on Saturday, 20 June 2015 at 10.00 am by Peter Owen
categorised as Opinion
Giles Fraser The Guardian Pope Francis is a bit like Naomi Klein in a cassock
Margaret Pritchard Houston The body of Christ, given for you
Ian Meredith Church Times How to regain funerals from civil celebrants
I hope Bishop John Flack doesn’t mind my quoting him here, but when I was getting ready to be ordained he told me that when he was a small boy he had asked his priest for Holy Communion and the priest had replied, No, you don’t know what it means. “Right he was too”, John continued, “and I still don’t.” I think the Eastern Church has got it right in this instance; our baptism should be all we need to receive HC. And then again, maybe not, for at one Church where I served, a young man who was raised… Read more »
What the author of the CT article appears to forget is that Readers may take funerals in most dioceses. However, some clergy are reluctant to share this ministry- a newly arrived incumbent in my diocese told his reader at their first meeting ‘you will never take a funeral as long as I am the incumbent.’ Nothing like collaborative ministry – and that was certainly nothing like it.
On the one hand, I can see the attraction of offering Holy Communion to everyone in its reflection of God’s boundless love. On the other hand, I go back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words in The Cost of Discipleship: ‘Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross… Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the… Read more »
I agree (mostly) with Savi’s comment. I was baptised when only a few days old as I was born prematurely, in a small country town, in the early 1950’s and so was not expected to live. I’m grateful my parents chose to do this. Parents who want to baptise children shouldn’t be turned away but perhaps a more rigorous approach has long-term benefits.
To me, baptism is passing through the Red Sea (in other words, the entire community of a faith, including babes in arms. It marks the priority of the saving act of Jesus on the Cross (what He does for us, not what we do for Him). Confirmation (the mark of growing into our salvation) is the crossing of the Jordan, into the inheritance. Not everyone who left Egypt actually entered the land, but the entire community was shepherded by God on the journey there. To me, infant baptism is symbolic of this priority of God’s action of salvation. As to… Read more »
I was also baptised as a child, Pam. I think the journey of faith can start as a child, especially if one is part of a community that following Christ can be costly. But the version of Christianity that the article seems to convey is one where nothing is asked of disciples that a small child cannot sign up to; there is no acknowledgement for instance that ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up… Read more »
Susannah, with regard to your suggestion to ‘leave each person to come to the altar/table with their own conscience’, I am not sure that would work well with young children. I think when I was five, say, if there had been an expectation from the adults around me that I would take communion, I would have done so. But, though I knew a fair bit about Christianity by then, I do not believe I would have been able to give informed consent, so to speak.
I doubt whether or not confirmation really gives anyone (lay or ordained) some Aquinas like insight into the nature of the Eucharist. Also, and I’m not being cynical, there are all sorts of Eucharistic theologies in Anglicanism, depending on one’s level of churchmanship, etc. At its most extreme, your priest who celebrates at the shrine of Walsingham is going to have a radically different take than your average Sydney Anglican presbyter. Finally, I wonder what the historical background of the differences between ECUSA and the CofE are with regards to this. Is the CofE’s perspective of being more deferential to… Read more »
Savi,re: cheap grace. You need not think of communing a child as cheapening God’s grace. It was God who paid a very high price; it’s not our doing. Our appreciation of what God did for us (through our confession)does not add to the value of that grace, nor would our failure to fully appreciate the cost diminish it’s value. If what Bonhoeffer really wanted is for us to take our relationship with God seriously, then parents who still bring their children to church when the culture around them says it’s a waste of time are serious indeed. As far as… Read more »
We don’t expect small children to be able to give informed consent to eating the food we set before them at mealtimes, to understand the precise calorie and vitamin content of the bowl of cornflakes etc. We feed them because they are hungry and we know that the food (and the sharing of it) will be good for them. I don’t see communion as a statement of faith, but as nourishment for growing Christians, who find in it a sign of God’s love and acceptance. In the early days of admitting children to communion in the C of E I… Read more »
