Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Holy Communion in the Church in Wales to be open to all the baptised - 2

Updated Thursday

I linked earlier to the Pastoral Letter from the bishops of the Church in Wales opening Holy Communion to all the baptised. At that time the letter was only available on the website of the diocese of St Davids. It has now been published on the provincial website, along with this press release:

Confirmation no longer required for Holy Communion – Bishops’ letter

Anyone who has been baptised will be able to receive Holy Communion in church, regardless of whether they have also been confirmed, under new guidance coming into effect in November.

The Church in Wales is re-adopting the practice of the early church on admission to Communion – the sharing of bread and wine – in an effort to strengthen ministry to children and young people in particular.

In recent times, people wishing to receive Communion have usually had to have been confirmed first – confirming promises made on their behalf at their baptism as infants. However, from the First Sunday in Advent – November 27 – everyone who has been baptised will be able to receive Holy Communion. The policy will be rolled out across the parishes and ministry areas over the next year…

As well as the pastoral letter itself, there are three other related documents available for download.

Pastoral Letter
Theological Background
Church Guidance
Congregation Guidance

These links are to pdfs of the English versions. Welsh versions, and Word documents are also available.

Update

David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer of Law & Religion UK have a helpful summary of the new documents, and of the law about giving alcohol to the under-fives, here.

Posted by Peter Owen on Tuesday, 27 September 2016 at 10:42pm BST | TrackBack
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Comments

Glad to see this in principle, but the papers seem slightly confused about whether children are still to be "admitted" to Holy Communion, with that moment being prepared for and marked. They are to be given a certificate of first communion. But how will a priest know if a visiting child who receives Holy Communion is doing so for the first time? The suggested invitation doesn't invite those who usually receive Holy Communion, but anyone who is baptized-- which suggests that no preparation at all is envisaged for a First Communion beyond the service itself at which Holy Communion is given.

Posted by: Russell on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 12:36am BST

It is called decline. Unless they do this, they will end up with next to no one attending communion, except those who don't know the rules. When does shrinkage reach a critical mass (pun intended) that things start to fall in?

Posted by: Pluralist on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 2:01am BST

Aha! One more fence removed. Congratulations Church in Wales!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 2:30am BST

Wow! At long last something "Orthodox" from the Church in Wales! I suppose that when you are only attracting 1% of the total population residing on the other side of Offa's Dyke - you have to come up with some dramatic solution in an attempt to increase your Communicant figures.

Posted by: Father David on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 3:06am BST

A bishop friend, when approached by an anxious parent who wondered if her child was too young to understand the sacrament, inquired of her if she understood the sacrament. He answered her fears: "It's a mystery; perfect understanding is not required."

Posted by: Tom Downs on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 4:23pm BST

Tom, the bishop is so right.

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 8:36pm BST

I understand there is a case for offering communion even to infants but believe the 'Theological Background' rather worryingly misses the point of potential concerns. Surely these are not about the worthiness of children to receive God's love but rather respect for their autonomy and willingness to wait for their informed consent to deny themselves, take up the cross and follow Christ?

As Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry pointed out in 1982, 'In the eucharist, Christ empowers us to live with him, to suffer with him and to pray through him as justified sinners... The eucharistic celebration demands reconciliation and sharing among all those regarded as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social,economic and political life (Matt. 5:23f; I Cor. 10:16f; I Cor.11:20—22; Gal. 3:28). All kinds of injustice, racism, separation and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ... As participants in the eucharist, therefore, we prove inconsistent if we are not actively participating in this ongoing restoration of the world’s situation and the human condition... Christians are called in the
eucharist to be in solidarity with the outcast
and to become signs of the love of Christ who lived and sacrificed himself for all and now gives himself in the eucharist.' I wonder how much we can expect young children to risk and suffer as heralds of the Kingdom of God and why such issues are not at least addressed in these statements? Perhaps a rather comfortable version of Christianity has become so entrenched in much of the West that questions of this kind can be overlooked?

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 8:47pm BST

At the local parish here in Sewanee Tenn where I am currently staying it just seemed very natural...though children / babies were all with their parents.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Wednesday, 28 September 2016 at 10:05pm BST

Yes, there is a strange conundrum surrounding our approach to reception of the Eucharist. On the one hand, we are warned in Scripture not to receive the Body and Blood of Christ 'unworthily'. And yet, in the Prayer of Humble Access we atcually declare our 'unworthiness'. For me, a priest of the Church, I have to admit to my own 'unworthiness' to receive Christ in the Eucharist, but still He welcomes me!

And Jesus did say, "suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for OF SUCH is the Kingdom of Heaven". Trump that!

As someone here has already (I think, wisely) said. The Holy Eucharist is a wonderful Mystery. Not fully understood by any of us in this earthly realm. Jesus is the Host at His Table.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Thursday, 29 September 2016 at 2:09am BST

The Eastern Church has communicated infants, time out of mind. How can that be a problem? Does Baptism confer church membership or does it not?

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Thursday, 29 September 2016 at 10:19am BST

Savi writes: "Surely these [concerns] are not about the worthiness of children to receive God's love but rather respect for their autonomy and willingness to wait for their informed consent to deny themselves, take up the cross and follow Christ?"

