Each May, scores of youngsters embark on another important step in their spiritual journeys. Many Christian children will receive their First Holy Communion and participate in a sacrament that will further solidify their connection to God and the church. It is one of the important sacraments of initiation.
Children did not always participate in the Sacrament of Communion at this stage in their lives. Until roughly the 13th century, children were admitted to Communion from infancy. In fact, at baptism, children were at once confirmed and then given the Eucharist in the form of some consecrated wine. Some churches still continue this practice, including Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Assyrian Church of the East. By the 1200s, Communion was delayed until an age when children would have an understanding of the Eucharist and also sin and forgiveness.
Under Pope Pius X, who served as Pope from 1903 to 1914, children could receive Communion as soon as they could distinguish the Bread of the Eucharist as being Christ Himself, and not just ordinary bread. Thus, the inclusion of younger children in the Sacrament of First Holy Communion became more finite in churches around the world.
The month of May is a customary time for the Sacrament of Communion to be held. While there is no documented reasoning behind offering the sacrament in May, it may be because May falls after the important Lenten season and the miracle of Easter. Furthermore, May is often a time when religious education classes culminate, and children have been properly instructed as to their duties upon receiving their First Holy Communion, including participating in the Sacrament of Penance. Children also have been taught what it means to display an attitude of reverence at Mass. It also does not hurt that May tends to be a mild month, and one that makes a beautiful spring backdrop for communion festivities.
While First Holy Communion is widely associated with Roman Catholics, many Protestant churches also celebrate this sacrament, albeit in a less elaborate manner.
Communion season is arriving, and soon children will be seen in neighborhoods near and far wearing their Sunday best and participating in a ceremony that further initiates them into their Christian faith.