The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is currently going on in Salt Lake City. One of Resolutions being considered was C010 “Invite All to Holy Communion”. The Resolution had the purpose of forming a task force to look at allowing all persons to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion. The Resolution originated in the House of Bishops and was defeated 79-77.
While The Episcopal Church, like my own Anglican Church of Canada, does allow Christians of other traditions to receive the Eucharist such persons must be baptized. The reason why many clergy and laity seek to do this is that they very honestly feel that having the barrier of requiring someone to be baptized is unwelcoming. This viewpoint is actually one held in the Church I grew up in, the United Church of Canada, however the Eucharistic Theology in the United Church of Canada is very different from Anglicanism. (No! I will not be bashing the United Church in this, or any other post of mine.)
When I first started attending Anglican services in 2008 I was just coming out of being an Apostate for some 5 years. (There you go: you know one of my dreaded secrets.) Thus, before I took Holy Communion for the first time in an Anglican Parish I checked to confirm I could out of respect for the Parish. (At the time I didn’t know I would be staying. Ta da!!!) Thus, my being baptized and raised a Christian enabled me access to Holy Communion some 5 years after I had left the Church. And while I greatly appreciated the fact that I could, and that I did commune that Second Sunday after Easter in 2008 (yes, I remember the date) I can tell you I would have very likely come back the next Sunday had I not taken Communion.
However when it comes down to it there are some major issues with Communion without Baptism (CWOB).
The first, and very obvious reason, is that it simply not been part of the Christian tradition as the standard practice of the Church. Heck, if we want to get technical the Catechumens, that is people seeking baptism (hence unbaptized) got kicked out of the Church and didn’t get to witness or be present at the consecration of the Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. However, one could easily and honestly retort that Tradition on its own isn’t enough and that things change. Okay, I will give them that… but this is a rather important tradition.
Second, we have scripture. Now, there is nothing explicitly saying we aren’t allowed to Commune the Unbaptized. But, it is pretty clearly that at best the New Testament points to it being a bad idea. For example in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 St. Paul tells us:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgement against themselves.
If someone has little to no experience of the Christian faith how can we expect them to be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord? How can we put that on someone? I mean, we can barely put that on ourselves.
Scripture does speak to us a great deal more on Baptism then it does the Eucharist. There are seven I usually like to point to when discussing Baptism:
- Matthew 28:19-20 which states Christ’s Great Commission to spread the Gospel, but also importantly to Baptize.
- Mark 16:16 which states that Baptism is necessary for Salvation
- Romans 6:3-11 in which St. Paul links our Baptism to Christ’s Death, Burial and Resurrection.
- Titus 3.5-7 which states that we are saved through the “water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit”
- 1 Peter 3.18-22 which states that Baptism “now saves you”.
- Colossians 2.11-15 which effectively establishes Baptism as either a replacement of Circumcision, or as the Circumcision of the New Covenant
- 1 Corinthians 12.12-13 which states that being Baptized makes one part of the mystical Body of Christ a.k.a. the Church, and therefore Christians.
It is very apparent that Scripture tells us that Christ told us to Baptize people abd that it was key to our salvation, and that the Apostles said it saved us, and that it made us Christians. It is also very likely the Circumcision of the New Covenant as in the Old Covenant the act of Circumcising a male made him Jewish.
Chapter 12 of the Book of Exodus deals with the institution of Passover, which was (and still is) an important part of the Jewish. The festival involves the slaughtering and consumption of an unblemished young male sheep or goat in celebration of their deliverance from Slavery in Egypt. The Chapter ends with the relatively important Verses 43 to 49 which makes in fantastically clear that the uncircumcised were not to partake of the Passover. What does this have anything to do with the Eucharist? In short, I would argue that the Eucharist is Passover meal of the New Covenant. For, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:7-8:
Christ our passover is sacrificed for us
So, if we were to postulate and hold that the Eucharist is the Passover of the New Covenant, then those uncircumcised according to the New Covenant (the unbaptized) are to be excluded.
I will admit that my analysis can seem cold and harsh but the truth is that the Christian doctrines surrounding the receiving of the Eucharist to the Baptized in good standing has an incredibly strong foundation in Scripture and Tradition.
The Didache (which is not part of our Canon as Anglicans but is still an excellent reference) states in Chapter 9 that only those baptized can Commune. It is from the 1st or 2nd Century AD.
The Apostolic Constitutions (Book VIII, Chapter XXXV) also states that the unbaptized are not to receive. It also states that if such a person has to instruct him and baptize him quickly. The Constitutions are argued to be from the late 4th Century AD.
Heck, it was not until the mid-20th Century that in Anglicanism that a unconfirmed person would receive the Eucharist.
I do not, in the least, want to seem disparaging to my brothers and sisters in Christ who honestly think that the Church is being unwelcoming to the unbaptized. However, we have good case not to admit them. No one is expecting that Priests be carding people at the Altar rail, or to be giving a long winded speech after the Consecration to tell the unbaptized to come up. However, if they are aware of someone attending that is not yet baptized they should not be communing them. And if at the altar rail says they never have been baptized the Priest should refrain from communing them. Beyond that our Clergy should assume likely any newcomers or visitors are baptized when they come to the Altar Rail.
In Christ, MA~
Note: Please note that an Earlier version of this post said that the Resolution was D051 and did not mention the proposed Task Force.