Recently, there was an interesting comment thread about infant communion on Fr. John Zuhlsdorf’s post, “US Catholic gets nutty about Bp. Olmsted of Phoenix and Communion under both kinds.” Occasionally, WDTPRS readers indulge in Latin triumphalism when differences between the Roman Church and the Eastern Churches arise in discussions. More frequently, though, Fr. Z.‘s many righteous Extraordinary Form peeps simply exhibit a Western mindset that I find alien and troubling. This mindset predates contemporary ecumenical gatherings; it lies close to the Western religious soul. Accordingly, a commentator on the thread quoted the Council of Trent, and the selection exhibits nicely a point that I wish to make:
That Little Children Are Not Bound to Sacramental Communion.
Finally, this same Holy Synod teaches, that little children, who have not attained to the use of reason, are not by any necessity obliged to the Sacramental Communion of the Eucharist: forasmuch as, having been regenerated by the laver of Baptism, and being incorporated with Christ, they cannot, at that age, lose the grace which they have already acquired of being the sons of God. Not therefore, however, is antiquity to be condemned, if, in some places, it, at one time, observed that custom; for as those most Holy Fathers had a probable cause for what they did in respect of their times, so, assuredly, is it to be believed without controversy, that they did this without any necessity thereof unto salvation.
On Communion under Both Species, and on the Communion of Infants.
Canon I. If anyone saith, that, by the precept of God, or, by necessity of salvation, all and each of the faithful of Christ ought to receive both species of the Most Holy Sacrament not consecrating; let him be anathema.
Canon II. If anyone saith, that the Holy Catholic Church was not induced, by just causes and reasons, to communicate, under the species of bread only, laymen, and also clerics when not consecrating; let him be anathema.
Canon III. If anyone denieth, that Christ whole and entire – the Fountain and Author of all graces – is received under the one species of bread; because that – as some falsely assert – He is not received, according to the institution of Christ Himself, under both species; let him be anathema.
Canon IV. If anyone saith, that the Communion of the Eucharist is necessary for little children, before they have arrived at years of discretion; let him be anathema. As regards, however, those two articles, proposed on another occasion, but which have not as yet been discussed; to wit, whether the reasons by which the Holy Catholic Church was led to communicate, under the one species of bread only, laymen, and also priests when not celebrating, are in such wise to be adhered to, as that on no account is the use of the chalice to be allowed to anyone soever; and, whether, in case that, for reasons beseeming and consonant with Christian charity, it appears that the use of the chalice is to be granted to any nation or kingdom, it is to be conceded under certain conditions; and what are those conditions: this same Holy Synod reserves the same to another time, – for the earliest opportunity that shall present itself, – to be examined and defined.
The chapter concerns infant communion and the manner of partaking the Eucharist, which was the topic of the WDTPRS thread. The chapter notes that infants communed in antiquity—as they still do in the Orthodox Church—but it states that this is not necessary for them because they have not attained the age of reason and cannot bring sin upon themselves, their original sin having been cleaned through baptism. The implication is that Christians participate in the Eucharist as a means to acquire salvific grace that one only needs in response to one’s sins and shortcomings. I find such perverse. The Eucharist is the central act of the Christian life—why should children of the Church not participate? The decision basically states that we only commune because we sin.
We smell here that focus on atonement that pervades Western spirituality. According to this tendency, God does not really adopt us to share in his life; he simply throws us a life raft and rescues us from our own ill doing. Certainly, we are saved, and we know from what we are saved, but for what are we saved? The Roman Church has maintained the apostolic message, but large swaths of Western piety and theology appear remarkably unconcerned about the ultimate goal of man’s salvation.
Moreover, there is a common and disquieting tendency in papism to treat the Christian life as necessary chores. One sees this with episcopal dispenations. Bishops excuse their flocks from aspects of Christian devotion or practices as if they were not intrisically valuable but only externally required as acts of obedience. Of course, some dispensations make sense because they allow for one good to trump another good, and pastorally minded shepherds look after the good of their rational sheep. Yet, most dispensations of Latin bishops seem to suggest that the liturgy, confession, and traditional piety are necessary unpleasantries that Christians must tolerate, as a patient must tolerate injections or nasty tasting medicine. We hear the same attitude when the Latins boast of thirty minute masses in the same way that a man might express relief that he only had to wait a short time at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Worshiping the King of all holds a similar place in one’s life as the burden of getting new license tags? Likewise, why should infants commune if they need not do so to avoid hell? We would not want them to experience any extra grace or closeness with the Lord that is not absolutely needful.
Western minimalism does not only spring from Luther and his rebels.