CWOB Continues at the Cafe

My latest post on CWOB is up at the Episcopal Cafe.

It seems like all I’m posting over there recently is material on CWOB… That certainly wasn’t my original intent. I was brought on to write primarily “spirituality” stuff like my posts on the canticles and psalms and on the place of liturgy in the Anglican life.

After a series of comments on a post there I had conceived a three post series that turned into four–this current item is the next to last. So, one more post then I’m moving on to other topics…

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26 Responses to CWOB Continues at the Cafe

  1. Nick+ says:

    I’m seeing the same thing with my essays Derek.

    The good news for both of us I suppose is that the readership at the Cafe is more than an order of magnitude higher than on my own blog. So my musings are getting a much wider reading than otherwise.

    And, at least for me, it’s letting me get back to what I originally intended my own blog to be when I set it up, rather than having it become just another polemical voice in the Anglican blogsphere.

  2. Marvin Vann says:

    Haligweorc,

    I share your convictions about the importance of catechism, but am uncovinced that Jesus wants us to set ourselves up as gatekeepers, making decisions on the basis of outward forms about who has or has not made an “adequate” act of commitment before admitting them to the table.

    I understand one might respond that the real issue is in not being a gatekeeper to baptism; that undergoing baptism is simply a part of coming to the table. That may be so, and I believe it makes sense to continue to present it as so. But, when someone who has not undergone outward, ritual baptism comes forward for communion, are we to turn them away? Is this what Jesus would do?

    I suspect even the ritual of baptism can become an idol, when we fail to distinguish between its physical, outward form and the underlying spiritual reality.

    Are we to take it that, in Jesus’ eyes, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, but … well, of course, there is the outwardly baptized versus the non-baptized”?

    In the pericope of the Syrophoenician woman/ Canaanite woman (Mk 7:24-30 // Mt 15:21-28), there is good reason to argue that the latter–who pointedly did not belong to the “community of Israel” in her contemporaries’ eyes–takes up the role of rabbi in a “rabbinal controversy” (one of the traditional discursive forms catalogued by Rudolf Bultmann) with Jesus, and wins the argument. Jesus seems to bow to the force of her argument that she should not be excluded from the meal. Or, as she humbly–and pointedly–puts it, “Even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.”

    Granted, her response may well allude to several scriptural passages, demonstrating her desire to embrace the stories shared by those “at the table.” But, ultimately, Jesus proved unwilling to exclude this woman from being fed on the basis of her not having undergone a specific ritual of induction.

    She wasn’t baptized–or ritually converted to Judaism–before Jesus conceded her argument, praised her faith, and stopped treating her as an outcast. He pointedly did not tell her (utlimately), “No, first undergo the mikvah, then you can be fed.”

  3. *Christopher says:

    If only we knew our Prayer of Humble Access. The force of that argument goes for all of us…”even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from the table”. But the crumbs here are not merely bread, but very Christ. There’s a difference between the food on our everyday table on the Food onf the Table, though they are related–and meant to be so, that all of life might be seen in the light of Christ.

    Acts nonetheless instructs us that if we come to believe to seek to be baptized. And we are commanded to make disciples and baptize in the Name of the Trinity. Are these of such difficulty that we simply set them aside for CWOB? I think Fr. Martins was right that we’re asking the Liturgy to bear what it was not meant to bear–evangelism; rather here the already evangelized–which to my mind implies baptism, are sustained. We need to think more seriously about the cathechumanate.

    When we pit outward against inward, we set ourselves up for an a- if not anti- sacramental perspective. American religion tends to want to be all inward, but Anglicanism–and Christianity generally–is both. God works in us through and makes himself present in things visible, water, bread, wine for our incorporation and sustenance in the Life of God because we are matter, things visible, creatures, and God works through the media we can understand. An all inward religion can suggest–and has, that matter doesn’t matter. But God promises to be precisely in those places where we gather in Jesus’ Name, when we baptize with water in the Name of the Trinity and whenever we set aside bread and wine and “Do this in memory”. Luther went so far as to say the Verba are the Gospel in miniature.

  4. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Thanks for commenting, Marvin.

    The Syro-Phoenician woman pericope and the healing of the centurion’s slave are both interesting texts in regard to this matter. In both cases we have discussions of the table in Jesus’ dialogue with Gentiles–those outside the covenant community. One of the things I find interesting is that they remain at the level of discussion–no eating or drinking together take place. Healing occurs in both, but not meals.

