June 24, 2009

More on CWOB

I observed in a response to a comment on the previous post that,

The church’s present liturgies were mostly composed in the era of Christendom, when it was assumed all in attendance were baptized.

This is why the liturgies themselves contained explicit invitations for the congregation to come forward to receive, without mentioning the obvious — the requirement of Baptism (or in the Anglican tradition, Confirmation). Even our present Book of Common Prayer, arguably composed in a post-Christendom era, continues this form of invitation. Needless to say, we have long since departed from the patristic and conciliar custom of dismissing the catechumens prior to the Prayers! So our liturgical language hasn't kept pace with the change in the surrounding culture. (I do note that one change the 1979 BCP made over the 1928 was to remove the italicized words in "Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort" from the invitation to Confession.)

Again, I am not arguing in favor of CWOB — I am merely pointing out the various factors that have led to the question being raised in our time.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Frair John said...

So, a lack of historical grounding and understanding leads to a poor grasp of the theology?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I detect a correlation...

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Well, Tobias, you once again have stated things in such a thoughtful, inviting way, I had to run home and blog about it. You tend to have that effect on me, doggone it!

RENZ said...

Very interesting posts and comments. As I am currently drifting away from TEC, this has given me more food for thought. My former congregation here and in Chicago both practiced open communion. Here "all are invited to God's table."

I strongly support the concept of open communion. IMHO we often invite guests into our homes to partake in our family meal. If they come often enough, we make them members of our family.

I guess what I have learned/absorbed over the past 15 years is that coming to the table and sharing in the bread and wine is open to all. Baptism is a sacrament that welcomes the individual to the family - be it infant or older.

Incidentally, we didn't practice confirmation at my last congregation - as baptism was enough.

plsdeacon said...

We have moved, rather rapidly, from assuming that everyone is baptized (still largely true in the 60s and 70s when the 79 BCP was modified and written). But the invitation still says: "The Gifts of God for the people of God." The intended recipients are "the people of God." That does not include the unbaptized.

Actually I don't think it is a "lack of historical gorunding and understanding." I believe that the problems really is about basic catechesis for the laity and sending men and women who are unformed as Christians off to seminary. Additionally, the academic model of seminary is not really conducive to understanding, articulating, and teaching the faith. It is more conducive to questioning the faith and practice of the Church.

Phil Snyder

Reverend Ref + said...

Kind of late to the discussion on this one, so I apologize for the length. I haven't yet read the article in the ATR (it's up next in my stack, though).

Personally, I am in favor of open communion. It's less of a hospitality issue with me, though, than it is about conversation; as well as an all-out physical change.

How many times do we have conversations with people over meals regarding everything from wooing a potential employee to fiance's meeting the family? We should do the same at church -- Come in, share a meal, have a conversation, and then be baptized into the family.

Which means placing the altar at the back of the church and placing much larger baptismal fonts at the front. It's a whole-sale liturgical/physical space change.

But I am also bound by the rubrics and canons of this church. Which means that I don't willy-nilly change things I don't like or disapprove of (see your post on Tinkering). Therefore, in my congregations, all baptized people are welcome to receive communion, all others are welcome to receive a blessing.

If I can't abide by the rubrics and canons, I don't have a leg to stand on in criticizing our "orthodox" brethren when they ignore rubrics and canons.

MarkBrunson said...

The abiding sin of orthodite churches is self-absorption, but the abiding sin of progressive churches is other-absorption. Is it good to serve others as Christians? Of course. But if we lose that grounding of Christianity, if we don't have some sense of specialness in it, what are we reaching out from? If there is nothing special, nothing sacred, set apart, why bother reaching out? We do ourselves harm by assuming that set apart means that we are "better than" without realizing the psychological and sociological realities of doing away with all sense of specialness, of mystery and of chosen brotherhood in the Eucharistic act. No. It isn't for all who set foot through the door. Either we believe that what we are engaging in is something profound, in which case it is necessary to have made some committment to engage in it, or it's nothing special, so why bother inviting others? Why bother for ourselves?

In speaking of mystery, I'm not talking magic, or I'd say bring everyone up - feed 'em the good-soul juju! The sacredness is for us so that we stay moored. Forsake that, and we begin to unravel and have nothing to offer. I'm sorry, but it's not a public service, nor simply a family meal to invite your school buddy to. This is sacred. This is Divine touching Mundane. If we can't even preserve the sanctity of outward and visible signs, how can we preserve the sanctity of less tangible things?

