April 18, 2011

Wash before dinner

The Canadian Anglican Bishops have affirmed the standing tradition on the question of receiving communion prior to baptism. I am not particularly surprised by this affirmation. I continue to find the logic of the traditional sequence to be persuasive, in spite of the emotional appeal of the contrary position. I am much more supportive of the efforts to link baptism with eucharistic participation -- a movement not aided by our current BCP's awkward placement of the Peace so as to interrupt the flow directly into the Prayers of the People — participation in which is historically as much a sign of incorporation in the body of the faithful as the rest of the Eucharist. (This was anciently the turning point at which the catechumens were dismissed from the mysteries.)

I've rehearsed elsewhere how we have come to this pickle, in terms of up-playing the Eucharist precisely in a time when a larger number of un-baptized persons are likely to be in attendance in churches; downplaying such liturgies as Morning Prayer at which all are clearly welcome; and emphasizing formation for baptism and making it more intentional than it was in earlier days, when it was simply expected that the baby would be done. With all of these changes, like the Red Queen we need to hasten if only to stay in the same place! If that is what we want, of course... But if we are going to change, let us look at the big picture, and not tinker.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Fr. J said...

Amen, and amen.

Brother David said...

And again, I say, "Amen."

LKT said...

I would like to point out that Jesus and his disciples often didn't wash before dinner.

I used to hold the "traditional" position until I started looking at this subject through the gospels. What I saw there was that Jesus was willing to share a meal at any time with anyone. It wasn't the emotional appeal; it was Jesus' actions that persuaded me that there are lots of different ways to the table.

June Butler said...

In retrospect, I agree with you that Episcopalians/Anglicans indeed may have made a mistake in downplaying liturgies such as Morning Prayer. Ah, the wonderful wisdom of hindsight. I would not have said such a thing 5 years ago and certainly not 10 years ago.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to the Amen corner!

LKT, the problem revolves around whether the Eucharist is "a meal" in the sense of the meals Jesus had with the disciples -- some of which were open to outsiders, some of which were strictly for them. So I don't think this solves the problem but rather adds a detail of why the problem exists. We invite people into the church, without reservation, but then essentially tell them they cannot fully participate in a crucial aspect of the worship unless they are "full members." No one would do that with an actual meal (do we exclude from coffee hours or potlucks?) but the Eucharist is not simply, nor even primarily perceived as, a "meal" in this sense. In our tradition it is not even simply a reenactment of the Last Supper. It has a long-standing sacramental character as a participation in the body of Christ -- which we also teach that you are not part of if you are not baptized. The problem has to do with the teaching of the church up til now. I'm not saying it can't change, but the argument from the table-fellowship of Jesus and the disciples, while it addresses the performative aspects of the problem, doesn't really address the weight of the theological tradition. I'm not saying that can't be done, but what is needed would be a full explanation of how participation in the Eucharist is itself incorporation into as well as celebration of.

Thanks, Mimi. It is the unintended consequences about which I am most concerned. The effective elimination of MP as a public liturgy in many places puts much more emphasis on Holy Communion.

Laura said...

One thing we might consider is baptizing a little faster (lots of people were baptized on Day 1 at Pentecost). Any one care to share thoughts on that?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Laura, funny you should ask. I'm thinking of having an "open baptism" on Pentecost, using the sermon for the "instruction" and inviting anyone who is not baptized to come to the font. I haven't run this by parish lay leadership yet, as my own thoughts on this possibility only gelled since yesterday when I had a chat with some clergy colleagues at the "Chrism and Collegiality Mass" -- but I sense there will be a favorable response. Under a former rector fourth Sundays of each month were basically "open baptism" sundays, and though that's some time ago now, some favorable memories may persist. We shall see.

LKT said...

Do you really believe that people are not part of the body of Christ until they are baptized? Because I find that hard to swallow, myself.

I wish I could find this reference to John Wesley I read years ago in which he talks about taking the Eucharist as a saving act. He was offering communion to people who hadn't been baptized and that was part of his argument. But this is a hazy memory at this point, so I don't want to make too much of this.

