Friday, April 07, 2006

Standards for Eucharistic sharing

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In looking ahead to prepare for the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, I was reminded that there has been recent scandal about the practice of "open communion" in some Episcopal Churches, such as Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. "Open Communion" refers to the practice [which goes against both canon law and biblical precedent] of offering Holy Communion to anyone, be they Christians of other denominations, people of other religions, or people of no faith at all. Many are aware of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox disciplines of not offering Holy Communion to those outside their church, but there is great confusion about what the official policy for Episcopal churches (whether it is followed or not) actually is. Here are "the rules" about Eucharistic sharing (i.e., administering Holy Communion to Christians of other denominations). The whole text of the most recent statement on the matter from the 1979 General Convention is posted below. I have highlighted portions that I find particularly significant. It seems to me that it is a very thoughtful and balanced policy.

Standards for Eucharistic sharing (1979)

House of Bishops
On the fifth day, the Bishop of Kentucky, Chairman of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations, moved the adoption of Resolution A-43 as amended:

Whereas, the Holy Communion must be seen in its proper context as the fellowship of committed Christians in the household of the Apostolic faith, to which we are admitted through Baptism; and

Whereas, in the Apostolic tradition which the Episcopal Church maintains and practices, the normative condition of the Church is a union in one fellowship of faith, of hearing and proclaiming the Word, of sacramental practice, of personal relations and of Church order; and

Whereas, since the General Convention of 1967 adopted a Statement of Communion Discipline, several developments have occurred that affect the practice in this Church of admitting members of other Churches to partake of the Lord's Supper at altars in the Episcopal Church, to wit:

(a) The admission of children not yet confirmed has put the focus on Baptism within our tradition and communion of faith as the sacramental prerequisite for receiving Holy Communion.

(b) The Proposed Book of Common Prayer locates the Eucharist in a central place in the life of the Christian family. All rites in the new book are placed in the context of the Eucharist.

(c) The positive response to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission's Agreed Statement on the Eucharist (Windsor 1971) undergirds the strong agreement in this Church on the Eucharist as a mystery offered by God to his gathered Church, and the recognition of Christ's real presence in this sacrament.

(d) Ecumenical practice increasingly calls for mutual participation in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper as a means to unity and not just a sign of unity.

(e) Inasmuch as the sharing in Christ's body and blood is a sign of and a means toward a growing unity in Him, a certain openness to eucharistic sharing with those of other Communioins should be maintained. This stance, however, requires a real sensitivity to the constraints of conscience on those whose Churches officially do not approve of this sacramental participation.

(f) Whenever provision is made for Eucharistic sharing under these special circumstances, it needs to be done in such a way that the receiving of Communion strengthens and sustains the responsible participation of a Christian in the ecclesial body to which he belongs; therefore be it

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring. That the following standard be adopted for those of other Churches who on occasion desire to receive the Holy Communion in the Episcopal Church:

a. They shall have been baptized with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and shall have previously been admitted to the Holy Communion within the Church to which they belong.

b. They shall examine their lives, repent of their sins, and be in love and charity with all people, as this Church in its catechism (PBCP, p. 860) says is required of all those who come to the Eucharist.

c. They shall approach the Holy Communion as an expression of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ whose sacrifice once upon the cross was sufficient for all mankind.

d. They shall find in this Communion the means to strengthen their , life within the Christian family "through the forgiveness of (their) sins, the strengthening of (their) union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet..." (PBCP, p. 859-60)

e. Their own consciences must always be respected as must the right of their own Church membership to determine the sacramental discipline of those who, by their own choice, make that their spiritual home. And be it further

Resolved, That the Commentary on Eucharistic Sharing, which has been recommended by the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations and is appended to this official Report to the 66th Convention, be hereby commended as a pastoral context for the interpretation of these standards.


Commentary On Eucharistic Sharing

A. Fundamental Understandings

The Holy Communion is a sacramental event in the life of God's people. It is a special offering of thanksgiving by those who are united by a common faith, responsive to the Word proclaimed in their midst and recalling in Eucharistic Liturgy the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, their common Lord. It is a sacrament of unity for God's people, as it is the divine presence of the one and undivided Lord, and serves to bind into a common body those whose differences He has reconciled.

