When engaging parents in conversations related to children and Communion, it is common to encounter questions like, “How can we know when our child is ready to receive Communion?” and statements like, “I think I want my child to wait until they fully understand the meaning before they participate.” These are important considerations on which to reflect as we seek to wonder and discover what is good and right for children.
In response to these conversations, let us imagine the family table. It is common for children to be pulled to the corner of the family table from the earliest stages of development. While sitting in a swing or a carrier or lying on a blanket, children are near the activity long before they can understand the meaning of the family table or contribute to conversation or participate in eating a meal there. At the family table, children may observe laughter, problem solving, rich conversations, prayer, manners, highs and lows, and stories. Soon, we exchange the baby seat and bottle for a high chair and baby food; next, morsels of soft food from the family meal, a booster seat, a sippy cup, and so on—until, one day, we recognize that they have grown into a place at the table that looks just like ours.
Pause that scenario for a moment and let us imagine how things would change if we decided to wait until a child could fully understand the need for nourishment before we began to give them food or before we created space for them at the table. While this may sound ridiculous and, frankly a little dramatic, I wonder if it offers a helpful comparison to consider when one is in search of the perfect timing to introduce children to the Table of the Lord. What if the perfect time is always?
What if the perfect time is always?
As Jesus sat at the table with those in his close circle, he selected the bread and the cup and gave them a unique identity. The bread became known as the broken body and the cup the shed blood. This practice has lingered throughout the history of the church and continues today even, though, while Jesus spoke, his closest friends could not wrap their minds around what he was trying to say. The broken body, the shed blood, the new covenant: none of it made sense. The disciples did not understand.
It is true that when we bring children to the Table of the Lord at the earliest stages of their development, they will not understand all that there is to understand about the Eucharistic act. Dare I say, neither do I! However, I do understand that each time I come to the Table, the mystery of the bread and the cup bring renewed life and hope. Then I can celebrate the joyful fact that all are invited.