Well said, Tom. I read Bonhoeffer’s book many years ago and it made a great impression on me. But we need to also remember the context in which it was written in the same way as understanding the times of persecution the church was going through affected Mark’s gospel. I don’t think we can apply this to children receiving communion. Jesus had table fellowship with all sorts that were considered undesirable. Is anybody in a better position so as to be a judge of who is worthy to come to our Lord’s table or not, and what their motives may… Read more »
As Margaret Pritchard Houston’s article noted, admitting baptized children to communion is widespread in TEC. This resulted from the serious reflection of the meaning of baptism connected with the 1979 BCP — baptism makes one fully Christian while confirmation is an adult reaffirmation of that fact; confirmation does not make one a super-Christian. Giving communion to baptized children is not the same as giving communion to “everyone,” something with entirely different considerations. These children are being raised in Christian homes by Christian parents. I love giving communion to children. In my experience, they have not only a trust that we’re… Read more »
I think it was Colin Gunton who, defending the paedobaptist position, remarked that the Kingdom of God would be a very strange place if it didn’t include among its number babies and small children. Likewise I think that it is a very strange church that doesn’t envisage a place for children at the eschatological banquet. Accepting the Eucharist is not a reward for meeting a certain standard of maturity or theological education, but is rather about letting your life be shaped by the experience of the sacrament. And nobody is ever too young for that. “Informed consent” (and what a… Read more »
Giles Fraser The Guardian “Pope Francis is a bit like Naomi Klein in a cassock”
Well, the title is certainly click-bait, but can anyone quickly summarize what Fraser means? [He just repeats the line in the essay, w/o any other explanation. I get that Klein is an author and social critic, but more than that, Fraser seems to assume we know.]
The discussion about children and communion is going down the predictable, Protestant route of worthy reception to, somehow, validate an understanding of the meaning of the sacrament. It is a very utilitarian view. It suggests a lack of confidence in the divine initiative (as if we have to ‘protect’ God from all these children who are deemed not to understand). It’s about time we regained some confidence and put our sacramental theology into action – i.e. if someone is baptized, they are baptized and admitted to the full sacramental life of the Church. My cousins in Spain, who received their… Read more »
While there are indeed among Anglicans a variety of Eucharistic theologies within Anglicanism, if we pay attention to the authorized formularies of our Church they do set certain parameters.It shouldn’t be simply what I make it! As a Church we have engaged with many different Churches…RC, Lutheran, Reformed,Orthodox and signed up to ecumenical agreements.Was this in vain?
As someone who has been involved in ministerial education and latterly post ordination training I am depressed by how little ordinands seem to know about Reformation disagreements and Ecumenical convergence.
I recognise that there are varying views about whether all the baptised should participate in Holy Communion or indeed whether even baptism is required. But the reasons why offering the bread and wine to infants has not been the general practice in the Western churches should be taken seriously – not because children are any less worthy of God’s love but because sharing in the life of the crucified and risen Christ, being his hands and feet in the world today, involves risk and pain as well as joy. While we may share ice-cream with young children, we might not… Read more »
“if we pay attention to the authorized formularies”
If you’re referring to the 39 Articles (relegated to the back of the 1970 BCP in teh historical document section), they aren’t binding for Americans, and lots of Catholic CofE clergy tend to ignore them.
“I hope Bishop John Flack doesn’t mind my quoting him here, but when I was getting ready to be ordained he told me that when he was a small boy he had asked his priest for Holy Communion and the priest had replied, No, you don’t know what it means. “Right he was too”, John continued, “and I still don’t.”
A bishop who doesn’t understand his own eucharistic theology sounds like a Catholic/Orthodox paraody of an Anglican.
I don’t think there’s any issue with John Flack’s understanding of Eucharistic theology. Just last Sunday (8 days ago) he presided at a celebration of the Eucharist at which I was MC, so I have first-hand experience of seeing him in action. Pretty good sermon on the Eucharist too. The comment above was surely about what we can actually *know* about a mystery.
I’m pretty sure St Thomas Aquinas felt the same as Bishop Flack.
“Dogma datur Christianis,
quod in carnem transit panis,
et vinum in sanguinem.