Is part of the issue that baptism will somehow come to seem optional or unimportant? I can understand; if communion is open to all, where does baptism fit in? At the same time, I think that genie is out of the bottle. I'm not sure how we would be able to wrestle it back in.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

LKT, yes, I do believe that about the Body of Christ; baptism is initiation into that community. Everyone is, of course, fully human and blessed by God before baptism. But it strikes me as a kind of imperialism to say that all people are Christians, which is what it means to be a member of the Body of Christ. It seems to me that this way of thinking is where the difficulty arises, and the idea that baptism is unimportant or optional. I suppose it would be helpful to me to hear what you mean by "part of the body of Christ." We may be meaning very different things by that; but from my perspective baptism is entry into membership in the church, which is the body of Christ. (See BCP, page 858)

I would be interested in seeing Wesley's reflection on this, though with Wesley we are heading back towards the very emotional pole I referred to above.

LKT said...

I don't think I'm saying "everyone is a Christian." I do think I'm saying you don't need to be baptized to be a Christian. I think that's where I have trouble with the "no communion before baptism." I'm not sure I'm in a place to deny communion to my fellow-Christian, and I KNOW I'm not in a place to judge whether someone is a Christian or not. Baptism is a handy shorthand, but I don't think it's definitive.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, LKT. That is helpful in lining out the problem rather boldly.

The situation, though, is similar to the issue of the openness of communion. Is it merely a "sign" of being part of the body, or the "means" to become part of that body. Is "being a Christian" about personal beliefs alone, or personal beliefs acted upon in a sacramental way, through the church (that is, can one be a Christian without a relationship with other Christians?) Is an infant who is baptized more of "a Christian" than a long-time follower of Christ who has for whatever reason never been baptized. Is being a Christian objective or subjective? These are the sort of questions that need to be examined, and I fear they are being lost in the shuffle of assumptions and a clash of differing theories of the nature of the church. Some of which go back to the Anabaptists! Thank you for restating them so clearly.

I'm not sure the trend is all one way, btw. The increased stress on the Baptismal Covenant surely seems to me to imply that Baptism is more than a handy shorthand. Tho it is ironically true that some who speak most eloquently on the Baptismal Covenant also press for CWOB. Which leads me to my thought that baptism needs to be made more, not less, available. "Come to the water!"

LKT said...

Thank you! That helps a great deal.

liturgy said...

Holy Week greetings,

& thanks for these thoughts.

I'm not at all sure of your solution of having "open baptism" on Pentecost, or every fourth Sundays of each month using the sermon for the "instruction" and inviting anyone who is not baptized to come to the font.

I am confused where you are suggesting you would prefer the Sign of Peace to take place - or where you are referring to them currently taking place?

I am a strong advocate for the Daily Office, and appreciate that the Eucharist is the jewel in the crown and we often do not have the crown (Daily Office) in which the jewel is placed. But I'm not following why the Daily Office is for the unbaptised and the Eucharistic liturgy is for the baptised. Both IMO are prayer in Christ.



Erika Baker said...

I'm finding this converation fascinating - it's not one we have in Britain yet, we're still talking about allowing people to take Communion before they have been confirmed.
But isn't the question to some extent the same one only with shifted boundaries?

Leaving aside the question of how you police this (you don't ask for people's baptism certificates before you give them Communion),
I cannot imagine that someone would want to take Communion if it wasn't meaningful to them.

And at the point a Christian ritual or action or sacrament becomes meaningful to someone, I would assume that they are being drawn in by the Spirit and that we almost don't have the right to refuse them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Bosco,

I'm not entirely convinced about the Pentecost matter yet myself. I'd certainly not revert to my predecessor's every 4th Sunday. But it seems to me that open baptism is more theological than open communion. As with the Ethiopian Eunuch -- here is water!

The issue on the Peace is really about the rubrically permitted omission of the Prayers of the People. I don't have the NZ bcp at hand (and have not yet downloaded the helpful resource to which you pointed.) I'm sure there is some rationale for the peace coming directly after the "welcome" by the congregation, but it seems to interrupt the flow to the prayers, and the permission to omit them seems to me to be just wrong. How does NZ handle that moment?

