Question: Hey Pastor, I have a question!? From time to time I hear of young children being given Holy Communion before they are confirmed.? What?s the Church?s opinion on that?? Also, what?s your opinion on this matter?
Answer: Thanks for writing.? Yes, some of what you describe does go on in certain Lutheran Churches.? Some LCMS congregations do practice what is often called ?early communion.?? This practice is usually done after the youngster goes through a period of instruction pertaining to the sixth chief part of Luther?s Small Catechism ? The Sacrament of the Altar.
When early communion is practiced, usually it is the Pastor and parents together who teach the child what the Sacrament of the Altar is, outline its purpose, and how one is to receive it.? Then, jointly ? parents, Pastor, and even with input from the child ? a determination is made as to the youngster?s readiness to commune at the Lord?s Table.
From materials that I have read, it seems that most congregations that do practice ?early communion? have their children begin doing so toward the end of their fifth grade year.? The reasoning is that at that age, the child is able to grasp some of the abstract concepts related to this Sacrament.? For those congregations that observe early communion, they report that the vast majority of children continue in their catechesis and do go through the rite of confirmation several years later, following thorough instruction in the other five chief parts of Christian doctrine as outlined in the catechism.
So, to answer your first question, our synod has taken no official position either endorsing or discouraging the practice of early communion.? The synod leaves the matter to be a congregational decision.
You also asked for my personal opinion on this issue.? I personally do not think that the practice is one that we at Zion ought to embrace.? My primary reason is that we believe that when one receives the Lord?s Supper (besides receiving it for the forgiveness of sins and strengthening of one?s faith) the person receiving the Sacrament is also making a public statement that the faith in all its parts as taught, confessed, and practiced at that congregation is also that person?s own personal faith.? (See Question 305, part C., p. 241 of the 1991 edition of the Small Catechism.)? For a youth who ?communes early,? the question naturally is raised ?How does one agree with all that is taught, confessed, and practiced at that congregation if he has not yet been instructed in those things??.? Primarily for this reason, I do not favor practicing early communion prior to completing catechesis in all six parts of Christian doctrine.? Thank you for your questions.