“Come, all you lovers of the feast, let us form choirs and fill the Church with our hymns in honour of the falling asleep of the Ark of God. Today heaven indeed opens its bosom to receive the Mother of the One whom the universe cannot contain. The earth gives back the Source of Life and receives the blessing of the Lord. The choir of angels and apostles look with awe as they see the One who gave birth to the Prince of Life now herself pass from life to life.”
In our previous bulletin, we began addressing questions about baptism or, more fully, the rites (baptism, chrismation, and eucharist) of Christian initiation. Most of the questions can be answered only once we understand the nature of these sacraments, as was explained last week. Today we can address some of the specific questions.
If an infant partakes of the Eucharist when they are initiated why then is there a “First Communion”?
History, of course provides the answer. In the early church when someone joined the Christian community (adult or child) they were initiated into the community as full members and so received the Eucharist regularly. However, over time, in the Western Church the three sacraments were separated. In other words, a child would be baptised soon after birth (because death rates were high) and would not be chrismated (it is called confirmation in the West) until a number of years later when a bishop would come to their town or village and then they would be allowed to receive the Eucharist. That “First Communion” came to be explained as the time when a child understands, i.e. the “age of reason”. Understandably, there was no strict rule as to when this occurred. In the Eastern Christian world the three rites were not separated and so we originally did not have a “First Communion” in our Church. However, in eighteenth century Halychyna, under pressure from the dominant Polish Roman Catholic Church, our Church underwent a period of what was called “Latinization”. This meant that gradually our Church adopted more and more practices of the Roman Catholic majority. One of these practices was to no longer give infants the Eucharist immediately after baptism and chrismation but to leave it for many years until we celebrated, as the Roman Catholics do, a “First Communion”. Since Vatican II in the 1960s we have been restoring many of our original practices which are consistent with our liturgy and spirituality. Because of the restoration of Eucharist at baptism the celebration at a later time focusses on the child’s first confession or reconciliation and “Solemn Holy Communion”. We mark this “solemn” event as the time when a person begins their personal relationship with God, no longer receiving the Eucharist simply “on the faith of their parents”. However, this was simply a way to incorporate the Latin practice to which our Western Ukrainian Church had grown accustomed.
An ancient practice which is still common among our Orthodox brothers and sisters, but not so commonly practiced with Ukrainian (Greek) Catholics is baptismal tonsure. This cutting of four locks of the baptizand’s hair in the pattern of a cross was seen as a symbol of the baptizand’s willingness to accept the need to make sacrifices in their lives in order to follow Christ.
Our traditions are beautiful and complex and it is wonderful to explore and explain their meaning, so if you have questions, please ask and let’s learn more about our Church and our traditions!