Children, Confirmation and Communion?

The General Synod of the Church of England is to meet from 19th to 21st November and the Agenda and papers are available on its web site, here.  In addition to the major item of business – the ordination of women – there will be voting on a motion from the diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, which has proposed an amendment to Canon B 12 concerning the administration of Holy Communion.  The motion proposes that two changes are made to the Canon and the associated regulations:

  • abolition of the requirement for Holy Communion to be distributed by someone who has been confirmed.  This would enable a child who is a ‘regular communicant’ to distribute Holy Communion even if he or she were not confirmed.
  • an incumbent or priest in charge (or a rural dean during a vacancy) could make such a decision, rather than a bishop or an archdeacon, provided that the diocesan bishop is in agreement. 

Copies of the proposed amendment to Canon B 12§3 and the Background Note are reproduced here and here, respectively.   

It is suggested that if agreed, the revised practice ‘would send out a clear message that children are fully included within the body of Christ’ and ‘allowing children to distribute the sacrament would be particularly appropriate in the context of the celebration of the Eucharist in Church Schools’.

Under the Admission of Baptised Children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006, an unconfirmed child may be admitted to Holy Communion provided that have been ‘adequately prepared’ and so it is argued that ‘[it] should therefore not be the case that a child asked to distribute the Sacrament would not understand the significance of Holy Communion.  It is further suggested that this would not create a precedent as with the variation of the age of confirmation, it is currently possible for a child to distribute the Sacrament under the current regime.

Consideration of the proposal has been given by the Faith and Order Commission, which identified three questions that members of the Synod are invited to consider:

  • Is it appropriate for those who are not yet confirmed to distribute Holy Communion?
  • Is it appropriate for children to distribute Holy Communion?
  • Does the decision about who may distribute Holy Communion need to be made at the episcopal or archidiaconal level as at present, or could it appropriately be devolved to the parochial level?

Whilst the Liturgical Commission supports the admission of children to Communion before confirmation, a number of its members were uneasy about the proposed canonical change on three grounds:

  • Children often lack the skills of co-ordination required in administering a chalice and this ‘could lead to spillages and vessels being dropped’;
  • It is simplistic to assume that children are somehow ‘excluded’ if every possible ministry is not opened up to them; and
  • Allowing some children to administer Communion could expose them to greater risk of being bullied.

Comment

Some of these arguments might seem plausible in a practical sort of a way when one starts from a summary of the 2006 Regulation. However, a different perception may be gained when the starting point is Canon B 15A 1(a) Of the admission to Holy Communion, viz.

“1. There shall be admitted to the Holy Communion:

(a) members of the Church of England who have been confirmed in accordance with the rites of that Church or are ready and desirous to be so confirmed or who have been otherwise episcopally confirmed with unction or with the laying on of hands except as provided by the next following Canon;”

which does not sit easily with Regulation 2 of the 2006 Regulations,

‘2. Children who have been baptised but who have not yet been confirmed and who are not yet ready and desirous to be confirmed as required by paragraph 1(a) of Canon B15A may be admitted to Holy Communion provided that the conditions set out in these Regulations are satisfied, [emphasis added].

Furthermore, Regulation 5 implies an on-going process of preparation

5. Before granting any permission under paragraph 4, the bishop must first satisfy himself (a) that the parish concerned has made adequate provision for preparation and continuing nurture in the Christian life and will encourage any child admitted to Holy Communion under these Regulations to be confirmed at the appropriate time and (b) where the parish concerned is within the area of a local ecumenical project established under Canon B 44, that the other participating Churches have been consulted, [emphasis added].

whereas paragraph 7 of the proposal GS 1881A states

7. Clause a) makes clear that any lay person who is a regular communicant could be considered to assist at Holy Communion. Children and young people will have, by that point, already received preparation for receiving communion, and it is anticipated that appropriate training, preparation and supervision will also take place for those appointed to assist, [emphasis added].

General Synod will clearly have plenty to discuss once it has agreed a position on women bishops.

3 thoughts on “Children, Confirmation and Communion?

  1. I’m pretty much out of practice at Anglican canon law because there’s not much call for it around the Society of Friends. However, I’ve often wondered about the following conundrum:

    Canon B 15A(b) states that there shall be admitted to the Holy Communion “baptized persons who are communicant members of other Churches which subscribe to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and who are in good standing in their own Church”.

    In Eastern-rite Churches children are chrismated as part of the baptismal rite and are then admitted to communion as a matter of course. So, presumably, if an Orthodox couple turn up in a C of E parish church one Sunday morning and go up to the communion-rail with their four-year-old, the child (as a communicant member of another Trinitarian Church) should be communicated along with the parents. And, presumably, so long as the parents inform the celebrant in advance, under the terms of B 15A(b) the celebrant has no authority to refuse the child communion.

    Or am I missing something?

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