Anonymous said...

It seems that since I wrote my note Phil Snyder has posted a response that goes to the root of what I was trying to get at, with far fewer words. Although there is also, I think, room for aesthetic discussion as part of this larger question, feel free to delete my other posting if you feel it's too far off topic. I trust your judgement on that. No worries.

I do, however, think that the mass is far more than 'just' a conversation.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the additional thoughts.

Bookguy, this is the first note I rec'd from you on this post. Perhaps your earlier note went over Blogger's character count limit? I've been caught by that myself, and their "warning" is easy to miss -- instead of the top of the message saying "Your comment has been saved" there is text saying something like "Comments are limited to 4096 characters" and if you just click the "close box" your comment will disappear.

Anonymous said...

I think you are certainly right. That is exactly what happened. I will send it again in more than one part. Feel free to cut mercilessly if you feel it is needed.


Anonymous said...

As I read your blog this morning I couldn't help but note my aged Episcopal heart had a distinct pang at the quote from the 1928 prayerful: "Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort." In that nostalgia, I think there is an important point that addresses your topic.

I'm an old guy, so I definitely remember using the 1928. I admit that, for the sake of evangelism we needed to update the language. The male centrality and the treatment of sin, in particular, seem absolutely unrelenting when I look through it again these days. The emphasis on the mass as the central sacrament of the community also seemed to be a little under emphasized.

On the other hand, much of the language of the old prayer book was so beautiful and seemed so much closer to the old, sweepingly majestic Elizabethan we Anglican's had been using for centuries that I can't help but feel that the current version is somehow lacking. I especially feel this way with Rite 2, but even Rite 1 gives me the same feeling; and, of course, just TRY to find a service with music that uses Rite 1! It's just about impossible in my area.

I also remember the "dismissal of the catechumens" (having been one myself); I still can't help but feel this was the right way to do it. I didn't feel excluded: I was a 'little guy;' I was still learning about faith and I knew it. We learned a lot in the short lessons we had while the adults were in mass; for one thing, we learned what the mass MEANS, why it is done the way it is, why the bread is baked the way it is, what the symbolism of the words and motions MEAN, why we cross ourselves and why we genuflect on the way up but not on the way back etc, etc, etc....

We, not incidentally, learned to parse out and understand the daily readings for ourselves and to SING: chanting the readings and the prayers; when the time came, we could fully participate in the mass and not just be an audience. That still seems a MUCH better approach to me than keeping the kids (or even the adult catechumens) in the Mass; it's definitely better than permitting a kid to bounce a ball against the back wall of the church DURING mass - which happened at a church I attended in Baltimore recently.

Anonymous said...

There is something about having been educated to a common understanding of meaning that seems to me to be an important part of what we are missing in the church these days. I wonder if this isn't traceable back to no longer requiring the education we got prior to confirmation.

There seems to be a slant these days that everyone's opinion, no matter how ill informed, is equally good. If something is difficult we don't teach people how to truly participate, we "dumb it down" or exclude people from participation by paying a professional choir to fill the role(s) that the congregation should be taking and filling for themselves (filling and being fulfilled in). I'm not sure this sort of dumb-ing down is either more welcoming, or a better witness to truth, or even any more democratic, than was our once upon a time insistence on an educated understanding as "qualification" for the mass which we had then.

I MISS the old language, difficult though it may have been; to this day, I have trouble with the distancing effect of addressing god in the formal "you" rather than the more intimate and in-formal "thou." More importantly, I am finding the new "openness" to sometimes be more than a little off-putting. I suspect that, as one of your other commentators mentioned, there are plenty who decline to participate (and thereafter never show their faces again) because they don't want to affirm something that they don't understand. Of course they don't! Who would at the point of just entering a church? One must educate them.

I also miss the old chanted service, singing all the readings and especially those magnificent chanted collects. I especially miss our beautiful Anglican plainsong chant (which, of course was not chant since its harmonic, but it was beautiful and holy nonetheless). I never had a problem with doing the Willan setting week after week: the repetition was a little dull for you professionals, but we in the pews really learned it and the repetition encouraged participation.