    The clearest statement on the matter that we have attributed to Jesus is without question Matthew’s Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
    Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (few things irritate me more than when v. 19 is left to stand on its own without v. 20–Matthew would be horrified that the “teaching” part is left off…).

    Now, most scholars will agree that these are probably not the ipsissima verba Jesu for a number of good reasons. However, these words also without question represent the teachings of the early church, a teaching that grounds who and what we are as Christians.

    I think the turning away issue is a very important one. Indeed, my last post will take up the issue of how we incarnate our theologies of Eucharist and baptism in local communities with specific regard to strangers and seekers.

  5. Marvin Vann says:

    I don’t disagree with Christopher. I’m not arguing we should abandon baptism, or beginning teaching that it is somewhow incidental, and I don’t think the proponents of “BWOC” are, either.

    The position of the latter ought not, it seems to me, to be confused with the non-sacramental theology of, say, the Salvation Army.

    There is a tension, though, between the conviction that God’s self-communication embraces the physical, as paramountly expressed in the sacraments, in icons, etc., and the danger of completely confusing the “outward and visible form” with the “inward and spiritual reality.” If it is error to neglect the physical for a disembodied spirituality (gnosticism), is it it not equally misguided to make the spiritual completely dependent on a particular outward form (idolatry)?

    The Prayer of Humble Access is pertinent. In its Roman Catholic and several Orthodox variants, no distinction is made between “being fed” and “being healed.” Both occur through Communion with Christ. The Syrophoenician woman knows that; it’s why she speaks metaphorically of the healing she petitions Christ for as “being fed from the table.”

    The point of the Syrophoenician woman’s story seems to be that, at its culmination, Jesus is no longer willing to exclude her from that feeding. Derek’s argument seems to be “well, granted that she’s healed through some kind of spiritual communion, and Jesus acknowledges the greatness of her faith, but he certainly wouldn’t actually break bread with her if she hadn’t first gone through the ritual acts of joining the community.” Really? Wasn’t this the whole argument between Paul and the “Hebraicists” in Acts? Paul won that one.

  6. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Marvin, I wasn’t trying to be as snotty as I seem to have come across in your summation. Rather, I was pointing out a fact–a meal did not take place there.

    The encounter with the Syro-Phoenecian woman is a complicated one, especially given the way that you have chosen to go about it. (My apologies in advance to non-biblical studies types–I’ll try and clarify later.) If I understand you right, you’re trying to argue meal practices by means of the recoverable actions of the historical Jesus. At the same time, you’re also using kerygmatic material to show that Jesus regarded Gentiles favorably, even inclusively. When you start mixing the historical and kerygmatic, though, you’re getting into trouble because you’re using early church kerygma in a way that contradicts your commitment to a purely historical Jesus.

  7. Marvin Vann says:

    Derek, I apologize for mischaracterizing the tone of your comment; I didn’t think it was snotty, but I’m afraid my rephrasing was.

    Actually, I’m not very interested in attempts to “get beyond the text” to “the real” Jesus. The speculations of the historical Jesus scholars are, it seems to me, interesting, but often highly debatable–in their presuppositions as much as in their results. What we have is the faith of Jesus as at work in the community and inscribed in the Gospels. When I asked “What would Jesus do,” I meant it to be taken as a trope, not an invitation to try to move “back beyond the text” to some more authentic, extratextual reality upon which the text might retroactively be called into question.

    I’m not sure how one could get at Jesus’ historical “meal practices” outside the text, and so I wouldn’t try to base an argument on them either way.

    The point I’m making is that the Jesus of Matthew and Mark’s Gospels responds to the Syrophoenician woman’s arguments and petition to “be fed” by feeding her–metaphorically, to be sure, but I’m not sure that’s an overriding point.

    Granted, there is no story in which Jesus literally and explicitly eats with a Gentile. On the other hand, I’m aware of no story other than the Syrophoenician woman’s in which he (again, metaphorically, and only initially) refuses to do so. But his response to the Centurian is interesting, in that regard: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness” (Mt 8:11-12).

    Clearly, the thrust of the Gospels is toward radically calling into question any claim that this or that outward sign is sufficient for determing “who’s in” versus “who’s out.”

    Sure, the Jesus of the Gospels says, “Go and baptize.” But not, “and make sure you get it done before you do anything else that might be construed as an act of inclusion.”

