Communion Without Baptism Discussion

My latest post is up at the Episcopal Cafe. It takes on the issue of Communion without Baptism. I feel strongly that this is a critical issue for the church to discuss. Thus–if you feel comfortable revealing your name per the Epoiscopal Cafe’s policy, please comment there; if you do not, then feel free to have the conversation here pseudonymously.

I won’t be around much today, regretably, but y’all know the protocol here: comment as you like, feel free to disagree, just be respectful to one another…

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46 Responses to Communion Without Baptism Discussion

  1. I saw it earlier this morning before you announced it here! I agree with you of course. Your contribution is one of the most orthodox things I’ve seen there. That and the peace and justice articles are often good.

  2. P.S. I left my comment (pending approval of course) under the original article by Helen Thompson.

  3. It was approved. Here it is.

  4. I don’t know what happened to the link! Let’s try that again.

    Here.

  5. Derek the Ænglican says:

    I edited the first one before you posted the second… Both should work.

  6. Annie says:

    Beautifully written, Derek. I look forward to reading the next two installments.

    For me it is all about table fellowship and whose table it is. ;)

  7. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Thanks, Annie.

    I have some concerns with how some folks use the language of fellowship and host in this discussion; I hope to clarify that in the following posts.

  8. bls says:

    Wow, that’s a great article, Derek, once again.

  9. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Thanks, bls.

    I’m actually a little surprised that there hasn’t been more discussion on this topic. On the post that sparked this post (which yf links too above) a number of people held some strong opinions on the subject.

    As far as I’m concerned any discussion of the sacraments and how we use them publicly has to start with the theological underpinnings, beginning with the connections between the sacraments and our understandings of salvation. Given our differences in regard to practice, I’d assume some fairly significant theological differences on just this relationship…

  10. bls says:

    That’s because you started here with Baptism and left out Communion almost entirely. People don’t know what’s coming next, even though you do.

    But that was a very good way to go, I have to say, as you say: building up from the base. CWOB starts at the other end, as far as I can tell, and doesn’t consider Baptism much at all; almost nobody would quarrel with what you write about it, I don’t think. It could also be that people really aren’t familiar with some of the arguments you make about Baptism; you made some connections I’d never thought about in quite that way, anyway.

    Here’s what I think: many people today think of Baptism as a serious commitment – something that can’t be undone. (I think we all think that way, actually.) And they don’t want that to be the barrier to Communion; I think they want people to “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” – even when they don’t know the Lord yet. It’s an invitation in an era when religious faith is hard to understand, maybe.

    Perhaps we should do what the Orthodox do, and bless bread for all as well as consecrating it for the Baptized? That would seem to help a bit with the latter issue.

  11. bls says:

    (What I mean about the commitment thing is: I think people believe that very few people will want to be Baptized anymore on their own. Adults won’t, anyway; it seems to signify too much that people find too difficult to accept without some other sacramental action.

    And Baptism is a strange ritual that’s really unlike anything else; it signifies a strong belief in something that these days is hard to believe in without any background. Whereas bread and wine are commonplace things, and they don’t seem to indicate the same sort of commitment or acceptance of some (for people today) pretty out-there ideas. I really do think many folks are thinking about Communion as a means to draw people in – a way for them to experience some small bit of grace – without freaking them out, or asking them to believe things they find very difficult to believe.

    Which is why the blessed-not-consecrated bread might be a good way to go.)

  12. Perhaps we should do what the Orthodox do, and bless bread for all as well as consecrating it for the Baptized? That would seem to help a bit with the latter issue.

    I once was at a Byzantine Catholic wedding where most of the groom’s relatives were not RC or Byzantine Catholic – but were baptised Christians – and that’s exactly what the priest did. A server had the blessed bread and the priest of course had the chalice and spoon. To those in communion he gave the Sacrament; for those not in communion he took a piece of the blessed bread and gave them that. No hurt feelings. (He did explain before Communion that only Catholics may receive.) Very lovely.

  13. bls says:

    I think it’s hard for us, people who were baptized as babies for the most part, to recognize how difficult it must be to make the commitment as an adult – especially in a time like the present.

    So I just wish we could offer some sort of pseudo-sacrament (!) or something, so they really can “Taste and see” a bit. We all were allowed – through no real merit of our own, and actually without having to go through any sort of process of “acceptance” at all – to go to the altar rail whenever we wanted to. There was no assent involved on my part at all; I was allowed to grow into understanding and faith. But adults have to make a huge faith commitment right away.

