Holy Communion is a valued sacrament in Lutheranism, and a Lutheran child's First Communion is an important occasion. The age of First Communion varies across denominations and even within congregations, and a Lutheran's First Communion usually ranges from ages 5 to 14. A Lutheran's First Communion is often preceded by a form of catechesis, which is education on religious doctrine.
Lutheran Beliefs Regarding Communion
Holy Communion, along with Baptism, is one of the two sacraments in Lutheranism. Part III, article VI of the Smalcald Articles in the Book of Concord — the Reformation-era confessional documents of the Lutheran church — states that Lutherans reject the Catholic idea of transubstantiation. This means that the bread and wine remain bread and wine rather than transforming into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but it is still believed that Jesus is present at the ceremony.
Preparation: Learning the Catechism
When a Lutheran child receives Holy Communion for the first time, that child is supposed to understand what the sacrament means. The most basic teaching of the Lutheran Church — and the easiest and quickest to learn — is Luther's Small Catechism in the Book of Concord. The Small Catechism is often taught to children before a First Communion, and regarding Holy Communion, article VI teaches that the most important part of receiving the sacrament is the belief and understanding of words such as "given for you" and "shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."
When Lutherans Do First Communion
There is no set age for a Lutheran to receive First Communion. A century ago, it was normal for First Communion to be tied to Confirmation, which happens around age 14, but now First Communion generally happens around the 5th grade. The reason for this discrepancy is the Lutheran emphasis of Scripture over tradition. Since there is nothing in Scripture about the age of a child's first Holy Communion, the practice is open to interpretation. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the largest Lutheran sect in the U.S., recommends that a continuing conversation between the pastor, the child and the parents should be the basis for setting the age for First Communion.
Differences Among Lutheran Denominations
The greatest difference between the two largest Lutheran denominations in the U.S. — the ELCA and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) — is open versus closed communion. In an ELCA Church, all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion along with the child receiving his First Communion. In the LCMS, however, one must adhere to the principles of that particular church to receive Holy Communion. The LCMS does this because it believes in confessional unity during Holy Communion, which means that all people partaking in the sacrament should believe the same thing about what is taking place.
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