a couple of blog posts from Roman Catholic priests who have had it with children coming to the altar for a blessing during the distribution of the Eucharist. I won't spend my time here simply repeating their complaints. They sound like many Lutherans who think that the rail is a place only for those who commune. I suppose the arguments are solid enough why children and those not communing do not belong there. But I would look at this slightly differently.
Everyone should be against doing this for purpose of being cute -- either the children or the one giving the blessing. If what we are doing is simply providing for a Kodak moment or bowing at the altar of childish demand to be included in everything, then by all means stop it. Stop it now. But I contend that there may be something much more profound at work here.
I cannot believe I am invoking Anscar Chupungco here but somewhere he made the statement that when the Church blesses we not only give thanks to God for that which is blessed but we mark that which is blessed as a continued reminder of God's presence in our lives through this blessing and of the responsibility of faith and faithful care that accompany those things we bless. I may have cleaned up his words a bit. Anyway, blessing is not a cutesie activity but a very solemn one, indeed.
When children and those who do not commune (guests, those not yet catechized) come to the rail, they are by their presence acknowledging our debt of grace -- just as are those who bring them. When we extend the hand of blessing, we are acknowledging the grace of God at work in them and those who brought them -- for it is this grace that calls them to the place where the mystery of Christ is given and received, even though they do not know this mystery and their faith may not yet be fully formed in them.
The effect of all this is then catechetical. The form of the words of blessing matters. I tie that blessing back to baptism for those whom I know to be baptized and I point to the fullness of baptism's gift and grace for those not yet baptized. May this sign of the cross remind you that you belong to the Lord Jesus by baptism and faith... as one example.
Those who do not commune are sometimes paying more attention to all that takes place at the rail than those who do receive. They come with wonder and curiosity. I have seen children over and over again reach out with desire to participate in the Sacrament. It is not the simple act of eating but the way they watch their family members around them, the others at the rail, and me, as Pastor. They are being taught by the actions that take place there. They cannot yet confess what they have seen, but they learn and they come to know the mystery of the sign that is Sacrament, the earthly form that conveys the precious body and blood of our Lord. We are, if handled well, encouraging this wonder and curiosity, encouraging their desire for and their preoccupation for the great Mystery of this Meal. We are teaching them for the day when they will be able to eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord.
This is why I invite those who do not commune to come -- not to be inclusive or cute but to teach and encourage them in faith for their own joyful communion. The Sacrament evokes its own hunger within us. Who among us has not been in a church not of our own confession and unable to commune? Did not our hearts burn for the taste of grace and the blessing of participation in the body and blood of Jesus? Even more than when we found ourselves at our own rail? No, don't bless to be cute or funny or for a Kodak moment or because you have to... Bless as part of the extra curricular catechesis in which those blessed are brought ever closer to the moment of their own joyful participation... It happened here this Sunday. A young woman who has not been instructed ever in the faith but who has been brought to the rail by her extended family sought me out for catechism so that she may participate in the fullness of the Mystery of Christ's body and blood -- a hunger which the Lord planted in part by regularly coming to the rail for a blessing. Thanks be to God!