down pat so what is the stance on this

Susan said...

Like Karin, when I read these comments, I discover that too I ought not be communing. Yes, I may believe that I am guilty, but I don't really fully understand the depth of my sinfulness. I thought I did when I was confirmed (at age 14) but by the time I was in my 20s, I realized I hadn't understood it at age 14. But by the time I was 35, I came to see that I hadn't understood it when I was 20. And now, I look back at when I was 35, and see how much I had fooled myself into thinking that I wasn't really as deeply corrupted as I now see that I am. And I betcha in another 15 or 20 years, I'll think the same thing about myself now.

But isn't this what it is to be simulataneously saint and sinner? Today our Bible story at Matins was from Luke 24, and Pastor's main point was how we see faith and unbelief co-existing in each of the disciples.

Hey, that makes me realize something. If you want an example of insufficient faith, and some guys who didn't understand the depth of their own sinfulness ["Who? Me? I would NEVER deny you, Lord!"] just look at what was going on in the upper room that night when Jesus instituted the Supper ... and communed those who were woefully unaware of their sinfulness. They believed. But they didn't. And He gave them His body and blood in spite of their weakness and misbelief.

Reformationalist said...

Dear Karin and Susan,

Your posts highlight exactly how perverse and pervasive is the sinful nature. The question for us sinners is not whether we are constantly absorbed with the depth of our sinfulness, but whether, when God (or even the devil) brings us back to this awareness. My point is not that we constantly think about and affirm our utter sinfulness, but that we know this to be true about ourselves when we are confronted, again and again, with it.

Dr. Luther's 20 Questions in the Small Catechism drive this home, especially when used as a preparation for receiving the Sacrament. In fact, these 20 Questions even highlight our sinfulness in those many moments when we realize that we have been living as though we are not sinful to the core.

But that's what makes our situation so perilous and the gift of the Blessed Sacrament so necessary and so comforting. It is indeed the medicine of immortality for those who struggle with what I call spiritual Alzheimer's disease -- we know that we have this disease of the fallen soul, but day to day we become unaware of it.

"Who shall rescue me from this body of death?" is the point that we come to -- repeatedly after times of unawareness or our unawareness -- with St. Paul in Romans 7. And, just when we face the fact that we are so sinful that we are unaware of it, then we embrace with St. Paul what is nevertheless true for us through Christ our Lord, in 2 Tim 4.18, "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever!" And with that promise in mind, again and again in life, we head to the altar and demand, if necessary, that we be fed with the body and blood of our blessed Savior.

Won't the resurrection be such sweet comfort and such a release, forever!


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Susan said...

But, Pr Schaibley, you were the one who said it wasn't okay for a little kid to commune ... because he's not fully aware of his sin. But now you're saying it's okay for me to commune although I'm not fully aware of my sin.

Reformationalist said...

Dear Susan,

What I have been saying is that a little kid is not capable of perceiving the depth of his sinful nature. You are and I am. But to be occupied with the awareness of our sinfulness (it is horrid enough that God has to die to deal with it for us), is more than we can bear. It would drive a person insane to be absorbed with our sinfulness in the sight of God. So, Luther calls us (please do review his 20 questions if you haven't done so recently) to take a look at our true condition, precisely so that we might benefit from receiving the body and blood of Christ.

Back to my first point -- what a little child can know: I believe you made the comment about having a mindset about sin at 15 that was different from being 18, etc. Project that line back to being six, eight, ten, etc. There is even less agonizing over sinfulness at those tender ages precisely because the brain of a child has not yet developed to the point where that sort of inward evaluation of the whole being (not just of an event, or a series of events) can occur. That is why the kid is not yet prepared for the Sacrament, imo.

Btw, when I came to the conclusions that my sins were driven by something more than enticements of a moment but rather were something coming out of my very being, I prayed agonized prayers, pleading with God that He would take this deal: I would be willing to give up heaven, if only He would be willing to keep me out of hell! Foolish, yes! But it came out of the discovery of the damnable force inside of me that kept sending my back to sins.

Btw, it is only in such a discovery about oneself that the fullness of the Gospel becomes meaningful. At this point, the Gospel becomes not only the comfort of the forgiveness of sins but also of the relief of the forgiveness of the being of the sinner.

So, these points lead me to say that a little kid is not preparable (don't know if that is a true word, but it gets to force of which I am writing) for a salutary reception of the Blessed Sacrament.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley

Rev. Charles Lehmann said...

Fr. Schaibley,

No one can on the basis of his own human faculties recognize the depth of their own sinfulness. The ability to recognize that depth is not cognitive but spiritual.

All of our abilities to see such are marred by the fall. Original sin has no lesser grasp on the old than the young.

To make recognizing our own sinfulness something that's cognitive seems to be a rather gross error.

Reformationalist said...


If you are serious, and not just throwing out "it seems" language (which always is a slippery term that carries no weight), then a "gross error" requires -- requires -- a proper response, namely, charge me with error!

Do that, and then we can move to a different format of exchange than blogs or email. It's the only fair thing for you to do; again, if you are serious.

I can try, again, to point out that the conflation of spiritual realities and physiological realities causes confusion and ends up harming people. I am speaking about developmental realities (and not just someone's theory or PhD dissertation). A child cannot write a note if he does not know how to write and read. While St. John the Baptist could leap in the womb at the arrival of our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, John could not shout "Alleluia," nor could he see Jesus through eyes that are not yet capable of focusing.

Little children can know that they sin, and they can sense guilt over that sin, even over all of his or her sins. The child also can be taught that we are sinners, and therefore that he is a sinner. But that is not the same thing as the subjective discovery and awareness of the depths of one's human depravity, of which a child is not subjectively aware, any more than he is aware of the drives of his sexuality.

So, my response to your semi-charge is two-fold: first, as said above, if you are serious about "gross error," charge me; second, you are making category errors in your analysis, which lead to the conclusion that you have state.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Rev. Charles Lehmann said...

Fr. Schaibley,

I clearly am missing something. On what basis do you make the reception of an objective gift dependent upon a subjective reality?

Reformationalist said...

Pr. Lehmann,

Here are there points that might clarify my position.

First, On NO basis do I make the reception of an objective gift dependent upon a subjective reality. First, I don't do this because of the nature of reception -- a totally passive event in which God the Holy Spirit is the actor, and the "reception" of the faithful is only the kind of reception spoken of when one says, "I have received a bump on the head."

Second, I have not spoken of an objective gift. In fact, the matter under discussion has been about sin, not the Gift.

Third, "reception" has not been my term throughout this discussion. I speak of "awareness." The little child does not have the "awareness" of his sinfulness (the pervasive, utterly corrupted condition of our very being).

Hope this helps clear the air.


Rev. Fr. Robert W. Schaibley, SSP

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Well, now, this is interesting in the news today: