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”.
Presumably any Anglican infant or young child living in Wales who is admitted to Holy Communion is then a communicant. If such a child subsequently visits a church in England, or moves to England, then he or she is presumably entitled to receive Holy Communion in the Church of England. I think it is important, therefore, that this news is heard across the Church of England.
As you correctly point out, within the Church of England, the relevant provision is Canon B 15A Of the admission to Holy Communion which states:
1. There shall be admitted to the Holy Communion:
(b) 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.
Whilst this may not have been drafted with children from other Churches in mind, the first three criteria of (b) would appear to be satisfied (after 27 November) by the CiW provisions, leaving the only requirement for the infant or young child to be in good standing in his/her own Church.
However, Canon B 15A (c) addresses “any other baptized persons authorized to be admitted under regulations of the General Synod”, i.e. the Admission of baptized children to Holy Communion Regulations 2006 of 8 February 2006 which came into force on 15 June 2006.
With regard to these regulations, the CofE web page Children and Holy Communion states inter alia [emphasis added]:
“In February 2006, after many years of debates, reports and experimentation, The General Synod of the Church of England approved the Children and Holy Communion Regulations. The Regulations came into force on 15 June 2006, the Feast of Corpus Christi, and now about 15% of parishes admit baptised children to Communion before Confirmation”.
It appears, therefore, that following the initiative of the CiW, some clarification of the application of the provisions within the CofE is needed, since: if (b) applies, a CofE priest is obliged to permit the child to receive Holy Communion, unless he/she is a “notorious offender” under Canon B16 and the bishop has sanctioned such refusal; but if (c) applies, the bishop’s direction under the 2006 Regulations will determine the degree of discretion afforded to the priest.
The issues don’t seem to me to be different for those coming from Wales to England in the future to those who have been coming from Scotland to England for the last decade or so since we changed our canon law to say:
“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 baptized 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 Communion in one congregation shall be accepted as a communicant in any other congregation of this Church.”
I’ve always wondered about the position of those baptised in the Orthodox Churches. Orthodox infants are both baptised and chrismated – and immediately admitted to communion. So if an Orthodox couple turn up at an Anglican communion rail with their three-year-old, the child is also a baptised and confirmed member of its own Church in good standing and (presumably) should be admitted to communion.
Or as an Anglican priest friend of ours recently observed (but I guess he’d better remain anonymous) ‘Confirmation is a rite in search of a theology’.
Mr Cranmer says “Confirmation is a rite in search of a theology.” I beg to disagree.
There is no theology of Infant Baptism to be discerned in the new testament, only a theology of Baptism: (a) the prevenient grace of God [the grace of the Father sending the Son; the grace of the Son dying for sinners; the grace of the Holy Spirit quickening new life]; (b) hearing and believing the preached word of the Gospel; (c) repentance and baptism on profession of faith; (d) the grace of God anointing with the Holy Spirit after (c).
It seems obvious to me that infant baptism is a fractured sacrament since infants are incapable of (c) and thus deprived of (d). Confirmation is thus an invented rite which seeks to supply the missing (c) and (d). Hence, Infant Baptism + Confirmation = NT baptism. The theology of Confirmation consists of the theology behind (c) and (d).
One might wish to argue the appropriateness or otherwise of admitting to Communion those whose baptism is incomplete.
I was merely quoting a friend who’s a priest in the C of E – but I’m a Quaker so I’d better not argue.
Oh, I’ve said it out loud plenty!
You might be interested to know that we’re doing away with the need for General Synod members to have to have been confirmed precisely because of baptism/chrismation and early admission to communion. We have plenty of communicants in good standing who never have and may never be confirmed.
However we still require confirmation before ordination, though no-one really knows why.
As a (Roman) Catholic, once I received Holy Communion in any other Christian church which is not in full communion with the Church of Rome, I was no longer “in good standing” with/in “my” church.
When I put this point to the vicar where I was,and am, regularly attending, she thought about the real facts of my situation and said she didn’t think that was important. Surely she was right.
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The bishop’s discretion referred to in the 2006 regulations surely relates to the original admission, not to the transferability of duly authorised children to parishes whose ‘normative route’ differs. This was an issue some years before 2006 in dioceses such as Manchester and Southwark with extensive programmes of admission before confirmation. (Our own children show the diversity of practice at that time: our sons were admitted at 7 and continued as communicants when they became cathedral choristers, and were prepared for confirmation with their cohorts [one of them, excellently and imaginatively, by the late Robert Waddington]; one daughter was admitted at 7 and continued when I became Rector of a parish which had a traditional pattern with high numbers of year 7 confirmations but chose to defer confirmation; and one daughter who was not admitted until confirmation.) My impression is that most clergy in ‘non-admitting’ parishes respect the communicant status of those admitted elsewhere, though there are some horror stories. The practice of parents sharing some of the host with their ‘non-communicant’ children continues – a bit dodgy, but better than liturgical Smarties.
Confirmation as a ‘rite in search of a theology’ has been a standard jibe for many years, perhaps a bit unfairly.
Canon B15A(b) is presumably about other denominations rather than other Anglican provinces, where ‘good standing’ is not really the issue (though how does this survive physical removal from Wales, or Scotland, or wherever?) As Simmary shows, this is a curious criterion. It also arises in relation to electoral roll applications, with the option “I am a member in good standing of a Church (not in communion with the Church of England) which subscribes to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and also declare myself to be a member of the Church of England and I have habitually attended public worship in the parish during the period of six months prior to enrolment.”
While we are happy to accept their credentials, attendance – let alone receiving communion – and ER application may automatically put them out of ‘good standing’ in most denominations – in my experience, URC as well as RC – despite ecumenical agreements. There are many churchwardens (including my late father-in-law, a Polish Lutheran) and others who have held office on the basis of this declaration.
What about the position of Anglican/Quakers (I know a few)? The Society is certainly “not in communion with the Church of England” but if it “subscribes to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity” it’s news to me. Some Friends do: other Friends don’t.
Since Canon B 15A (a) specifically addresses “members of the Church of England ” who have been confirmed
in accordance with the rites of that Church…”, I read Canon B 15A (b) as relating to anyone who is not a member of the Church of England.
Is the Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej not a member of the Porvoo Communion? I thought everyone but the German Lutherans were. At any rate, whether officially in full communion or not, I can’t imagine any LWF/Quatenus Lutheran church excommunicating someone for attending a Church of England parish while in England, given the rarity of Lutheran churches in Great Britain.
In my father-in-law’s time there was a network of Polish Lutheran congregations in the East Midlands, where many Poles settled after the War (some, like him, ex-Polish Air Force), with social centres, language lessons and Youth Association trips to Poland when this became possible. Most of this is now gone through age and inter-marriage, but Lutheran services in Polish continue up and down the country – some led by their admirable former bishop Walter Jagucki. These are part of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain (LCiGB) which in 2013 became a full member of Porvoo. But the mother church, Kościół Ewangelicko-Augsburski w Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej [in English, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, ECACP] while a founder member of the World Council of Churches, and active in various European ecumenical bodies such as CEC, is not a member of Porvoo (despite discussions initiated long ago by the late Bishop Kenneth Stevenson). I think this is mainly because they look more to the USA and the World Lutheran Federation.
On confirmation, perhaps we can agree that confirmation (enabled on a grand scale in England by the railways) is now best treated as a pastoral rite, rather than something supplying a deficit, as if it were possible for the Holy Spirit to be absent in baptism, or only present in dilute form, since robus ad pugnam was only needed for adulthood.
Quanglicans must decide for themselves (as they are well-used to doing) whether they can subscribe to the electoral roll requirement. I’m pleased to say that our wonderful PCC secretary at my last parish decided that she could.
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