Quod non capis, quod non vides,
animosa firmat fides,
praeter rerum ordinem.”
(“This the truth to Christians given:
Bread becomes His Flesh from Heaven,
Wine becomes His holy Blood.
Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Yet by faith, thy sight transcending,
Wondrous things are understood.”)
In the Cof E Amanda the 39 Articles are part of a package that includes the BCP and the Ordinal.I also mentioned ecumenical convergence to which I would want to add significant liturgical convergence. I was simply making the point that we have a body of Anglican Eucharistic theology…a useful primer would be the book by Archbishop McAdoo and Bishop Kenneth Stevenson whose title currently escapes me. Sadly all this is somewhat Terra incognita to many Cof E ordinands and clergy. Things may be different in TEC.
Very movingly expressed and very challenging Savi. Thank you.
Talk of “cheap grace” has always reminded me of the very human interest in categorizing people into groups, of the very human fear that some people might be getting a better deal in life than we are, and of the very human desire to be among the elect. The basic fact of life is that there is no such thing as “cheap grace,” that the very gift of life costs every one of us absolutely everything. I can see why Bonhoeffer sought rhetorical tools to challenge those willing to acquiesce to the spread of madness. Also, why early Christians facing… Read more »
To Amanda: Bishop John didn’t say that he didn’t understand the theology of the Eucharist (he taught me a lot about that),what he meant (I believe) was that all sacraments, and perhaps most of all the Eucharist, are never totally comprhensible to our intellectual understanding, because they partake of the salvific mystery of God. That’s my understanding of his story in any case. +JF very welcome to intervene and correct me of course. I love the story and often tell it,sorry Amanda doesn’ go for it, but then I know the teller and worked with him in Rome.
A lot of quoting Bonhoeffer here (or rather referencing the one big idea he is now remembered for). When, exactly, did Bonhoeffer become one of the normative sources of our beliefs and actions?
Closer to home, and perhaps more valuable to us, is (fellow Anglican) John Wesley’s idea of communion as a “converting ordinance.” (The result of which is the open table practiced in many Methodist churches today.)
Wesley held a rather high theology of the sacrament for his day, which was probably why he was so willing and open to sharing it.
I appreciate this courteous, thought-provoking discussion of a subject that has been very much talked and written about throughout my 55 ministerial years. It is, of course, related to much weightier issues and to the great challenges increasingly facing our Church in this last decade. I have given Communion to people of all sorts and conditions, from an old Mormon lady in a hostel to the unconfirmed members of my family on a special occasion, but I am inclined to think the pattern of the 1662 BCP is still the best in practical terms – that is Baptism (which in… Read more »
Amanda: “I wonder what the historical background of the differences between ECUSA and the CofE are with regards to this … “ Before the Revolution, American Anglicans were Episcopalians-without-Bishops. They were theoretically under the oversight of the Bishop of London, but in practice this was a hands-off episcope to say the least. They therefore became accustomed to being governed by powerful lay “vestries” (what we Canadians would call a parish council: for us “vestry” is the annual general meeting of a parish). This de facto Congregational mindset has its hangovers in parts of the U.S., such as Virginia, and in… Read more »
If one believes that the sacraments are formative, then providing them for children would be pretty important. I think it’s possible that in receiving the sacraments, and exploring their meaning, over time children will grow to learn about concepts like “cheap grace,” and make their choices accordingly. The dangerous places I’ve been in have also been terribly impoverished. The sacraments, and the community around them, are nourishing and sustaining in my experience. In the Haiti earthquake, there were many acts of compassion and heroism. All of the people I know (because I teach at a faith-based, Episcopal, school) felt that… Read more »
Margaret Houston links to the policy of the London Diocese on this topic and as a Southwark resident I was interested to read it. 1. Canon B15A, which allows Synod to make Regulations about who receives Communion, became law in 1972, and the Regulations themselves came into effect in 2006. [Reference: Taking the Long View by Colin Buchanan, chapter 5.] In both Regulations and the London policy, permission is given or refused by the Bishop or Area Bishop on a parish-by-parish basis, and there is no mention of age 7 or any other age. 2. The London policy begins with… Read more »
