Byzantine Catholics call the sacraments "mysteries." No matter how old we get, no matter how educated we get, the full meaning of these seven great gifts of God will remain hidden from us. Theologians can study the sacraments, but if baptism, Eucharist and the rest become understood, they actually lose meaning, like the Bible does after a Jesus Seminar. Byzantine Catholics in the West are getting back to our tradition of infant baptism, confirmation and Holy Communion. No, the baby does not understand what he has received, but do any of us really?
This is certainly not a call for Latin-rite Catholics to change their tradition- although I will confess it irks me that my very educated and St Bernadette-like niece had to take CCD classes and wait until she was seven- even though she looked very pretty in her dress and veil. And it also irks me that in another sister's diocese, they might delay confirmation until sixteen and older. I believe that, no matter the tradition- early or late sacraments- the graces and benefits recieved are more important than knowledge.
read on for some specific information from one eparchy (diocese) in the United States:
At the Last Supper, our Lord initiated the Eucharist for our redemption and entrusted it to His Church. It was the Church which determined the prayers that were necessary to make Christ really present in the form of bread and wine. Our Church has prayed for centuries the Liturgies, that of St. John Chrysostom and the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great. The Church decided that for Christ to become present there had to be a remembrance of what Christ had done for us, and, in particular, remembering the words of institution and the invocation of the Holy Spirit.
It was also the Church which decided who could and who could not partake of the Sacred Mysteries. People were excluded from participation in the Eucharist for particular sins. The Church, then, through the centuries determined more and more reasons for exclusion from participation in the Eucharist. One reason that emerged later was lack of discretion or understanding of what the Eucharist really is. For this reason children were excluded from the Eucharist until they had attained what was referred to as the age of reason or the age of discretion.
In the early days of the Church, children received the Eucharist at the time of their baptism. The blessings of the mysteries of initiation - baptism, chrismation and Eucharist - are revered by the faithful. Since the faithful knew how important and valuable these mysteries were, and since, many of them were good and dedicated parents, they did not want to deprive their children of these gifts. Saint John Chrysostom noted, "You have seen how numerous the gifts of baptism are. Although many men think that the only gift it confers is the remission of sins, we have recounted its honors to the number of ten. It is on this account that we baptize even infants, even though they are sinless, that they may be given the further gifts of sanctification, justice, filial adoption, and inheritance, that they may be brothers and members of Christ, and become dwelling places for the Spirit." The Eucharist was one of the benefits for those who were baptized. The desire of parents that their children enjoy these benefits was the reason behind infant baptism.
Parents do not deny their children food until they are old enough to understand the necessity of food. As any parent can tell you, food is not treated by an infant with any great respect for its life-giving qualities. But parents do not wait to feed their children until they understand these qualities. It is sufficient that the parents understand. The same is true for the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a desirable food for the many gifts that come from Its partaking. In the Churches of the East, for the most part, the Eucharist was given to children from the time of their baptism and if they were infants when baptized, they would receive Communion. The form of the Eucharist varied from one Church to another because it was a matter which was left up to each Church to decide.
In the West though, the practice of delaying the reception of Communion to the age of discernment developed and was mandated by the Council of Trent. This practice gradually was adopted by our Church. We introduced something that was not part of our tradition. This is an example of latinization, which is the introduction and adoption of a Latin or Western practice into an Eastern Church.
It was the decision of the Bishops of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in their most recent synod and promulgated on December 24, 1997 to restore the practice of infant communion within our Church. This was done at the suggestion of our bishops and the Vatican Congregation of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Realizing that this was on the horizon, Bishop Losten laid the groundwork in his instruction when he wrote: "In the Eparchy of Stamford, our small children who have been baptized and chrismated may receive the Holy Communion provided that the parents of the child have made it absolutely clear that they want their child communicated and that they accept their full responsibility in this matter; they normally do this by accompanying the child to Communion and presenting the child, announcing the child's baptismal name to the priest for this purpose. No one may coerce the parents in this regard. When such small children who have received Holy Communion at the request of their parents reach the age for sacramental Confession, they may participate in the Solemn Communion festivities with other children.
Any child who is baptized in the Eparchy of Stamford will receive all three mysteries of initiation – baptism, chrismation and Eucharist – at the same time. The Eucharist will be received as a drop of the precious Blood of our Lord either on the tip of the spoon or on the tip of the little finger of the priest. The Eucharist will be received in this manner until after the first reception of sacramental confession. At that time there will be a first solemn Communion at which the child will receive both the precious Body and Blood of our Lord.
It is the right of every family, especially parents and godparents to receive from their parish priest or sacramental catechist a thorough catechesis in these mysteries so that they may fully understand the ceremony and theology of all three mysteries. It is further recommended that the Mysteries of Initiation be performed at a Sunday Liturgy, so that the faithful of the parish can welcome in the new member of their community and provide a Christian witness to the child as he or she grows in the faith." (reposted from the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Stamford)