    Of course, the Jesus of the Gospels has nothing explicit to say about sacraments and sacramental rules. But, he has a lot to say about not getting too hung up on externals. Which is not to say that sacraments or sacramentals are generically dispensable, or should be participated in irreverently. Just that we should not treat them as idols.

  8. Jon says:

    If a person isn’t willing to explicitly choose to be Christian with all that entails, why should we give them communion? It’s not like God’s grace can’t come to them in other ways, and when we receive communion we do receive Jesus.

    Not that I think we should be asking people at the communion rail if they’ve been baptized or not, but if we’re clear about our policy it’s on them if they decide to receive communion without getting baptized.

    Jon

  9. Marvin Vann says:

    When ever did Jesus say, “I’ll give myself to you, but only if you first explicitly choose to be Christian with all that entails?” He gives himself to us, and calls us to respond with thanksgiving.

    To respond to that invitation already involves an act of self-dedication, does it not? It’s not as if priests are saying, “Come up here and have a sip of wine and a bite of bread; interpret the meaning as you will.” The liturgy makes it clear that what’s being offered is Christ, God incarnate. If the liturgy is being performed authentically, it’s been made clear that to commune with Christ is to seek to share in Christ’s nature–in that sense, to become Christ-like–and to do so in and through community with others seeking the same.

    Clearly, priests and others should make it clear that baptism is part of the way we respond. But, to go beyond that to say or imply, “Christ only offers himself fully to those already baptized?” Wouldn’t that be to misrepresent Christ? He gives himself fully to everybody, no? Whether we respond, to what degree we respond, all that is up to us.

  10. Jon says:

    What does it mean to be Christian Marvin? Think about it. The most ancient creed was that Jesus is Lord. How is receiving Jesus in Eucharist consistent with refusing to acknowledge him through baptism? It’s like asking to get baptized while making it clear that one wants nothing to do with the Church.

    Jon

  11. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Well Marvin, personally I point to the first and last teachings of Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew:

    Mt 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (or there’s always Mark’s expanded version in 1:14-15: “Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

    Bookended by Mt 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

    These sayings seem to indicate that there’s more to Christian discipleship then: “Y’all come and eat…” Because that’s what this argument is really about: discipleship, its cost, and its integrity.

  12. Marvin Vann says:

    Jon, why are you so focussed on the threat of people who “refuse to acknowlege Jesus as Lord through baptism” coming forward for communion? Personally, I suspect such a thing rarely ever happens. Why in the world would someone intent on “refusing to acknowledge Jesus as Lord” WANT to come up for baptism?

    “Oh, I’m fine eating with the idea that I’ll be physically receiving and joining myself to God incarnate, but they better not ever suggest I get dunked in water!” It’s a little hard to imagine anyone holding that position.

    Derek, as I mentioned earlier, I completely agree with you about the necessity of catechesis. Nor, would I ever want to see a service of the Word, or an anamnoeisis or paraclesis or words of institution that consisted of “y’all come and eat.” I’ve certainly never experienced such a thing at my church, and we do not publicize anything about people having to first be baptized before they approach communion. Our children’s, youth and adult Christian education programs are very strong, as is our special program leading up to confirmation, and none of this has been negatively effected by our policy of open communion.

    And, I honestly don’t think we’ve got folks coming up for communion who have made a deliberate decision NOT to become disciples. In fact, one woman who is Unitarian, but whose husband is Christian, consistely opts not to come forward for communion, though no one has ever asked her not to do so as long as she is not baptized. I believe that is because our liturgy, our pastors’ sermons, and our Christian ed. make it quite clear what taking communion implies, and she is not there (at least, not yet).

    So, I’m just not persuaded that people’s fears about the terrible results of “opening communion” are likely to come about. My experience in life has been that fears about the “dangers” of becoming to open, too receptive, too inclusive, are usually unwarranted.

  13. Jon says:

    I’m not especially worried about terrible things happening if we invite absolutely everyone; I’m concerned that the practice is irrational given our understanding of both baptism and the eucharist, and the ease with which one can get baptized.

    As long as we offer baptism to anyone who want to receive, there are only two cases to concider, those who accept baptism, perhaps after having received in the past, and those who reject baptism. In the first case prior reception of communion is essentially an irregularity that can be ignored since it won’t happen again with that person. The second case, as I suggested early, represents a confused desire to both receive Christ while rejecting him at the same time. It seems to me that it is better to help people in case 2 clarify what they want rather than leaving them in confusion. Granted there may be no real world instances of case 2, but if that is so then it doesn’t hurt anyone to officially restrict communion to the baptized, while the policy emphasizes the importance of baptism.

