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St Gregory of Nyssa

Baptism Communion
in which order?

St Gregory of Nyssa
St Gregory of Nyssa, Episcopal Church, San Francisco

The Episcopal Church is discussing whether to remove the canonical requirement of baptism for those wanting to receive communion. Who is and who is not allowed to receive communion has, in USA, taken a political direction also.

Pope Francis has been clear that he has never refused communion to anyone. To highlight this, some might like to reflect: if you are distributing communion, and Vladimir Putin comes to you for communion, would you give him communion or not?

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The resolution going to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church moves to

repeal CANON I.17.7 of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church (2018 Revision, page 88), which states: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

C028All Are Welcome at the Table

There is plenty of discussion about this on the internet.

Rev Tobias Haller gives an excellent summary here; his approach is that an unbaptised person “cannot” receive communion, as only “the faithful” (i.e., the baptised) can (not just “may”) receive it. He would alter the TEC canon accordingly. I would highlight, however, that there are Christians who do not have baptism (Salvation Army, Quakers,…).

Others are stressing that one cannot be an inclusive church if someone baptised as a baby (ie without personal faith) can receive communion (even if later an atheist) but inquisitive nones are excluded from receiving communion when they might have more faith than a baptised person.

There is a statement by Episcopal theologians expressing concern about open Communion. With a response by Rev. Mark Harris here. While Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton strongly supports open communion here.

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The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia has as a formulary of our Church: “All the baptised may receive the Holy Communion.” (Title G Canon VII). This formulary replaces the requirement that used to be Anglican teaching: “And there shall none be admitted to the holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed” (Book of Common Prayer 1662). So everyone, adults, young people, children, and babies, are welcome to receive communion now from the moment of their baptism. As far as I know, we do not have any formal statement that restricts communion only to the baptised. If we do have such a formal limitation – please let us know.

Another point: I think there is nowhere in our formally agreed liturgies that indicates that baptism is required to receive communion. In fact the opposite: at communion time, all present are invited forward to receive communion: “Draw near and receive the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ …” Let me also stress, that nowhere, as far as I can see, is there anything in our baptism rite that indicates that this is the required doorway to communion.

I have long been a proponent of baptism as being all that is required for admission to communion, of communion for all the baptised. I have regularly described baptism followed by communion as full initiation into the Church, with the Eucharist as the repeatable part of this initiation. However, I am currently reading Signs of Life: Worship for a Just and Loving People (by Rev. Rick Fabian, in which he explains the open communion approach of his church, St Gregory of Nysa – image above). I might present a fuller review of this book in the future – suffice to say that Rick challenges my lens that sees baptism as Christian initiation. He also challenges people who seek to restrict communion to the baptised, highlighting that those who do so generally have little biblical content in their analysis, focusing rather on regulations that developed after the New Testament period.

There is another significant point that I have seen too little of: if a community has as its norm that ALL receive communion, those present who wish not to receive communion are put under significant pressure.

I thought of this again when, this week, in our Covid context, our bishop (Peter Carrell) wrote to the diocese with the wise pastoral guideline:

Where communion is offered in two kinds, communion wine should be available in such a manner that no one has to reject the chalice.

I have been travelling around NZ a bit recently. At one Eucharist (I acknowledge all are doing their best in this Covid world) there were three altars: one in the sanctuary with candles lit and liturgically-coloured altar frontal. At the chancel steps was a second altar, which the presider picked up and moved around – this had wafers and a chalice (I don’t know if anything was in the chalice). A third altar was in the nave, with little communion shot glasses, half of them filled, I’m guessing, with wine or port, the other half (the colour differed) with some sort of juice. At communion time, we all went forward, and all had to circle past this third altar where everyone picked up a shot glass. More commitment was required of a person not to take a shot glass (or not to come up at all!) than of anyone coming forward to communion.

I have had people come and receive communion from me who are not baptised. I am not prepared to refuse anyone who comes forward for communion. If I discover someone is receiving communion but not baptised, I have always encouraged them to be baptised – and such conversations have always led to baptism. I have known faithful people who do not receive communion and discovered that is because they were not baptised. A conversation around that has delightfully led to baptism.

What are my conclusions:

  • I would like to see communion as normally completing the baptism rite. A revision of the baptism rite to mention communion would be a positive step (but not mentioned in such a way as to indicate that baptism was essential for communion).
  • I think our NZ Church’s formulary has it right. Those who are baptised can and should receive communion regularly. There is nothing in our Church’s formal teaching that requires baptism for communion – the unbaptised are not excluded from communion.
  • Our pastoral practice should be such that people can be present at a service and not feel pressured to receive communion.

Some previous posts on this site about this:
Baptism – communion – in which order?
Baptism – communion – which order?
Immediate Baptism

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4 thoughts on “Baptism Communion<br>in which order?”

  1. As a layman I like an open invitation to all at a Mass to receive communion. If someone is there they are a guest at the feast and it is just not on to exclude them Including the unbaptised can make them feel welcomed and lead to their becoming baptised

  2. Thanks for this, Bosco. I, too, was once a rigorist regarding the necessity of Baptism before reception of the Eucharist. However. I remember in the early days of the Charismatic Movement at St. Paul’s, Symonds Street in Auckland – which, at that time was at the centre of the Renewal Movement – there were young people coming forward for Holy Communion who had never been Baptised (though, at the time, this was not known to the Officiant clergy.

    When this was later discovered, these were encouraged to receive the Sacrament of Baptism (and, later still, Confirmation) so as to make the sacramental initiation complete.

    I believe that it was their conviction by the Holy Spirit to come forward to receive Christ in the Eucharist – and that it was that experience that then encouraged them to be Baptised. If the Church had known and insisted that they be Baptised before receiving H.C., who knows whether, or not, this juridical insistence might have put them off the Church altogether.

    After all, in the Early Church, did not someone see the actions of some of the ‘crowd’ as being ‘Christlike’ – in such a manner that they were then brought to Baptism? Who can search the depths of the Spirit? – “My ways are not your ways!”

  3. Hi Bosco

    I appreciate you gathering this all here. It’s great. I especially love the writing (and flowchart with I love f*cking bacon option) of Elizabeth Kaeton.

    The article on Francis was interesting too, having been in many Masses where ‘non-Catholics’ are invited forward at communion to make huge target cross signs across their chest. As a baptized Catholic I always go forward for the bread, and encourage any Protestant friends to do so if the Spirit moves them. Policing the Lord’s table is bad faith.

    As I get older, I appreciate that less law rather than more is often the wiser path. So I really appreciate the minimal position of the Anglican Church here on communion matters. Less law allows more space for the pastoral…..

    “In “Amoris Laetitia,” Francis “makes a radical return to an old idea but revivifies it in today’s context. He takes the idea from Aquinas that all moral knowledge is practical knowledge and that it always arises in a context,” Dr. Cahill said. “But discernment of what the context requires is necessary before knowledge is authentic and true.

    *** And so, in Chapter 8, he quotes Aquinas in saying that if you can have knowledge of a rule or knowledge of a practical reality, it’s the knowledge of the practical reality that is more important than the knowledge of the rule in terms of making a correct discernment, an authentic discernment, of what is required in a situation.” ***”

    Source:
    https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/06/03/pope-francis-amoris-laetitia-243096

    Asterisks mine.

    1. Thanks, Columba.
      You (and Francis) are quite correct: a rule is a regular response to a situation. Sometimes the situation changes – and following the rule for its own sake becomes silly. And sometimes the rule simply is not the best response to the particular.
      Blessings.

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