Admission to Holy Communion to change in Advent
The Bishops of the Church in Wales have issued a Pastoral Letter to all the faithful concerning Admission to Holy Communion. As from the First Sunday in Advent this year, 27th November 2016, the Bishops are giving permission “to all who are baptised in water and in the name of the Holy Trinity [within their dioceses and jurisdictions]. None is required to receive, but no barrier should be erected to prevent all the baptised from making their Communion, other than that which is required by civil law”. In addition, a paper on the Theological Background has been prepared.
The Pastoral Letter first reviews the history of the Sacrament of Baptism; it states that from about the fifth century, it became common in the western Church to separate this from the ceremony of Confirmation. From the thirteenth century, it became customary not to admit anyone to the Sacrament of Holy Communion unless or until they had received the sacramental act of Confirmation.
It notes that in the Church today, there are may who believe that the witness of the Church to Jesus Christ, and the process of nurturing children and young people in the Christian faith, would be immeasurably strengthened by recovering the earliest symbolism whereby the Sacrament of Baptism was complete in itself, and through it a person was incorporated into Christ and recognized as a Christian. “Baptism alone should be seen as the gateway into participation in the life of the Church, including admission to the Sacrament of Holy Communion.”
Decision of the Bench of Bishops
In its Pastoral Letter, the Bench of Bishops indicates that it now wishes to re-adopt the practice of the early Church with respect to admission to Holy Communion, and believe that all the baptised, by virtue of their Baptism alone, are full members of the Body of Christ and qualified to receive Holy Communion. This is based upon advice from the Doctrinal Commission of the CiW and from the Governing Body.
The bishops have also taken note of the existing Rubrics and teaching in the Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer of the Church in Wales; advice was also taken from the Legal Sub-Committee of the Governing Body, which gave an assurance that such a step does not require any change in the present Canon Law or Constitution of the CiW. Advice was also received on the civil law implications.
As noted above, these changes will be instituted on the First Sunday in Advent this year, 27th November 2016. Whilst even the youngest of children would be permitted to receive Holy Communion by the theology of the Church, certain restrictions would be imposed by civil law in relation to receiving in both kinds: administration of alcohol to children under the age of five is not permitted, and thereafter parental permission is required. This requires parishes and clergy to establish good practice “by ensuring that clear records are kept of what permissions are given, and Communion in all other cases would have to be in be one kind (bread)”. In addition, the Standing Liturgical Commission has been requested to prepare work on a new rite of Confirmation “that will reflect more clearly this [new] understanding”.