“How old does a child need to be in order to receive Holy Communion?” Surprisingly, that’s a question I don’t believe I have ever been asked in my 30+ years of pastoral ministry.
This would not be a surprise if our church was Roman Catholic. In the Roman Catholic Church, there is a very specific tradition regarding when a child can receive Holy Communion. In that church, children go through a class of religious instruction on the meaning and teachings of Roman Catholicism with regard to Holy Communion. All this is in preparation of receiving Holy Communion for the very first time, what I have heard described as a child “making their first communion.” I was present when both my granddaughters “made” their first communion in their Catholic church. Each service was a very beautiful time of worship.
In the Evangelical Covenant Church, we do not prescribe an age when a child may begin receiving Holy Communion. My limited experience (having known and served only two Covenant churches) and what I have heard anecdotally, is that earlier in our history, children would receive Holy Communion for the first time soon after they were confirmed. This was because at confirmation many children would make a public profession of personal faith in Christ, often for the first time, before the church. Also, they would have had some instruction regarding the meaning of Holy Communion during their confirmation classes which would help them understand the significance of their participation in the table.
However widespread this earlier practice was in the Covenant Church, it is no longer true that all children wait until after their confirmation before receiving Holy Communion. Rev. Steve Burger, Director of Children, Family and Intergenerational Ministries for the Evangelical Covenant Church, has written the following regarding this: “Children who have accepted Christ are welcome at the table. Mark 10:13, demonstrates Christ’s desire to welcome and include children into the Kingdom. Luke 22:17-19, is a command by Christ to participate, regardless of age. Our position as a denomination is that parents know best if their children have received Christ, so we leave the decision to them (as to when their child may start receiving Holy Communion).”