Comments: opinion

re Giles Frasers' excellent article; this vendetta against the Pussy Rioters, though claimed as the protection of the sacred, is indeed an elevation of the political power of Mr Putin. This shows the present relationship of Church and State in Russia.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 11 August 2012 at 11:45am BST

Wiseman's conclusion - that we are worthy of receiving the Bread of Life and that supposed misconceptions about unworthiness should be brushed aside - strikes me as seriously wrongheaded. To paraphrase the Prayer Book slightly, we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under God's Table, but we trust in God's merciful nature to let us eat at that Table anyway.

It strikes me that this is perhaps at the root of the Communion without Baptism controversy in the American Church. It may be that proponents of explicitly inviting non-Christians to Communion think that the traditional teaching is that the unbaptized are unworthy of Holy Communion, whereas the baptized are worthy. If so, it's a serious misunderstanding of historic Christian teaching. All those people on their knees professing their unworthiness to even gather up crumbs were precisely the baptized. Wiseman's not an Episcopalian, of course, but I could easily imagine her column coming from an ECUSA author.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Sunday, 12 August 2012 at 7:00pm BST

I've only been part of the Episcopal church for a couple of years, but I must say I have missed the controversy that Mr. Dilworth alleges. I have never seen any statement about receiving communion other than that all baptised Christians are welcome to receive.

So I can't take seriously the claim that an ECUSA author might have written the column except as a bad faith attempt to cause trouble.

Posted by Gene O'Grady at Monday, 13 August 2012 at 3:16pm BST

Bill-- I see that you engaged this question on the Episcopal Cafe posting, where another commenter quoted Eucharistic Prayer B of the American Prayer Book: "In [Jesus], you [, Father,] have . . . made us worthy to stand before you." There's a good discussion between those two quotes. I don't think this bears too directly on the "Communion Before Baptism" issue, though. CBB pertains far more to the nature of being in Christ, while the worthiness of those who commune bears far more on the power of God to make whole, a power, as the Collect of Proper 21 has it, that is expressed chiefly in showing mercy. In any case, the Church--the Bishops more than the Deputies--have confirmed the traditional pattern of "Baptism Before Communion." The issue will likely not go away, however.

Posted by Paul Theerman at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 12:23am BST

Mr O'Grady, it was actually one of the issues discussed at General Convention this year, and has gotten a fair amount of coverage in the blogosphere. For more information, see this news story from the Episcopal News Service:

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 6:26am BST

Dear Bill,

An interesting point about "worthiness". As you say, the prayer of humble access contains the cry 'We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table'. On the other hand, a little earlier in the Holy Communion service in the 1662 BCP, there is an exhortation which contains detailed instructions for how to 'be received as worthy partakers of that holy Table'. I guess one could sum it up by saying that one becomes worthy by recognising one's own unworthiness - which does indeed resonate with baptism.

Posted by Feria at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 11:37am BST

Paul, given the rhetoric of some proponents, I think that the issue if "worthiness" drives some of the practice. I've seen lots of arguments for it that appeal to the table fellowship of Christ - his having eaten with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners, claiming that if Christ ate with "sinners" then we should, too. Besides a bad...

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 12:19pm BST

...bad analogy (the corollary to the unbaptized in Christ's ministry would be the Gentiles, not Jewish sinners), it puts us in the role of Christ rather than Christ's guests. The implication is, at least for those proponents, that what keeps people away from Communion is their supposed unworthiness, and we need to assure them of their worthiness.

I also think that for many in the Church it's not that we are made worthy through the mercy of Gos, but that God recognizes our inherent worthiness. They're two different concepts.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 12:25pm BST

Feria, thanks for the tie-in to the Exhortation. Of course, when it was written and until fairly recently, I suppose there was an assumption that anyone likely to hear it had been baptized as an infant.

Your summation of it reminds me of a priest, whose father (also a priest) pointed out how bad a guide our own judgments and feelings are at times. The subject was whether or not to wear the ashes imposed on Ash Wednesday throughout the day. His father said that if you were eager to wear them, you probably should wash them off in the restroom before leaving the church; on the other hand, if the thought of wearing them out in "secular" society made you uncomfortable, you probably should make yourself wear them all day. In the present discussion I suppose the parallel might be that if someone thought that they were worthy of receiving, it might be a good idea to stay away, and if you think you're unworthy you should definitely come up - the Sacrament is there precisely for the unworthy.