    I just think there must be some other way, and the offering of a blessing and the bread itself, blessed, might be it. Also, it might be more comfortable for newcomers to take bread that’s been blessed than “the body and blood of Christ”; that’s pretty heavy, too.

  14. revdrmom says:

    Derek, thank you for this.

    For the most part I am on the side of baptism before communion. Of course people come to the rail all the time whom we don’t know, and we offer them communion any way. But that really begs the question.

    The comments above about the reluctance of adults to make the commitment of baptism raises one of my big questions about communion w/o baptism: what does this mean for what we teach about baptism? What does it mean about our baptismal practices? Do we encourage movement from table to font as it were or do we not worry about whether baptism follows?

    I’m not sure I believe that it is inhospitable to have baptism before communion as a standard. And I do believe there is something to the theology of desire that is very powerful…perhaps as if not more powerful that a completely open table.

    I look forward to more discussion on this.

  15. revdrmom says:

    (baptism) “signifies a strong belief in something that these days is hard to believe in without any background. Whereas bread and wine are commonplace things, and they don’t seem to indicate the same sort of commitment or acceptance of some (for people today) pretty out-there ideas”

    I’m not sure about this. Yes, baptism requires belief, but it also incorporation into the body, a welcoming supportive body one would hope. And shouldn’t catechesis help provide the background? Moreover, Eucharist isn’t “just” bread and wine–it’s Jesus. Doesn’t that require just as radical (and difficult) a belief? And if it’s NOT Jesus, then what’s the point anyway? We can skip Eucharist and just have bread and wine at coffee hour.

  16. Do we encourage movement from table to font as it were or do we not worry about whether baptism follows?

    That reminds me of Western churches’ interest some years ago in putting the ‘sacraments of initiaton’ back in their ancient order as the Eastern churches still have them: baptism, confirmation/chrismation and Eucharist. (Which as you know is why the Eastern churches have infant Communion: people are chrismated as babies right after baptism.) Movement from font to oil/laying on of hands to table. Specifically the Roman Church started doing this with adult converts.

    With the Communion-before-baptism movement that seems to have been thrown out the window.

    Another reason to love old rites: it’s too exhausting trying to keep up with all this. ;)

  17. Moreover, Eucharist isn’t “just” bread and wine–it’s Jesus. Doesn’t that require just as radical (and difficult) a belief? And if it’s NOT Jesus, then what’s the point anyway? We can skip Eucharist and just have bread and wine at coffee hour.

    Well said.

  18. One more thing: it’s been said by some that confirmation is a sacrament looking for a theology. (Of course I believe in the doctrine about it and like what one of my old manuals says: it gives the laity a share in the church’s power to teach, govern and sanctify.) In popular piety the Orthodox lump it together with baptism; among RCs First Communion is king. Locally (among my duties at a small-town newspaper I’m the nominal religion editor so I learn of these doings) an Episcopal church has made up some rite-of-passage thingy for its 13-year-olds, no doubt well meant but I thought ‘But you’ve already got confirmation; what’s the point?’ (Less kindly I thought of a film title: My Fake Episcopalian Bar Mitzvah.)

    An issue I thought you might bring up in your series on the sacraments, Derek.

  19. bls says:

    That’s why I used the word “seem,” revdrmom; Communion bread and wine “seem” to be more accessible things than a Baptism that requires assent to a whole series of propositions that are totally alien for most. It seems to me that what must happen for adults, prior to Baptism, is a purely mental (or I guess emotional) process that needs some kind of sacramental help, IMO.

    I agree that Eucharist is not “just” bread and wine. As I said in a later post, offering blessed bread instead of Eucharist might actually make visitors more comfortable than offering the “body and blood of Christ” would.

  20. bls says:

    IOW, I think the motivation for CWOB might actually be rooted in our sense of sacramental worship!

    So I’m just arguing that blessing bread at the Eucharist for the unbaptized might be a sort of “beginner’s sacrament” that will help in the conversion process and lead people to be Baptized.

    Maybe we should look at the Orthodox liturgy and commentary on it, to see what they have to say about this.

  21. Derek the Ænglican says:

    I’m completely unfamiliar with the blessed-not-consecrated-bread rite.

    I realize that baptism is a big commitment, nevertheless, I agree with RevDrMom about a theology of desire too. The fact that something is reserved, inaccessible, for those who have not made the commitment says something important about how we understand that thing but also how we understand how we fulfill *our* commitment.

