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Many of us were raised in a day and age when only people who were confirmed receive communion, and there’s good historical precedence for this. When confirmation was early high school, this meant that you did not receive communion until 9th or 10th grade. Then traditions changed, particularly as Romans Catholics and Lutherans began to associate again, and a tradition of First Communion was embraced in many Lutheran congregations, and there’s good historical precedence for this as well. Now many congregations provide communion to anyone who is baptized, even infants, and there’s good historical precedence for this too. Some congregations even provide communion to anyone who is in worship, including those who aren’t baptized, and, you guessed it!

Those are just the traditions in the ELCA, and other denominations have other traditions, anywhere from a closed communion to only receiving communion a couple times a year. There has been a lot of conversation over the past decade among ELCA theologians about what practices we embrace and why, and this variance can lead to confusion in our congregation. As one person wrote in our comment box, “Why are we communing children? I thought only those who have been confirmed could take communion.”

So I invite you to join me on a brief walk through the history of Holy Communion to help us understand why we’re doing things as we are at Mt Zion.

I suppose we’ll start at the very beginning, “on the night in which he was betrayed”. When it comes to who’s at the table, the only things we can say about that first meal was that it was the people Jesus invited, and Judas was one of the people who received communion. We honestly don’t know if the disciples were baptized, though we assume they were (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, John 4:2).

In the rest of Scripture, the picture we have is that people became Christians by being baptized, and all Christians gathered to celebrate Holy Communion weekly (Acts 2, for example). We know of no extra boundary in Scripture other than baptism, and baptism is less of a “requirement” and more of a pattern. It is what people do when they want to proclaim their faith in Christ, and only believers would partake in such an unusual meal as Communion.

In the earliest liturgical records we have, we know that Holy Baptism and Holy Communion were considered one unified act. Everyone seeking baptism would be baptized together at the Easter Vigil, an all-night service that ended at sunrise with Holy Communion. Those receiving their first communion immediately following their baptisms would even receive a special cup just that one time, containing milk with honey mixed in, as a sign of their entry into the Promised Land. According to, the original tradition of providing first communion immediately after baptism, including for infants, continued in some places until the thirteenth century. Greek Othodox churches today still give infants communion, using a special spoon to do so.

But then something unexpected happened. In the fourth century, Christians became welcome in the Roman Empire, and the Church grew faster than its practices could handle. At the Easter Vigil, it was the special role of the bishop to pray over each person to receive the Holy Spirit after their baptism with a prayer called the “confirmatio” (this is why Roman Catholics and Episcopalians today are still confirmed by the bishop). Before this change, most towns only had one church, and therefore one bishop (bishops were a lot more like senior pastors today). But suddenly there were 10 churches in town and another 30 in the country. The bishop could not get to all those places at the Easter Vigil, but rather than appointing other people to help fulfill the role, bishops made people wait (I get it – I don’t want to give up my special roles either). Instead of being baptized and receiving communion in one service, people had to wait until they were “confirmed” by the bishop before they could have their first communion. As the Church became wealthy, people in poor congregations sometimes had to wait for years. For those who had to wait for confirmation to receive communion, this is where that tradition comes from.

When the Lutheran church was first coming into existence, the Church had recognized that waiting until Confirmation was too long of a wait, and it had become the norm to provide First Communion when children had reached an age in which they could participate in confession. A particularly reading of 1 Corinthians 11:27-34 influenced this practice, and the requirement for confession before communion remains the practice in some Lutheran denominations today. Roman Catholics, for similar reasons, allow First Communion at the age of 7 today. For those who received First Communion at an elementary age, this is where that tradition comes from.

In recent decades, there has been a movement many parts of the Church, including the Lutheran tradition, to restore our earliest theological traditions. Just as nearly every era of art revival – Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic – came about because a group of people were trying to return to ancient Greek ideals, many in the Church are trying to bring revival by restoring the ancient traditions. Our oldest theological practices welcome all the baptized to communion, regardless of age. Even infants were fed, for they too hunger for God.

As pastor of Mt Zion, I find this early tradition compelling, and so does the ELCA. The theological work that shaped the ELW (our red hymnal), called “The Use of the Means of Grace” (adopted by the Churchwide Assembly in 1997), states, “All baptized persons are welcomed to Communion” (and if someone accidentally comes up who isn’t baptized, rather than shaming them for doing wrong, we invite them to faith and baptism). In fact, the prayer that originally separated baptism from communion – the confirmatio – is a prayer I pray over ever person when they are baptized. Check the top of page 231 in the hymnal, and you’ll see we pray for the Holy Spirit. Everyone is confirmed when they are baptized. If you’ll turn to page 234, you’ll notice the service we use for teenagers is no longer called “Confirmation” but rather “Affirmation of Baptism”. Our language hasn’t fully caught up with our theology, but every baptized person is confirmed immediately after they are washed.

On a more practical note, most of the time children seem more excited to receive Christ’s presence than adults. They reach out, they beg, they ask for more, they want bigger pieces, they bounce up and down, they dance, they sometimes budge, and it breaks their hearts when they must wait. How could I deny Christ to those begging for Jesus?

Though I don’t behoove good order, sometimes I wish adults would show more expressions of joy as they receive the gifts of God. We are happy to eat, I can know that, but we often keep our joy reserved. Lift up your hearts! Shout to the Lord! Let God see and hear your thanks. Especially on Easter.


P.S. Recently someone abstained for communion, upset by an horrific event in the news. There can be good theological reasons for abstaining from communion for a short time. Other times, we have members attend congregations that don't communion children, or children attend Mt Zion who don't communion in their tradition. You may notice at holidays I invite people who don't communion to come up for a blessing. We respect the traditions of our hosts and our guests as best as we can. Practices like this and any other questions you may have about communion in the ELCA can likely be answered in "The Use of the Means of Grace". This is a document I have read multiple times and continue to find compelling in its understanding of Holy Communion.