Recently the topic of Infant Communion has come up on BJS. There is a world of difference between practicing first communion before confirmation and communing infants. The Agenda for Lutheran Service Book has a rite for first communion prior to confirmation because it is a good practice. There is no such rite for infants and this article will help point out why.
Let me say this to start out. Infant Communion is not a faithful practice by Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions. Further, Lutheran heritage shows that no chief Lutheran father ever taught or instituted the practice. Any attempt to bring Infant Communion in under the guise of faithful Lutheran teaching is dishonest to our heritage and teachings.
Here are some simple reasons why it is not the teaching of Scripture or Confessions to commune infants:
1. Infants cannot “do this in remembrance of Me”. This is part of the Words of Institution, where Jesus commands the Sacrament to be done in His way and in remembrance of Him. This brings in the Old Testament where remembrance is about thought and also action. There is a mental component to the Sacrament of the Altar. The Large Catechism draws this out more and more, talking about preparation and the ongoing Christian struggle concerning Christ’s command and promise and our lowly state. The Augsburg Confession puts it this way (XXIV, 30-33):
30 But Christ commands us, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Therefore, the Mass was instituted so that those who use the Sacrament should remember, in faith, the benefits they receive through Christ and how their anxious consciences are cheered and comforted. 31 To remember Christ is to remember His benefits. It means to realize that they are truly offered to us. 32 It is not enough only to remember history. (The Jewish people and the ungodly also remember this.) 33 Therefore, the Mass is to be used for administering the Sacrament to those that need consolation. Ambrose says, “Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine.”
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 49.
2. Infants cannot “proclaim the Lord’s death”. This is part of St. Paul’s explanation of the corporate activity of the congregation in communing. There is a confessing component to the Sacrament of the Altar.
3. Infants cannot discern the body and blood of the Lord. This is part of St. Paul’s admonition about communing in 1 Corinthians 11.
4. Infants have not been taught concerning this command of the Lord. This is part of Matthew’s formula for making disciples, which involves first baptism in the name of the Triune God, then being taught to observe all things that Jesus commanded (including the Lord’s Supper). The teaching cannot happen yet with infants. There is a catechetical component necessarily preceding receiving the Sacrament of the Altar.
5. Infants cannot be communed according to our confessional standard. According to the short preface of the Large Catechism:
For I well remember the time—indeed, even now it happens daily—that one finds rude, old persons who knew nothing and still know nothing about these things. Yet they go to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and use everything belonging to Christians, even though people who come to the Lord’s Supper ought to know more and have a fuller understanding of all Christian doctrine than children and new scholars. 6 However, for the common people we are satisfied if they know the three “parts.” These have remained in Christendom from of old, though little of them has been taught and used correctly until both young and old (who are called Christians and wish to be so) are well trained in them and familiar with them. Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 355.Now, when these three parts are understood, a person must also know what to say about our Sacraments, which Christ Himself instituted: Baptism and the holy body and blood of Christ. They should know the texts that Matthew [28:19–20] and Mark [16:15–16] record at the close of their Gospels, when Christ said farewell to His disciples and sent them forth.Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 358.Let this, then, be said for encouragement, not only for those of us who are old and grown, but also for the young people, who ought to be brought up in Christian doctrine and understanding. Then the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer might be taught to our youth more easily. Then they would receive them with pleasure and seriousness, and so they would use them from their youth and get used to them. 86 For the old are now nearly past this opportunity. So these goals and others cannot be reached unless we train the people who are to come after us and succeed us in our office and work. We should do this in order that they also may bring up their children successfully, so that God’s Word and the Christian Church may be preserved. 87 Therefore, let every father of a family know that it is his duty, by God’s order and command, to teach these things to his children, or to have the children learn what they ought to know [Ephesians 6:4]. Since the children are baptized and received into the Christian Church, they should also enjoy this communion of the Sacrament, in order that they may serve us and be useful to us. They must all certainly help us to believe, love, pray, and fight against the devil.Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 440.
Now, it is true, as we have said, that no one should by any means be forced or compelled to go to the Sacrament, lest we institute a new murdering of souls. Nevertheless, it must be known that people who deprive themselves of and withdraw from the Sacrament for such a long time are not to be considered Christians. For Christ has not instituted it to be treated as a show. Instead, He has commanded His Christians to eat it, drink it, and remember Him by it.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 436.
All those able to do so partake of the Sacrament together. This also increases the reverence and devotion of public worship. 6 No one is admitted to the Sacrament without first being examined. 7 The people are also advised about the dignity and use of the Sacrament, about how it brings great consolation to anxious consciences, so that they too may learn to believe God and to expect and ask from Him all that is good. 8 This worship pleases God [Colossians 1:9–10]. Such use of the Sacrament nourishes true devotion toward God.
Concordia : The Lutheran Confessions, Edited by Paul Timothy McCain (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 47.