    YF,
    Yes, the Episcopal Church has Rite 13 which is a passage to adulthood thing. Personally I like the idea because I’d like Confirmation to actually mean something. All too often confirmation is what you do in your early teens so you don’t have to keep going to church… Which is exactly backwards of what it ought to be.

    Rather, I’d like to have confirmation in the last year or two of high school so that the people taking on their commitments can really struggle with whether they accept them *and* have the free choice to say no or at least not now.

  22. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Additionally–

    I think one way open communion happens by accident is that our liturgical logistics aren’t what they should be. I really like the announcement that Fr. Gerth makes at the midweek/evening Eucharists borne of the necessity of being a quasi-tourist attraction in Times Square: “This is an Episcopal Church. One of the things that means is that we welcome all baptized Christians to receive Holy Communion. If you receive it in your church, you’re welcome to receive it in ours.”

    I’d just want another small addition: “If you are not baptized or do not wish to receive today, just cross your arms in front of you and we will be happy to give you a blessing–and feel free to talk to any of the clergy after the service if you are interested in baptism.”

    In many Episcopal churches I’ve been in there are no signs either in the offertory announcements or in the bulletin that Communion is for the baptized or what to do if you’re not. I have the feeling some visitors just go on up and receive because it’s what everyone else is doing. This kind of announcement both removes the ambiguity and doesn’t necessarily single out the unbaptized as the only people not receiving.

  23. Michelle says:

    We are turning Confirmation into something it was never meant to be. It was not about the youth’s confirmation of belief. Confirmation is a confirmation of grace on the youth by the bishop. The traditional age for confirmation in the Roman Catholic church down the ages was age 7. My Mom was confirmed at 7, the day after her First Communion. If you want a rite of passage fine — the Rite 13 that I’ve not seen yet may do — but I would rather not use Confirmation as another either a rite of passage, graduation ceremony, or an adult confirmation of faith.

  24. Michelle says:

    To follow up, this idea of it being an adult confirmation of faith doesn’t recognize the faith journey that all people travel. Do you think that because someone is confirmed they will never waiver in their faith? I don’t think so. Even as seniors in high school most youth are not mature enough to make promises on their faith that will last very far into the future.

  25. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Interesting, Michelle. I’ll have to think about that.

    Growing up Lutheran, Confirmation was always about accepting for yourself the promises made in Baptism; no bishop was involved. Certainly I know the origin of Confirmation being required by the bishops’ irregular visitation schedules…

  26. Derek, the Byzantine Rite as you know uses round loaves of leavened bread in the Liturgy. During the proskomedia beforehand, at the small altar-like table to the left of the altar (holy table) behind the icon screen, all the bread is blessed. This is the equivalent of part of the Roman Rite offertory. (There are more preparatory prayers at this table, quietly reading all the lists of names of people being prayed for, before the Great Entrance at Liturgy.) The priest cuts out pieces of this: one that’s used as the Agnetz (‘Lamb’: large part the priest receives), tiny pieces placed symbolically on the paten with the Agnetz, small pieces of bread which are consecrated and given as Communion, and the remaining small pieces, blessed but not consecrated, which are given to the faithful 1) right after Communion along with a sip of plain wine so no sacred particles are left in the mouth and 2) what bls is thinking of, the antidoron given out at the end of Liturgy as a sign of Christian fellowship and love (quoting Kallistos (Ware)) to those who for any reason cannot receive that day.

    Getting right to bls’ point there is an Orthodox custom of people taking more than one piece of this blessed bread and giving it to their friends in church who can’t receive. Antidoron: in place of the gift!

    It was not about the youth’s confirmation of belief. Confirmation is a confirmation of grace on the youth by the bishop.

    Yes – to get technical about it, by God through the bishop. :)

    Getting back to rites of passage for a moment you’ve got to admit that real ones steeped in folk tradition mean a lot to people even if they don’t entirely line up with the real religious meaning. (As long as they’re not opposed to that meaning, is there is a problem really?) To this day (or at least until very recently) in upstate Pennsylvania, ethnic Slavs in ‘Russian’ Orthodox churches that used to be Byzantine Catholic 70 to 100 years ago still have ‘Solemn First Communion’ for their 7-year-olds (who of course have been receiving all their lives; First Confession is at age 7, ‘the age of reason’, just like Rome): the little suits and dresses, the party, the pictures and I imagine the presents too. (Unknown to Russians!)

