Wednesday, June 22, 2011

it's a mystery

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)

another post filled with information about infant baptism, from an Orthodox perspective


  1. Thank you. I love all the mysteries of Christ.Someday when were at His Throne and sit at His feet or even supine,I believe only then we will be taught or know His mysteries.Oh, I get so excited!Your 4-square sister In Christ-Denise

  2. Good to see you blogging again! I grew up in the Ruthenian Church in the early '70s. We practiced infant communion then, out here in the Wild West (California), but I only recently realized that it was not the universal practice in the Ruthenian church until relatively recently, and that infant communion has not been fully restored even to this day in some places. When I first introduced my husband to Byzantine Catholicism, he was not overly enamored. It took him a long time to get used to it, and we usually attended a Roman parish. When we had our first child, however, I felt strongly that I wanted him to receive the mysteries in the Byzantine Church. We compromised. Our first two children were baptized in the Roman Church, but were Chrismated and received Holy Communion a short time later in the Byzantine Church. By the time baby number 3 came along, my husband had fully come to appreciate the beauty of bringing our children to the Eucharist, so our other children have received all three Sacraments of initiation in the Byzantine Church. It was infant communion that "sold" my husband on the Byzantine Rite. I do (along with countless theologians)call on the Latin church to restore its own tradition, starting with the order of the Sacraments of initiation. Few realize that infant communion is also the ancient tradition of the Western Church, and I believe that the Bishops should study that issue as well. The church clearly teaches that all people benefit from the graces received, no matter the age. Why deny our children that Grace? Catechesis, of course, is important and should be ongoing, in the home and in the church.

  3. Denise- I think Jesus loves your enthusiasm!

    Elizabeth- yes- no matter what, religious instruction and growth depends on a solid family life

  4. My sweet Sister.As you already know I love reading about your faith.I've learned so much from you and your posts.Iv'e also told you my families very long history in the Penticostal 4- square church.8 generations that we are aware of.One thing I didn't tell you was, my Mother was full of fear of us marrying Catholics.My fear of my four daughters marrying a catholic is gone because mostly due to your blog.I've also been watching the catholic channel.I've been secretly loving most of what I've learned.Oh, the mysteries are beyond wonderful!

  5. Ever since I first read about it I've loved the idea of infants receiving all three sacraments of initiation. It makes me a bit sad that it doesn't happen in the Latin Rite. There would have to be many changes to the way we handle communion in general though to make it at all practical.

  6. Denise- you might google Fr. Barron and 'Word on Fire'- he has some really wonderful video podcasts and I believe is finishing up a video series on the life of Christ that are bound to be really wonderful and educating

  7. Melanie B- I think the best 'compromise' would be to confirm the child before First Communion- at 6 or 7 years of age. I believe this is the correct order of the sacraments. Of course, teenagers wouldn't be in confirmation classes- but we can do other things to get them involved with church (first of all- strengthening families)

  8. I have to second the recommendation of Fr. Barron. His intellect is beyond brilliant! Denise, I will keep you in my prayers.

  9. Are you a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic then? The catechesis in your post was excellent. I'm baptized, confirmed Roman Catholic but have been attending Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic church (Immaculate Conception, Palatine, Illinois) for the past 4 years. I also teach 1st-2nd graders Religion school, although the Pastor-Priest's wife does the Confession, and First Solemn Communion prep. I think I am getting closer to taking the steps to change rites.

    This was very helpful and I need to save it off for help with my class instruction. I was told by the priest's wife that if we change rites the three children that haven't been confirmed will need to be chrismated right away. I am all for that. Why delay the graces?

    Plus there is still the Faith Affirmation Ceremony. Do you have that in Stamford area too?

  10. Colleen- No- but the Ukrainian Catholics have a lot of great information on the web. I'm glad you are in Illinois- you'll have many choices of Byzantine churches to attend while traveling the farther East you go- out West it isn't as easy

  11. When I was baptized and confirmed in the 70's, our eparchy had first communion as a separate celebration during second grade. Like you wrote above, I believe it was the late 90's, early 2000's when my eparchy returned to the tradition of having all three mysteries celebrated at once. As a Byzantine who had a separate first communion celebration, I'm actually a little sad that my children won't have that. I can appreciate why we do things the way we do, but I also see the value in waiting until the "age of discretion." I was too little to remember anything that happened during my baptism and confirmation. Sure, I've seen photos and been told that it was a dreadfully hot day, but I have actual real memories of my first communion celebration, the pride I felt walking down the aisle at the end of liturgy, carefully holding my candle and beaming as I walked past the pews that were so filled with people, it was standing room only.

  12. Diane Marie's experience was just like my husband's--he was born in '76. At least we THINK so. (Ugh, I really need to post his story!) BUT, his first communion was in a Roman church, since he was attending their school. I think it was a "let's not let this boy be left out" and I think his parents were fine with it. His brother, born 11 years later, also had his the same way.

    As a cradle Roman, I remember everything except baptism (I was only 3 weeks old!) and it's weird that my children won't remember anything at all. But I'll get over it ;-)


thanks for commenting! (comments on old posts are moderated)