The MP question is practical. I didn't mean to suggest that MP is "for" the unbaptized, merely that there is no bar to their full participation at that liturgy. A case in point is a large center city parish in NYC that until 30 yrs ago was a "1st & 3rd" where HE was the primary liturgy only twice a month, and MP the norm the rest of the time. This allowed full participation to many tourists, neighbors and others who attended for the glorious music, and I am sure benefited from the psalmody, sermon, and prayer -- without being baptized. When HE became normative, the congregation not only lost a number of members, but created the feeling of a "bar" to participation, and latterly began the practice (so I've heard) of open communion as a solution. That's the problem.

Erika, I too have the confirmation problem (and I think wrote a bit about it in one of the earlier essays on the theme). Most of my members come from other parts of the Communion where the peculiar Anglican rule on Confirmation is still in place. So I have the anomaly of young children receiving at the rail next to youth who don't.

Needless to say (I hope you know me better!) this isn't about policing! I would never refuse anyone who came to the altar. The issue is those churches who openly invite the unbaptized to participate. One of the problems in our liturgy -- which I cited in the earlier essay -- is the extent to which our liturgy in fact issues invitations: "you who do earnestly repent..." etc. There has been a lot of water under the Milvian bridge, and I think we have not adequately addressed all of the issues of moving from Christendom to a post-Constantinian world.

Fr. J said...

One of the things that I've found, pastorally, is that the invitation to Communion without Baptism puts adherents of other faith traditions in a rather awkward spot. I've had Muslims and Jews who visit my parish with their Christian spouses and tell me that they appreciate that they're not "called out" for not coming forward with everyone else. Likewise, atheist and agnostic friends of mine who have attended services here find it downright peculiar that there are churches where they would be invited into full participation in the service as if they were Christians. "But we don't believe that's the Body of Christ," they say to me. "Why would we take it as if we did?" It's striking to me how many atheists and agnostics I know who have a better grasp of Christianity than many Christians.

Of course, this doesn't answer the question about the person who comes forward in a rush of sudden faith and wants to receive. While I only invite the Baptized to the rail, I certainly wouldn't slap the hand of someone who came forward in a great furor of new found faith. But I would also want to talk to that person immediately after the service, to make sure the person got connected with catechism and preparation for Baptism.

I guess my only concern with the "open Baptism" position, aside from a certain amount of liturgical messiness, is how one follows up with those newly baptized. I don't think that there should be any requirement of deep theological knowledge before being Baptized (as is, on this point, I fear that our current baptismal examination veers towards the Pelagian), but I do think it behooves us to make sure that people know what they're doing in liturgy before they do it. It's one of the reasons I insist on meetings with parents before their children are baptized, not to evaluate their worthiness but to make sure they know what they're getting themselves into when they make irrevocable promises before the Lord. The Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized that same day that he came to faith, but only after he received detailed instruction at the hands of an apostle. Who are we to do otherwise? Is a single sermon really sufficient to ensure that people know what they're doing?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Fr. J. on two counts: the reminder about unbaptized persons who don't want to receive, and the cogent dissuasion from open baptism. As I say, I'm still not firm at all in my mind on that, and it is helpful to see a sound counter-argument. I will say I do a fairly hefty baptismal preparation with parents, and would feel comfortable working it into a sermon, but likely only once a year...

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

ps and I quite agree about the follow-up. This is why I think a shift to deep mystagogy from extended catechuemate makes sense in this regard... "Taste and see."

Father Ron Smith said...

Interestingly, Tobias, on the subject of Eucharist before Baptism, I normally would follow the Anglican precedent of Baptism first. However, during the recent aftermath of our Christchurch, N.Z., earthquake, I attended an outdoor Mass in a parish whose church building was disabled, when the Vicar, a good catholic, offered Holy Communion to ALL present - with no strings attached In that specific moment, I felt that he was doing the right thing. Who knows, it might have ignited a real park of faith in someone who had only been, for that particular grace moment, 'looking on'

I do beleve that the Sacraments are the gift of God to all who are willing to believe. Profession of Faith may come later. Remember the people in the N.T. who were found alive with the Spirit - even though they had not yet been Baptised into Christ? The Apostles then baptised them. "For nothing is impossible to God!"

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Fr. Ron. I take both points here as helpful, but on the first I think we are still facing the difference between a "graceful exception" vs. making CWOB normative. On the second, well, the issue there is in fact Baptism -- very likely part of the process that led the early church to put the last verses of Matthew into Jesus' mouth.