  27. Annie says:

    I don’t care if somebody doesn’t like the terminology. I’ve read most of the posts here and time and again what I see is that most seem to think both baptism and confirmation are things we do. Baptism, confirmation and communion–it is all what he does. That’s why we understand that baptism of infants is workable–and the mentally challenged–because it has nothing really to do with our acceptance, we don’t have to repent first, nothing. It is all about what God does.

    On the issue of confirmation, when I researched it a year ago, I found that Episcopal priests don’t seem to have a very firm idea of it at all. Either that or they weren’t talking. When I went back to check the Catholic view, what I found was that confirmation is recognized as a stage of growth in the spiritual being, which is why the Orthodox can do it on the same day as baptism or we could do confirmation shortly after baptism as is often done with adults.

    When I had been confirmed and I was 12 years old, was I prepared? *the very thought makes me laugh!* Oh, yeah, I’d been through a far more rigorous training than the youth nowadays–but the fact is that it is all the Lord’s own doing and not ours. It isn’t what we know. It isn’t what we believe. It is what we will know. It is what we will come to believe. It is a beginning of a journey that may have rest stops along the way, but is never completed.

  28. revdrmom says:

    bls, I’ll grant you that bread and wine might seem more accessible and easier to assent to if you are assenting on a one time basis–“okay, today, here, I feel moved to receive this bread and wine and believe what it represents”–something like that. And baptism is a life time commitment–you are marked as Christ’s own forever. I don’t know if that is the kind of distinction you had in mind, but if it is, doesn’t that make Eucharist something shallow or weak somehow? Doesn’t it lose some of its meaning when it is decoupled from the promises we make at baptism? Jesus shared table fellowship with many, but he instituted the Eucharist with his disciples who (whether baptized or not) had made some sort of commitment to belief in his being the annointed one.

    Children receive without making their own assent because their parents and godparents and congregation have assented for them AND have vowed to raise them in a context where they can be nurtured and taught and led to a place where they can assent on their own. But adults show come to the table without being baptized are left on their own unless their is a deliberate effort to invite them in to learn, to be formed–which is one reason I am so interested in how cwob impacts on teaching about baptism.

  29. Michelle says:

    From YF: “Yes – to get technical about it, by God through the bishop.”

    Correct, I should have said that: Confirmation is the confirming of grace by the Holy Spirit through the bishop on the youth. Nothing is required of the youth accept the bishop’s willingness to give the confirmation blessing. I guess this has remained with bishops — instead of devolving to priests as baptism did — because unlike baptism it is not required for salvation (an important point in earlier eras of high child mortality). Technically, is the renewal of baptismal vows actually part of the sacrament or just the church’s (or bishop’s) tradition?

  30. Annie says:

    I think the message is just the opposite when we guard the Lord’s table–the message we send becomes merely dried out ritual, something we do ourselves and we assign the right belief to the act instead of going to the Lord’s table because it does feel right and wondering why it does feel right. With our rules and our layers of half-comprehended theology we approach the Lord’s table with no expectation of Christ’s own invitation and welcome. The right message to relate is quite simple. He is there.

  31. bls says:

    The thing is, I didn’t make any promises at Baptism, revdrmom, since I was only a year old.

    I am of two minds about CWOB. I definitely don’t want to devalue Baptism, which I think it does do. OTOH, I do want to offer some form of sacramental grace to those who might not be able to “believe” right away – and hospitality, too. That’s why I think the blessed bread might be a good solution.

    There is some controversy, apparently, in the Orthodox world as to whether non-Orthodox should take the Antidoron. In the U.S., it’s apparently ubiquitous – but that seems to be a relatively recent development. (I was reading up on this last night.)

    Even if it’s “wrong,” though, I still think it’s a good idea; I don’t see what would stop us from developing some rubrics around the idea, anyway….

  32. I definitely don’t want to devalue Baptism, which I think it does do.

    It does.

    OTOH, I do want to offer some form of sacramental grace to those who might not be able to “believe” right away – and hospitality, too. That’s why I think the blessed bread might be a good solution.

    Right. As I like to say all are welcome to come and pray in a Catholic church.

    For example in Orthodox churches anybody may light candles in front of, pray before and kiss icons. Sacramental, ¿no? (And the icons are more than pictures or statues in the West: they are a quasi-sacramental presence of the people depicted, halfway between a picture and having the Reserved Sacrament in the room with you.)

    In a Western setting this works with statues and votive candles. All are welcome.

