For many centuries, the Eucharist was reserved for adults, but Pius X wanted to change that.
At the very beginning of the Catholic Church, children were welcomed to the Eucharistic table and allowed to share in the reception of Holy Communion. It was common practice to give infants their First Communion along with the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.
However, over time, the Roman Catholic Church separated the three sacraments of initiation, administering them at different times in a person’s life. Most Eastern Churches, meanwhile, maintained the earlier tradition of allowing infants to receive the Eucharist.
By the early 20th century, emphasizing a desire that those who receive Communion “understand” at least as much as humanly possible the great mystery of the Transfiguration, and Jesus’ transformation of the bread into his body and blood, the Church reserved Communion for teenagers and adults. Younger children were generally banned from approaching the altar.
In 1910, Pope St. Pius X changed that, with his decree Quam Singulari, which decrees that children who have reached the “age of reason” (around seven years old) are permitted to receive the Eucharist.
Pius X explained why he lowered the age, pointing to the Gospel and how Jesus wished to embrace all children.
The pages of the Gospel show clearly how special was that love for children which Christ showed while He was on earth. It was His delight to be in their midst … He embraced them; and He blessed them. At the same time He was not pleased when they would be driven away by the disciples, whom He rebuked gravely with these words: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for of such is the kingdom of God.” It is clearly seen how highly He held their innocence and the open simplicity of their souls on that occasion when He called a little child to Him and said to the disciples: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven … And whoever receives one such little child for my sake, receives me.”
Reinforcing the reality of the children’s innocence and closeness to God, Pius X wrote, “the fact that in ancient times the remaining particles of the Sacred Species were even given to nursing infants seems to indicate that no extraordinary preparation should now be demanded of children who are in the happy state of innocence and purity of soul, and who, amidst so many dangers and seductions of the present time have a special need of this heavenly food.”
He further added that he hoped by lowering the age of First Communion it would “bring about that children even from their tender years may be united to Jesus Christ, may live His life, and obtain protection from all danger of corruption.”
Children have a special place in the heart of Jesus Christ and model for us how to have a pure trust in our Heavenly Father. In a certain sense, children are already united to God when they are little. They have not been corrupted by the world and do not know the temptations of sin. It was Pius X’s hope that by allowing little children to receive Holy Communion, they would maintain that baptismal innocence into their adult lives and stay close to Jesus.
Thus his desire to give them the chance to receive Holy Communion as often as they could, keeping them united to Jesus, who would hold them tight to his heart.