There is a very special relationship between the Holy Communion and the koinonia, or community in which it is celebrated. That community is in some way always related to a larger community of the Holy Catholic Church. Yet each Eucharistic community must have a life of its own as well—faith, fellowship, and response to the Word of God. Since each individual Eucharistic koinonia is an expression of a larger community, it is subject to the regulation and direction expressed, however imperfectly, by that larger community.

B. The Present Reality

1. Normative Practice
We are constantly faced with the anomaly of celebrating the Sacrament of unity within the pain of incompleteness caused by divisions within the Body of Christ. This is less apparent when the gathered community is united in faith and order, as is the case when only Episcopalians are in attendance at a celebration presided over by an Episcopal priest or bishop. Eucharistic sacrifice is but a single offering. But at least the norms, standards, and disciplines of the Episcopal Church apply equally to all who are present. (Where there is a concordat of intercommunion with another church, freedom of access to the Holy Communion of both bodies is generally offered to all members in good standing in their own church.)Increasingly this church must face the reality of exceptional cases and special circumstances wherein these conditions do not all prevail and for which some consistent standards are necessary as a basis for Eucharistic sharing.

2. Exceptional Cases
The exceptional case of an individual under circumstances of emergency needs, spiritual and pastoral, is widely recognized within the catholic church. Emergency needs of this kind are so exceptional that there is no way to regulate the occasional act of shared communion by a Christian of another church who requests the Sacrament of Our Lord's Body and Blood, out of a deep need for grace.

3. Special Circumstances
By far the greater concern for communion involving persons of other churches is presented by those special cases where some but not all of the elements normally required for the church's Holy Communion are present. It is the bishop of each diocese who shall be ultimately responsible for interpreting the extend of participation by non-Episcopalians in such special cases, according to the criteria of this commentary.


4. Respect for Church Discipline
Whatever provision is made for Eucharistic sharing under these special circumstances needs to be done in such a way that the receiving of communion strengthens and sustains the responsible participation of a Christian in the ecclesial body to which he belongs. Certainly his own conscience must always be respected as must the right of his own church to determine the sacramental discipline of those who, by their own choice, make that their spiritual home.


C. Receiving Communion in a Church Other Than That of Membership

When non-Anglicans attend a Holy Communion Service where an Episcopal bishop or priest is presiding, their reception of the elements of the Communion is appropriate when these four conditions are applicable:

a. They shall have been baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and have been admitted to the Holy Communion within the Church to which they belong.

b. They shall "examine (their) lives, repent of (their) sins, and be in love and charity with all people," as this church in its catechism, (PBCP, p. 860), says is required of all those who come to the Eucharist.

c. They shall approach the Holy Communion as an expression of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ whose sacrifice once upon the cross was sufficient for all mankind.

d. They shall find in this Communion the means to strengthen their life within the Christian family through the forgiveness of (their) sins, the strengthening of (their) union with Christ and one another and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet... (PBCP p. 859-60).

If local circumstances present a pastoral need for apublic invitation, it should not in any way be coercive, nor should it be in terms of an "open Communion" applied indiscriminately to anyone desiring to receive Communion.

Serious attention needs to be given to the repeated practice of communicating in an Episcopal Church on the part of someone who holds nominal membership in another church even to the exclusion of worship in his own communion. It is no service to the unity of Christ's Church when one group contributes to the weakening of loyalty and undermining of discipline of another. Dealing honestly with the problems raised in such a case is a pastoral responsibility of the church and frequently becomes the occasion for a renewed Christian commitment and a more responsive decision about church membership within the Body of Christ.

