Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Title I, Canon 17, sec. 7

"No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church."

This canon echoes the eucharistic theology of the Book of Common Prayer and the constant teaching and practice of Christian churches from apostolic times. The Prayerbook picks up St Paul's language from 1 Corinthians 11:27-30 when it warns, "As the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord's Body" (p 316).

But a recent fad in the Episcopal Church is to entirely ignore canon law, Christian tradition, and the Apostle's caution in favor of what is sometimes called "inclusivity" or "radical hospitality" by offering Holy Communion to the unbaptized. This is not about accidental communion of the unbaptized when the priest does not know, but about openly inviting and encouraging someone who is not baptized, does not profess the Christian faith, or may openly practice another religion to recieve the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.

It is not an isolated issue. When my wife went to San Francisco on vacation a few years ago, she went to Grace Cathedral and brought back a Sunday bulletin. Looking at it, I noticed that they both invited everyone to Holy Communion (baptized or not) and also expressed in their Mission Statement: "We believe in one God, known to us in Jesus Christ, also known by different names in different traditions."

Fr Dan Martins has some insightful comments on communing the unbaptized here. On a similar theme, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops recently released a paper on worthy reception here called "Happy are those who are called to his Supper."


Anonymous said...

And what about the Real Presence? Do you allow those who see the bread and the wine as merely symbolic to receive communion? I remember reading in the Ascension (Chicago) service sheet a phrase to the effect: "Those who have been baptized who believe in the Real Presence" are invited to communion". You cite the US Conference of Catholic Bishops statement but Catholics have a very unified position on the Eucharist whereas Episcopalians have an inconsistent and often incoherent view. No wonder churches like Grace have embraced heresy when there is chaos and misdirection from Episcopal bishops.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

It is unfortunate that there is no direction right in the Prayer Book for visitors who are unsure if they should receive Holy Communion. As far as I am aware, the most recent statement is from a 1979 resolution of the General Convention. You can read the full text on one of my earlier posts, Standards for Eucharistic Sharing. It is available in print in a volume called "Ecumenism of the Possible," published by Forward Movement.

Briefly, the guidelines are that those who receive Holy Communion:
1. have been baptized and are not currently excommunicated
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.

Anonymous said...

Fine but this is not the unified belief of ECUSA. I find this the most troubling aspect of AnglicanismÑ the lack of a corporate belief in the Real Presnce.