Geoff McLarney writes: ‘They therefore became accustomed to being governed by powerful lay “vestries” (what we Canadians would call a parish council: for us “vestry” is the annual general meeting of a parish).’ No it isn’t, Geoff. I know that is the case in the Diocese of Toronto, but I have worked in four dioceses in western Canada (Saskatchewan, the Arctic, Athabasca, and Edmonton), in all of which the ‘vestry’ is what you call the ‘parish council’, and the AGM is, well, the AGM. I believe I’m right in saying that the Diocese of Toronto is in the minority here… Read more »
From the Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church CANON TWENTY-FIVE OF ADMITTING TO HOLY COMMUNION 1. The Sacrament of Baptism is the full rite of initiation into the Church, and no further sacramental rite shall be required of any person seeking admission to Holy Communion. Subject to any Regulations issued by the College of Bishops concerning the preparation of candidates, the admission of any baptised person to Holy Communion shall be at the discretion of the cleric having charge of the congregation of which that person is a member, always providing that a person who has been admitted to Holy… Read more »
@Geoff-I was thinking more along the lines of why does the CofE apparently have stricter rules about communion before confirmation than ECUSA, and possibly the history of such a practice in the CofE.
The book Perry Butler refers to is: _The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition_, H R McAdoo and Kenneth Stevenson, Canterbury Press Norwich, 1995.
It’s a long time since I read it (20 years ago probably) — probably ought to re-read it.
“Finally, I wonder what the historical background of the differences between ECUSA and the CofE are with regards to this [reception of the Eucharist by the baptized, regardless of confirmation].” A couple of thoughts in addition to those that Geoff McLarney offered. Another result of American Anglicans being Episcopalians-without-Bishops before the American Revolution was that no episcopal acts — confirmation or ordination — occurred in the American colonies. One had to go to England for them. The result of this situation was that virtually no Anglicans in the American colonies were confirmed. Which meant, as a practical matter, confirmation was… Read more »
@dr.primrose: Fascinating. Don’t most magisterial Protestants only recognize two sacraments, baptism and communion? With confirmation being in some sort of nebulous 2nd tier of not quite sacraments? It seems like you might as well recognize confirmation (regardless of if its actually called that, or who its administered by) as a bona fide 3rd sacrament, if you’re going to make it a pre-requisite to receiving communion. As an adult I’ve worshipped mostly in Byzantine Orthodox and Tridentine Catholic parishes, so I’m very slowly learning about the ins and outs of Protestanism! (Despite a very nominal Episcopal upbringing).
Amanda, in Anglicanism, the Anglo-Catholic wing recognizes the seven sacraments recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Other Anglicans recognize only two – Baptism and Eucharist. Officially (in its Catechism), TEC somewhat fudges the issue by first recognizing the “two great sacraments of the Gospel” or the “two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church” (Baptism and Eucharist) and then recognizing the other five – including confirmation – as “other sacramental rites [that] evolved in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.” I suppose one could characterize these other five, as you have (not entirely inaccurately), as a… Read more »
It just seems a bit odd that if one of those other 5 wanna be sacraments is a prereq to receiving one of the two official, Bible based sacraments, then you’re de facto acknowledging that confirmation is just as important as baptism and communion. And if you’re a sola scriptura type of Protestant, making any sort of confirmation required before receiving communion means employing biblical exegesis (not tradition) in support of confirmation…yikes, I feel like I’ve just stumbled on the difference between the Radical and Magisterial Reformations!
Confirmation before communion in England stems from an edict of Archbishop Pecham in the 13c.I’m not sure it was in force outside eEngland..indeed infant communion lingered on into the early part of the late middle ages( hence the Hussite demand for the restoration of infant communion as well as the better known demand for the restoration of the chalice) Cranmer confirmed the infant Elizabeth 1st at baptism. The BCP retained the medieval prayer for the 7 fold gift of the Spirit while linking confirmation as a reaffirmation of baptismal vows and learning the catechism in a Reformed way.The relation of… Read more »