Those are concerns about infant baptism, however, rather than Communion per se. Once a church baptizes infants, the rest just follows on.

Posted by: Geoffrey on Thursday, 29 September 2016 at 2:31pm BST

Savi said: "I understand there is a case for offering communion even to infants but believe the 'Theological Background' rather worryingly misses the point of potential concerns. Surely these are not about the worthiness of children to receive God's love but rather respect for their autonomy and willingness to wait for their informed consent to deny themselves, take up the cross and follow Christ?"

I think I understand the concern, but there is a sense in which children too young to make their own decision are in any case involved in the risk and sacrifice their parents make, whether they like it or not, so it makes sense that they have the sustenance to deal with that. They may, for example, have to come to church with their parents when they would rather not, until they are old enough to be left on their own. They may have to "share" their parents with people the parent's calling commits them to serving. They may, in extreme cases, be affected by persecution meted out to the parents because of their faith. Presumably no one would force a child to take communion, any more than they would force an adult, but if they want it, why should it be denied them.

Posted by: Anne Le Bas on Thursday, 29 September 2016 at 2:37pm BST

Savi Hensman's comments are well taken, as always, but on the other hand, as a priest who always gives HC to the newly baptised, including babies and children, if the parents agree, I remember a story which bishop John Flack once told me. He said that when he was 7 yrs old, he told his parish priest that he wanted to receive Holy Communion. The priest told him he was "too young to understand" the meaning of the sacrament. "He was right of course that I didn't understand the sacred mystery", said Bishop John, "and I still don't," He was pushing 70 at the time.

Posted by: Sara MacVane on Thursday, 29 September 2016 at 4:17pm BST

Re Daniel Berrys post. Its my understanding that the western church also comminicated babies/ children until about the 13c It is not often known that the Hussites demanded not only the restoration of the chalice to the laity but also the restoration of infant communion.

Posted by: Perry Butler on Thursday, 29 September 2016 at 6:34pm BST

@ Perry Butler: Thanks for that bit of information. I've often found much to admire in the Hussites and similar groups.

One of the anomalies of Savi Hensman's position is failure to recognize the importance of inclusion and nurture in the body of Christ. As to the taking up the cross part, that similarly must be nurtured into us. How young is too young to begin teaching a person to look away from her or himself and think about others? I still require daily coaching in this area, and i've not missed a Sunday and Holy Day communion in more than 50 years except when down with the flu. You're entitled to your own piety, Ms Hensman, but its severity gives me pause, and doesn't have very good theological grounding. The Sacrament isn't a reward for being old enough, good enough, having the right catechism answers memorized, or even for being altruistic enough: it's food for the journey into sanctification.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 30 September 2016 at 11:58am BST

Yes, Perry Butler is correct. Baptism led to communion in the early centuries.

I find that many theological colleges do not teach ordinands about the history of initiation and hence how the separation of baptism from communion is an accident, as is the development of confirmation in the middle ages in the west.

Students on the Eastern Region Ministry Course, including Readers, are of course well taught about the history of initiation!

Posted by: Charles Read on Friday, 30 September 2016 at 6:09pm BST

"Baptism led to communion in the early centuries." I could register the point about what we don't know in the first and second century, but what we do know, for sure, is that preparation for baptism of adults was far, far more intense, thorough, and prolonged than is customary with us today communion-wide.

I read the movement expressed in most of the comments above as a continuing trend to lessen our zeal for catechesis and conversion. The comments by the Bishop who said he doesn't "perfectly" understand communion (as if that were the issue) are not, for me, an occasion of gladness, and sound more like shirking responsibility to teach what we're commanded to teach.

Posted by: William (Bill) Paul III on Saturday, 1 October 2016 at 3:57pm BST

Anne, you make a strong point, which I wish had come across in the Church in Wales' communications on this matter.

Daniel, regarding inclusion and nurture in the Body of Christ, including taking up the cross, should there not be an element of choice in aspects of this, made when a person can comprehend what this means? For instance I think of relatives and friends who have put their lives on the line to defend love and justice but I would be intensely uneasy at an infant in my family doing the same. I would even feel uncomfortable about asking a child who has not yet developed a secure attachment to their primary caregivers to choose Christ over them (Matthew 10.34-39, Luke 14.25-27). Perhaps this is just because I am too pious and severe!

Posted by: Savi Hensman on Sunday, 2 October 2016 at 9:15am BST

As someone who has started going to the Orthodox Church it's wonderful to see young children receive communion and to venerate the icons. You have to remember though that orthodoxy doesn't change to suit the changing modern world. As it was in the beginning is now and will be tomorrow.

Posted by: Henry dee on Sunday, 2 October 2016 at 9:22am BST

"At long last something "Orthodox" from the Church in Wales! I suppose that when you are only attracting 1% of the total population ... you have to come up with some dramatic solution in an attempt to increase your Communicant figures."

I both give&receive snark around here. But I'm "Orthodox" enough to feel compelled to say that this level of cynicism ***re Our Lord's Body & Blood*** is entirely uncalled for ("And you a priest", Father David)

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 3 October 2016 at 11:42am BST
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