    Of course this assumes that baptism is easily available. If one opts for an extended catechumenate it might be apropriate for the unbaptized catechumens to receive, although the discipline of watching with reverence is probably at least as good at helping their formation.

    Jon

  14. Marvin Vann says:

    Jon, I appreciate your and Derek’s patience in pursuing this conversation with me. In thinking through my responses, I’m beginning to understand that, while there may be real problems with statements such as “all who are baptized are invited to receive,” there may be weighty reasons to avoid severing the link between baptism and communion.

    Perhaps the problem lies in the dissociation that has already occurred between baptism and catechism, something Derek has suggested, I believe.

    Jon, you state that “it doesn’t hurt anyone to officially restrict communion to the baptized.”

    I guess it depends on how it’s handled. It could do injury to the propogation of the gospel, if it were expressed in a manner that allowed it to be received as subordinating faith to a legalistic imposition, or as fostering a distinction between those “worthy to receive” versus those “unworthy.”

    Reserving communion for the baptized could foster the misunderstanding that Christianity is as much about rules and particular, external forms as about faith. When I participated in the Orthodox Church, I sensed that that misunderstanding is and has been, at least in some times and placed, widely shared.

    On the other hand, I have to concede that, if the invitation to communion were offered in such a way that it downplayed its significance as an act of faith, or misrepresented it as an individualistic decision and act, that might be equally misrepresentative of the gospel.

    But then, a policy of demanding prior, phsycal baptism, divorced from the process of catechesis, is not itself a guarantee against such de-emphasis and misrepresentation (particularly in cases where it’s ‘easy to get baptized’).

    But, if the answer to avoiding a legalistic approach to baptism lies in restoring it to the catechetical process, what are we to make of infant baptism? In baptizing infants, do we not implicitly reject the notion that communion of faith can be reduced to having “passed a test” concerning particular propositions, doctrines, convictions, traditions, etc.?

    Perhaps the answer lies in clarifying that catechesis is not the same as learning a set of propositions; that it’s more than “book learning.” We baptize infants as an act of faith that they, having been recognized as part of, and received into, the community of faith, will continue to grow in it. Of course, there’s no guarantee, and we accept that, as an act of faith.

    So, why should our faith prevail then, but balk when someone not ritually baptized comes forward in response to the call to partake in the communion of Christ?

    I think the objection arises from the gut feeling that that call might often be made in such a way that those who respond to it might easily misconstrue what they’re doing, or do it out of superficial conformity, and without any structure for fostering their continued involvement with the community as a means of providing them with the opportunity to grow in the faith (as is the case with infant baptism, where the family is at least supposed to agree to raise the child in Christian community).

    Perhaps the answer lies in reemphasizing the responsibilities undertaking by parents when they seek to have a child baptized.

    Preparation for baptism, it might be argued, is at least supposed to afford time for adequate reflection on what one is undertaking than can be the case in the brief span of a single liturgy.

    Still, I think the church would do well to clarify for others its motives in not encouraging the unbaptized to partake. Perhaps openly inviting all present to receive at a given moment is not the way to go. But, I think the folks advocating it are presenting a useful challenge to the church: We need to find a way to offer communion to all, while emphasizing that the act of self-dedication involved is not trivial, and that the path to communion involves more than just walking down the aisle.

    Derek, I hope you don’t mind if I cross-post these thoughts to the discussion at Daily Episcopalian.

  15. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Marvin,
    I think you hit it on the head here! You’re right–proponents of CWOB do offer a challenge that the church needs to take seriously. We *haven’t* been doing a good enough job of catechesis or leading children and adults into the promises made at their baptisms.

    Formation and discipleship is the key. It’s when we loose sight of the catechetical and mystagogical process that leads us deeper into the life hid in God that we head into legalism and get ourselves into trouble.

  16. Jon says:

    I think the best way to keep it from being legalistic or self-righteous is probably to make sure everyone knows that it is fairly easy to get baptized if one wants either baptism or eucharist. While baptism isn’t properly separated from catechesis, I don’t see that most of it has to come before baptism. Actually, I don’t think one ever finishes learning what it means to be Christian in this lifetime, so it doesn’t seem entirely reasonable to aim for more than the basics before baptism. For infants the minimum appears to be their parents promising to raise the child in the faith, and with an adult one could probably cover the basics of what happens in baptism, our responsibilities as Christians, and maybe what’s happening in the eucharist in an hour or so. Continueing formation would obviously be necessary, but I know I’m not done being formed, and I’ve never heard of anyone else finishing the task of being Christian, so that sort of thing will need to be happening with the rest of the parishioners anyway.