We could, and did, chant the psalms as a congregation and we loved it (once we'd had a little practice); we were even able to vary the Anglican chant week by week and change to appropriate Gregorian modes for advent and lent. We were far from perfect, but we merged together as a congregation by participating with all of our selves, our souls and bodies in the entire service of the mass. I really believe there was something about the chant that brought our minds and bodies, our literal breaths, together into synchronizing as a community as we chanted these services together. Now we just mostly seem to watch, which doesn't have quite the same effect.

Anonymous said...

If a little guy (13 and up such as I was then) can learn to stand up in front of a congregation and chant the readings on a regular basis (when my turn came around), I'll bet anyone can. I was definitely NOT exceptional in the parish I grew up with; in fact, I was considered pretty remedial, not very bright, and something of a little monster: more of a trial to at least one volunteer teacher's patience (her name was Peggy Mann, of sainted and loved memory). It just takes a little education, focus, rehearsal, and love.

I think we have a strong tendency to underestimate ourselves and patronize the catechumens at the very points at which we can and should be challenging them. They are looking for something when they enter, but we can't just hand it to them on a platter, it requires participation IN and OF the community. Our old ways were calculated for exactly that effect.

I guess this means that I'm am now (officially) an old foggy. As my mother used to say: "Old age is a bitch, sonny; I recommend it highly."

Anonymous said...

BTW - I have also enjoyed and agree with Mark Brunson. His comment that "we believe that what we are engaging in is something profound, in which case it is necessary to have made some committment to engage in it" carries much of the sense of what I was getting at with more detail through my aesthetic concerns.


Frair John said...


I think you agree with me more than you think. " basic catechesis" includes, by necessity, "historical grounding and understanding." Doing the first includes the other.
As for the academic settings of Seminary, I think the real problem we have is the reduction of seminaries to almost schools of social work with a few theologically grounded classes is really the issue. The other problem is the idea that seminary classes are separate from reality on the ground and that real academic theology has no place in parish life. A removal of contextual education is a good deal of our problem.

Mark Friesland said...

I have mixed feelings about CWOB. In a sense, don't we already have policies in place in our canons and in BCP rubrics? On any given Sunday, especially in larger parishes, do the clergy really know the baptismal status of everyone at the altar rail. I am a lay person, not a seminary grad. My head says we should invite people to baptism before inviting them to Eucharist. My heart says everyone is welcome at Eucharist. I have an idea, let's set up a theological commission and ask them to get back to us on the topic of CWOB in 50-75 years. Oh, that's a bad joke! In terms of the 1928 BCP, I remember hearing the exhortations read (was it three times a year). And I have to confess that I miss some of that old liturgy. I haven't been to a traditional language liturgy in about 7 years.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks again, all, for the richness you are bringing to this and the previous discussion. We are caught somewhere between the Rule and the Observance, the Head and the Heart, as Marko suggests. Perhaps out of this a pastoral synthesis may arise, in less than fifty years!

cwrn said...

Bookguy, I really liked what you had to say... if you're still watching this thread, please get in touch, I'm interested in talking to local Episcopalians, especially ones who have been around the church much longer than I have. My email is jasonlewis.x@gmail.com

BTW, I go to the 11 am mass at Old St. Paul's, it's Rite 1 choral eucharist. So there's at least that one.


IT said...

There has to be room for judgement, surely? And sometimes legalisms get in the way.

For example, I was baptised and confirmed Roman Catholic. I am "technically" eligible for Communion. But as I no longer have any faith, for me to participate would be meaningless, or even insulting.

(I go to church with my wife in solidarity; she's a RC moving towards TEC)

on the other hand, perhaps next to me in the pew may be someone who wasn't baptised, but who "gets it" and is deeply moved. Maybe this is a revolutionary moment for that person and the inclusion in that one event could make all the difference. Communion for that person may mean everything that to me, it doesn't. But that person is technically ineligible.

Tell me, which of us should be taking communion, that Sunday?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

IT, I would say, "The one whose heart is moved." Personally, I would never repel anyone from communion unless it was clear to me that they were approaching the altar as a deliberate act of sacrilege. The pastoral should always guide the decision.

Anonymous said...

@Jason. Thanks for your note about Old St Pauls. I sent you a response via e-mail, but assume it did not reach you as I have heard nothing back.

I have tried Old St Paul's in the past and have several friends who go there and mean to try again.

St Davids in Roland Park (three blocks from my retirement house) is on my agenda for a visit this week.