It also puts me in mind of an old explanation of the differences between the Universalist Church and the Unitarians before they merged here in the States. Both believed that they were going to Heaven - the Universalists, because they believed God was too good to damn them, and the Unitarians, because they thought they were too good to be damned.

The idea of a sense of unworthiness keeping people away doesn’t really ring true in most places in the Episcopal Church in the US, I suspect, because most parishes follow the BCP ‘79’s instruction that the Eucharist is to be the main Sunday service; in most places it’s the only Sunday service. Anyone who would be likely to abstain from Communion probably wouldn’t come to church in the first place – even in a lot of Anglo-Catholic venues the idea of non-communicating attendance at the Eucharist is a thing of the distant past. For Lutherans and a lot of parishes in the Church of England that have not lost the tradition of Morning Prayer as the regular Sunday service, with occasional celebrations of the Eucharist and early celebrations, it might be more of a concern.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 4:54pm BST

The question of who is be allowed to come to the table is an old one, dating back at least to Isaac of Nineveh: “Did not our Lord share his table with tax collectors and harlots?”
Communion before baptism was certainly discussed at General Convention, but the traditional canon was eventually affirmed by virtue of the bishops' vote against the proposed vevision. The laity (77% in favor) and clergy (64% in favor) would have changed it to allow open communion.
Of course, back in 1883, the bishops voted to adopt the "Sewanee Canon," which would have put all the "negro parishes" (as they were then called) in a single non-geographic diocese, thus making us a "separate-and-very-unequal" denomination. The laity blocked that one (thanks be to God).
The Episcopal Church’s willingness to reexamine this and other traditional teachings strikes me as the very essence of Anglicanism: “If we are to retain the old Anglican foundations of research and fair statement, we must revise some of the decisions provisionally given upon imperfect evidence; or, if we shrink from doing so, we must abdicate our ancient claim to build upon the truth; and our retreat will be either to Rome, as some of our lost ones have consistently seen, or to some form, equally evil, of darkness voluntary” (Rowland Williams 1817-70).

Posted by Steve Lusk at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 6:16pm BST

The fact that we invite whoever comes through our doors to receive Holy Communion is seen by our parishioners as a central and defining characteristic of our ministry. This practice has become a growing movement within our Church and, indeed, it will not go away.

Posted by Old Father William at Tuesday, 14 August 2012 at 10:51pm BST

Steve Lusk, a couple of observations:

1. When read in context, the quote from Isaac of Nineveh turns out to have nothing to do with Holy Communion at all, but comes in a discussion of who is a legitimate recipient of charity. Its use by the parish of St Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco, and its further popularization in Sarah Miles' book _Take This Bread_ as if it were an endorsement of Communion without Baptism is a misapplication of St Isaac's words. The quote itself can be found in context here:

2. The House of Deputies did not vote for what you call "open communion" quite as enthusiastically as you appear to claim. The House of Bishops concurred with the resolution that the House of Deputies sent them, with the exception of the last sentence reading "We also acknowledge that in various local contexts there is the exercise of pastoral sensitivity with those who are not yet baptized." The remaining part of the resolution ("Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, that The Episcopal Church reaffirms that baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion and that our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to go into the world and baptize all peoples.") remained as passed by the HoD.

Posted by Bill Dilworth at Wednesday, 15 August 2012 at 2:59am BST

From historical evidence in the Church, we can see that it is the greatest saints who are only too well aware of their own worthiness before God. Saint Francis of Assisi often called himself the most unworthy sinner. Even Saint Paul acknowledges his own 'righteousness' as being 'like filthy rags'. The nearer we come to Christ, the more unworthy we realise ourselves to be of God's love and mercy. That's called 'reality therapy'.

I suppose the real point for us sinners is that we can never account ourselves righteous - under any circumstance. We can only cling to the redeeming righteousness of Christ himself - whom we embrace in the Eucharist.

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Thursday, 16 August 2012 at 11:08am BST
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