“What benefits do children receive by partaking of the sacrament before the age of accountability?” Tambuli, July 1978, 11–12
Elliot D. Landau, chairman of the Child Committee, Sunday School General Board
Although children under the age of eight “cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me” (D&C 29:47), it has been the practice of the Church to offer children the sacrament.
Partaking of the sacrament serves to remind worthy individuals (1) to remember the broken body and spilled blood of him who was crucified for the sins of the world, (2) to take upon themselves the name of Christ and always remember him, and (3) to “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God.” (D&C 84:44.) Allowing children to participate does not indicate that they have the same needs for repentance as an adult; however, partaking of the sacrament can help teach them to love the Lord and to obey his commandments.
Observation has taught us that growth processes having to do with such things as attitudes, habits, and dispositions begin at a very early age. We are often impressed with the idea that children, in our homes and in Church services, are making a limited but effectual spiritual response to attempts made to motivate them on the level of spirituality. We may also observe that their response to spiritual things often precedes or exceeds their intellectual understanding.
In other words, we may see spiritual responsiveness and growth before a child “begins to become accountable” for his moral choices. His moral innocence does not necessarily imply complete spiritual incapacity. A child may get a feeling about God as he repeats a prayer or hears one. He may think momentarily about Jesus as he is instructed to bow his head and close his eyes—especially if he has been invited to do so just preceding the prayer.
It is especially important that the less tangible religious lessons be given most careful attention and repetition. The sacrament is one of the most important vehicles available to us to do this. Although the attention span is short for young children, the feeling may develop that partaking of the Sacrament is a special occasion, that Jesus is a special person, and that the bread and water somehow relate to him. But becoming accountable is gradual, not sudden, and the more mature idea of making a promise to Jesus and receiving blessings through him may well have—and should have—its beginnings before the age of eight.
In both the Junior Sunday School worship service and the Sacrament meeting, children see their families and their older peers partaking of the sacrament, and this weekly repetition from toddler days to the age of eight helps them to model themselves after these important persons.
Under the above circumstances, partaking of the sacrament may not only start a pattern that will go on in later life, but it may also become a dynamic, vitalizing, and developmental foundation for spiritual growth. Therefore, children partaking of the sacrament when they are emotionally immature and relatively ignorant of the doctrines of salvation is not necessarily an idle gesture. Spirit may speak to spirit, attitudes may generate attitudes. Although children may not get the same thing out of partaking of the sacrament that adults do, they may have some of their important needs met through that ordinance.