    You’re right about the disagreement on giving the antidoron to non-Orthodox and its ubiquity in America. In some Orthodox countries what began as a loving substitute for Communion came to be treated like Communion (which was received only once at year, at Easter for example) even with Confession beforehand. (Giving it to non-Orthodox would be out of the question there!) People can be funny that way. :) Like you said, not an issue in the States.

  33. revdrmom says:

    bls, since you’ve become an adult, have you publicly or just for yourself renewed or accepted the vows made for you at baptism? I would never argue that any of us has complete faith,complete acceptance all the time. I certainly don’t. But I’m having trouble with the notion that baptismal promises are too much to ask, too much of a commitment to be made, if I am understanding your correctly.

    I don’t want to be inhospitable. But as I said before, I’m not sure it is inhospitable to have cwb as a standard.

    Truth in advertising here: I’m an assistant rector at a parish where the rector strongly supports cwob–it’s not even a matter for discussion for him. Given our demographic, I’m not sure it’s issue. But I wish we would think through what we are doing and have the conversation we’re having here church wide before we just de facto move to cwob.

    I would feel better if I thought that those who practiced cwob made a concerted effort to encourage people to move from table to font because I believe that baptism is important, and I believe that baptism and eucharist go together, much the way Derek outlined in his original piece.

  34. revdrmom says:

    btw, isn’t inviting people to come up for a blessing somewhat analagous to giving them blessed but not consecrated bread?

  35. Derek the Ænglican says:

    RevDrMom, I think so…

    Annie,
    Yes, he *is* there. But should I consider my relationship with the very image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, the head of the church and the author of salvation like a casual hook-up? Or is it worth making a commitment to that kind of relationship?

  36. bls says:

    YF, I hate to mention it, but most Episcopal Churches don’t have votive candles and statuary.

  37. bls says:

    The point, though, revdrmom, is that when I went back to church after 35+ years, I was permitted to receive Communion, even when I didn’t really believe any of the propositions. (I actually didn’t receive it for quite awhile – almost two years – until a priest suggested I might as well go ahead. “Just do it,” he said, sort of the Nike way. And Communion itself helped me to a deeper faith.)

    I wouldn’t at all mind restricting the consecrated bread and wine to Baptized Christians, if we could offer the blessed bread instead. A blessing is also hospitable, yes, but somehow bread seems better – perhaps because it’s tangible – to me.

    In any case, I think we should do what GC has decided and restrict it for now, so that we can all participate in this discussion. In that way I agree with you completely. (I’m actually at this point falling on the no-CWOB side because of the “devaluing Baptism” issue. And I really like Derek’s article at EC, and think we ought to talk about that a lot more.)

  38. Well, bls, there at least used to be a movement working on fixing that. ;)

    Seriously, they don’t give blessed bread either. Your point? Which would be easier to implement without changing the service?

  39. P.S. I was answering comment no. 36 not 37.

  40. bls says:

    “Implement”? I don’t think “taste in worship” is something you can “implement.” Are you going to start shipping statues of the BVM to every Episcopal parish in the US? I don’t think that’s gonna fly – nor should it.

    Some people just don’t care for statuary and/or votive candles – but they might be interested in the option of blessing and distribution of blessed, rather than consecrated, bread.

  41. I’m talking about a few not necessarily big or complicated pieces of hardware – one or two statues with candles and stands – that are easy to take care of. Not writing a new service or addition to the service – that would need official approval, wouldn’t it?

    It wouldn’t ‘force’ a practice on people any more than your bread idea. It may be less intrusive because it’s not part of the service – your choice to use it or not and nobody bothers you about it either way.

    I imagine there are people who wouldn’t enjoy adding the blessing and giving of the non-Eucharistic bread to the service. I think you have a fine idea but it’s harder to do in your setting.

    You just can’t please some people, doncha know? :)

  42. Caelius Spinator says:

    My childhood parish had prie dieus as furniture. It was so famously Low Church in the old days that they called it Mr. Peter’s rather than St. Peter’s. I think those might work.

  43. But should I consider my relationship with the very image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation, the head of the church and the author of salvation like a casual hook-up? Or is it worth making a commitment to that kind of relationship?

    That is so good.

  44. bls says:

    YF, my way could simply be an option: give blessed bread or don’t – your choice – but don’t do CWOB in any case.

  45. bls says:

    YF, my way would allow a parish to distribute blessed bread or not – it would be up to the priest and parish itself – but all parishes would refrain from CWOB.

  46. YF, my way could simply be an option: give blessed bread or don’t.

    That’s fine.

    …don’t do CWOB in any case… all parishes would refrain from CWOB.

    On that we agree!

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