    Jon

  17. Marvin Vann says:

    But, Jon, isn’t “easy” baptism a major *contributor* to literalistic thinking, rather than its cure? One of the richest experiences I’ve had in church was meeting with my priest and a small group of people on a weekly basis for nearly a year in preparation to be received into the Orthdox Church (by chrismation in my case, but the process was the same as those preparing to be received through baptism).

    And, our priest did not encourage me (or others) to even begin that mystagogical process until we had been worshipping within the community (but not receiving Communion) for about six months (there was no set “rule” about this though; the priest seemed to deal with each person on an individual basis).

    Now, granted, the Orthodox Church does not require so intense a period of preparation for parents who bring their child to be baptized. But, that is because the norm is that these parents have themselves spent a lifetime being formed within the Church. Where that is not the case, wise Orthodox pastors do guide parents toward more preparation. I know of several instances where our priest was approached by “nominal Orthodox” parents who had no regular relation with any parish, seeking to have a child baptized for reasons of ethnic/cultural/family tradition or habit. Our priest invited them to come participate more fully in the life of the parish, and would not set any immediate or definite date for baptizing the child. In at least one instance, the parents left in frustration and anger, though, I think, not through any fault of the way our pastor presented things to them.

    The end result was that it was impossible for me or others who went through the process to dissociate our formal prepartory “course of instruction” (readings and discussions) from our worshipping with and otherwise participating in the life of the community, or to think of the sacrament (“Mystery” is the Orthodox term) as a mere formality allowing one to partake in Communion.

    Conversely, I know of others who have experienced perfunctory preparation as a mere formality for a baptism or other ritual that was itself a mere formality to allow them to join the church so they could get married to a member, or because it was what their family expected, etc.

    Neglecting the mystagogical and catechetical context of celebrating sacraments may be, in fact, the root cause of the legalistic misunderstandings against which some of us have reacted by considering that it might be best to sever the tie between communion and baptism, altogether.

  18. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Let’s review…

    Mt 28:18-20: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

    I don’t think it should be hard to get baptized–on the contrary… But however it happens, catechesis and mystagogy have to be part of the process.

  19. Jon says:

    I think perfunctory baptism is only one face of the larger problem of doing ongoing Christian formation. I don’t see that front-loading large amounts of catechesis is neccesarily helpful in dealing with the problem, especially if it leaves people with the impression that they’re done with formation after baptism.

    The questions, as I see it, are “what needs to be understood before baptism,” and “about how long should we expect it to take to get a seeker to understand those points.”

    Jon

  20. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Yes–perfunctory baptism is the problem here, Jon.

    Personally, I like Cyril of Jerusalem’s model. Most often people only know his mystagogical catechesis–which occured after the baptism/confirmation/first communion–but he also has catechetical lectures for the time of Lent that gave this sort of basic instruction. (I’ll confess to not having read them since seminary–so I forget exactly what they covered).

  21. Jon says:

    So parishes are mostly doing a good job of making sure all their baptized members are continuing to be formed as Christians? I wouldn’t bet on it, not least because the church is a voluntary organization.

    Jon

  22. Marvin Vann says:

    Admittedly, a year and half of catechesis leading up to baptism may be in many cases overkill, and lead to problems of its own.

    In the case of conversions to Orthodoxy in a Western context, particular considerations are involved, including the desire to verify that candidates are truly embracing Orthodox faith and not just fleeing from problems in their former churches, the challenges of Orthodox formation outside the cultural spheres which have historically both shaped and been shaped by Orthodox faith and practice, and the particular emphasis in Orthodoxy on the inculturation of faith.

    And, to be honest, the Orthodox Church does not in many cases do a better job of providing catechesis and (especially) mystagogical instruction and formation than those church communities with Western roots.

    I think Derek’s allusion to the ancient understanding of Lent as the traditional period for catechetical instruction is helpful. There is much to be said for the standard of a forty-day period of preparation, followed by an extended an indefinite period of mystagogical formation, envisioned as involving more than just “propositional” learning. The benefits of the ancient standard and practice include its resonance with scripture and with the liturgical sanctification of time, and its potential to reinforce the communal aspects of the process, including its coordination with a community-wide period of self-examination leading up to acts of recommitment to the covenant.