All of these considerations naturally raise the question which faces a member of the Episcopal Church who is present when the Holy Communion is celebrated in another Christian Church. In general the same standards which should apply for those who intend to receive Communion at Episcopal altars should be present. It is important that church members respect the teaching and discipline of the church by whose authorization the Sacrament is celebrated as well as those of their own church. In cases of doubt the counsel and direction of the ordinary and/or the parish priest should be sought to give guidance. Once again the ultimate guide of conscience informed by the teachings of the Church will be expected to determine the individual decision. The action of receiving the Holy Communion in a church other than one's own should be the consequence of an intentional decision for the unity of Christ's Body as well as a response to personal spiritual need. It should not be an avoidance of coming to terms with difficulties, an act of convenience, a cover for embarrassment at being different, or the avoidance of coming to terms with difficulties in one's own church. To communicate at the altar of another church is a solemn act of faith and unity within a divided church, and can only be justified if it builds for the unity of God's people because of church doctrine, discipline or reasons of conscience. One of the realities of life within a divided Church is the very brokenness at the Table of the Lord. There is great temptation to pretend that this is not true or to believe that we as individuals can do what denominations still feel should not be done. This is an experience of the Cross in a sinful world. Often it is more appropriate to bear the pain and give testimony to the integrity of faith and discipline in one's church than to act as though full unity existed where it does not. For centuries individual Christians have found both blessing and pain in a kind of spiritual communion which is possible on occasions when it is unappropriate to participate in the Breaking of Bread with other Christians. The spiritual communion is in itself a participation in the presence of Him who died upon the Cross to the end that full unity might one day be restored. Both the blessing and the pain to those who have such spiritual communion together, when Eucharistic sharing is not possible, give added incentive to work for the full and complete unity within the Body of Christ.

7 comments:

dopel said...

This is confusing. The first part sounds as if the Episcopal church is saying in the 1979 "Standards for Eucharistic sharing" that it is ok for a baptised Christian who is not an Episcopalian to receive Communion. But then the second half, your comentary, these cases are not in regular Episcopal services but only under very rate and unsual circumstances. Please be more clear

Timotheos Prologizes said...

I think the vision that the statement has overall is that it would be a rare occurance, or an exception to the norm, and the criteria for allowing a non-Episcopalian to receive would be the same for an Episcopalian: that they. . .

1. have been baptized and are not currently excommunicated (e.g. that would mean no divorced Roman Catholics)
2. are penitent for all their sins
3. believe in the Real Presence (i.e. that the "bread" and "wine" are truly the flesh and blood of Jesus) and believe in the atonement
4. believe in the sacramental nature of the Holy Communion

dopel said...

What are these exceptions and rare occurances? Are you saying that if a baptised Christian from a non-Episcopal church was visiting an Episcopal church that would or would not be an exception.

Timotheos Prologizes said...

Yes, the expections in the resolution refer to giving the Sacrament to baptized non-Anglicans.

Timotheos Prologizes said...

Here is the mission statement from Grace Cathedral, SF, CA:
We believe in one God, known to us in Jesus Christ, also known by different names in different traditions. We
seek to challenge and transform the world, beginning with ourselves, and to celebrate the image of God in
every person. We are a house of prayer, worship, and service for everyone, welcoming all who seek an
inclusive community of love.
All who seek God and are drawn to Christ are welcome at God’s table.

One Sunday morning anthem at the Breaking of the Bread:
We break this bread for those who journey the way of the Hindus, for those who follow
the path of the Buddha, for our sisters and brothers of Islam, for the Jewish People from
whom we come, and for all those who walk the way of faith.

Jody said...

Thanks for posting this, but I would like some clarification on this... It's my understanding that this is, as a resolution of the General Convention, only a guideline and is therefore non-binding and is open to the interpretation of the Diocesan Bishop and under their authority, individual rectors. I'm not saying this is good or bad, just offering it as a point of clarification (GC resolutions are all non-binding and I find it helpful to think of them on the same plane as Lambeth resolutions at the international level. The only teeth any GC resolution might have is found in the actions of the Episcopal Public policy Office. At any rate, other than canons, only the rubrics of the BCP rise to the authority of canons and are therefore binding.

What I agree 100% *is not* open to interpretation, are the canons which stipulate that anyone recieveing the Eucharist be a Christian baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit i.e. I.17.7: No unbaptized person shall be eligible to recieve Holy Communion in this Church.

DavidJustinLynch said...

The Body and Blood of Jesus, who is physically present in the Sacrament, belongs to Him and not to us. He is not the chattel of any eccesial body or person, and therefore, no one has the right to control who will receive Him. He gave himself freely on the cross because He loved all of us, not just those of a certain denomination. Every person at any Eucharist of any denomination has an absolute right to receive communion, period, end of story.