    One pitful to avoid, and which is not very successfully avoided in most Orthodox parishes, in my experience, would be placing such emphasis on the liturgical and pietistic aspects of the faith and tradition that its implications for hospitality, service and openness to the world beyond the ritually defined covenant community are neglected.

    An hour or two of pre-baptismal instruction would hardly seem adequate for fostering a non-legalistic understanding of baptism and its link to Communion, or of Communion itself.

  23. Marvin Vann says:

    PS: While I am very critical of many aspects of contemporary Roman Catholic practice, I think there is much to admire in their RCIA process.

  24. Jon says:

    Marvin, if one of the lessons a person takes from a year and a half of formation before baptism/reception is that they’re done after that year and a half, then even that length of time is inadequate. If, on the other hand, one spends an hour or less preparing for baptism and only learns to continue formation until death, then the formation will have been adequate preparation for beginning the Christian life since all the rest will follow in its own time.

    As it happens I tend to agree that spending longer on pre-baptismal formation is preferable, and that Lent is an good time to do it, as is Advent although to a lesser degree. Still, pre-baptismal formation needs to be kept in its proper place alongside post-baptismal formation.

    Jon

  25. Marvin Vann says:

    Jon, I don’t follow. I thought you were advocating the indissolubility of baptism and communion because you were concerned that the alternative–CWOB–raised the possibility of people vitiating the significance of sacramental communion by partaking without committing to Christian faith and community.

    But, how would baptism entered into with “an hour or less” of preparation address that concern? Wouldn’t it be just as possible that someone under those circumstances was partaking in the sacrament (baptism) for wrong reasons as someone approaching the Holy Table without having first been baptized?

    Such a position seems to confer something like magical efficacy on the act of baptism. I wouldn’t want to get bogged down in an argument over whether the sacrament works *ex opere operato* vs. “ex operere operantis,* because both sides of that old debate seem to neglect the signficance of the communal nature of the sacrament, which it seems to me, is of the essence.

    Isn’t the essential difference that baptism is experienced and defined by the Church as an irreversible initiation into communion? But, this presumes that the initiant is committed to participating in the sacrament, at the very least, as it is understood by the Church. Isn’t one function of (pre-baptismal)catechesis, precisely, to foster and verify that commitment? How could someone be so committed if they had not first forged a relationship with the Church?

    To adopt Derek’s language of intimacy, isn’t catechesis something like the period of courtship between the candidate and Christ’s body, the Church? Baptism with such perfunctory catechesis would be something like a shotgun wedding. Sure, it *might* take. But, in a great many cases, it doesn’t, because the candidates are often completely ignorant about what they’re undertaking.

    Briefly put, how could baptism represent a commitment to Christian formation, if it doesn’t intrinsically involve a foretaste of the same?

    It seems to me the indissolubility of baptism and communion is only worth upholding if one also upholds the indissolubility of baptism and catechesis, something which surely can’t be forged in an “an hour or less” (unless we’re limiting the terms “catechesis” or “preparing for baptism” to formal teacher-to-student instruction, which I think would be a misunderstanding).

  26. Jon says:

    The baptismal liturgy expresses a commitment to living the Christian life and by extension to Christian formation. If a person has said their parts in that liturgy, I’m inclined to take them at their word. I don’t, however, want to put a huge emphasis on what a person understands at any one time, not even on how well it agrees with the church’s understanding, because of the limitations on our ability to come to understanding. As I see it, the emphasis needs to be on keeping the commitment made when one was baptized, even when confronted with the unexpected. Understanding certainly helps make holding to the commitment easier, and we should certainly encourage seekers to spend longer than an hour on coming to understand the church, but it’s an aid rather than the central requirement.

    The sitation appears to be similar for marriage. One is profoundly unlikely to appreciate all the changes of habit marriage will require in advance of actually living out the marriage. When misunderstandings come up it is of central importance to remain committed to working through the misunderstanding together. All the previous degree of understanding does is make it easier to come through the trials whole. The problem illustrated by shotgun weddings isn’t primarily that the marriage was entered into hastily, the problem is that the marriage was coerced which greatly diminishes the likelyhood that both parties entered into the marriage committed to holding each other. The situation is similar for cohabiting couples who get married because they start having kids.

    Jon

    Jon

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