On a side not, as it seems to me to be fruitless to find a clear Scriptural answer on this question (the H.E., much less than baptism, itself not being terribly "well-formed" as a liturgy in the N.T. -- that by the Anglican process of elimination the order of sacraments cannot be held to be a "matter of salvation" in itself, and thus it is within the competence of the church to make alterations in that sequence (as it has in its understanding of the sacraments themselves, particularly the H.C.).

That is why I think the topic is open to debate and discussion. It is clear that both "sacraments of the gospel" were instituted by Christ, but there does not appear to be an inherent order in the text; and most of our reflection on that order comes from the reflection of the early church. Given that, it will take, I think, some hefty thinking to shift; but I am not an impossibilist in this -- any more than I am on the marriage question, as you know.

Marshall Scott said...

Tobias, I appreciate the value of your side note. In that light, though, if we are to follow what we have in Scripture, perhaps we should join some smaller Christian communions in elevating foot washing as a sacramental rite. Granted, there isn't the evidence of its repetition in Scripture that there is for Eucharist; but the evidence that Christ washed feet is more certain than the evidence that Christ baptized. So perhaps it ought to happen more than one night each year - if we want to find ourselves, as some do, even some who are Anglicans, to what can be "demonstrated in Scripture."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks Marshall. It is interesting to think about footwashing -- esp. at this time of year -- and note that in spite of the clear mandate (literally!) it is only rarely practiced by most Christians, while those who do it on a more regular basis are seen as being a bit outré!

My point, though, concerned the Anglican principle that things cannot be required if they cannot be proven from Scripture. The church is able NOT to require things recorded, or even mandated, in Scripture -- which is the basin into which the Maundy falls, at least as I see it.

Frankly, I think the traditional Maundy not to be a particularly effective symbol in our culture, since footwashing is not a norm in our society. The "shocking" thing about the Maundy was a teacher serving his disciples in a task normally assigned to a low-level servant. Perhaps a more effective symbol in most parishes would be for the pastor / rector to serve food to the assembly, at the parish luncheon! I know in some places that would be revolutionary...

IT said...

Has anyone read "Take this Bread" by Sarah Miles? I can't imagine anyone who WANTS to take communion if they aren't feeling something significant.

HEre's the thing. I was baptised and confirmed Roman Catholic. I'm technically "legal" for Communion, though I don't believe in God. How is it okay for me to receive, and someone who "gets it" and wants it, in the moment, not?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

IT, I am familiar with Sarah's book.

The problem, as I see it, is so entangled with history that it is difficult to speak clearly. But I do think your comment points to what the problem amounts to: which seems to me to be that we make little of baptism and much of eucharist.

I think we need to make much of both.

Again, this is not a question of repelling someone moved to come forward. It is about having some notion of how the two sacraments relate to each other: and the sequence of initiation followed by participation is not only logical, but a part of many human cultures in different forms. The real issue is that the initiatory character of baptism got lost when it became entangled with other notions (largely of limbo avoidance!). In the "Christendom" culture, initiation became effectively moot, and baptism shifted its meaning.

Another thread in this tangle is that both sacraments came to be primarily about sin, rather than celebration. Baptism was a way to get rid of original sin, and communion was limited to those who had gone to confession shortly before.

People such as Sarah correctly see that Eucharist is primarily an act of welcome and celebration. We've lost that element from CHristian baptism, which is part of its original intent (as the NT reveals in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch and Cornelius' household -- neither of which are about sin, but initiation and welcome, sacramentally displayed.)

All of this adds to the dilemma, and what we are undergoing now is nothing short of a new Reformation!

June Butler said...

Another thread in this tangle is that both sacraments came to be primarily about sin, rather than celebration.

Yesterday, we welcomed into the family of St John's the twin babies of a lesbian couple. We made history in a lovely but low-keyed sort of way. The prayer after baptism says:

Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace....

I thought to myself, "What sin? Future sins?"

liturgy said...

I am very appreciative of this discussion, and (fortunately/unfortunately?) can see value in both sides – eucharist as the repeatable part of the sacrament of initiation, eucharist as continuing Christ’s radically open table. (Is part of being Anglican being able to hold together two “opposite” positions?) [ps. I can make no sense of the “excommunicating” policies of provinces that refuse to give communion to any baptised who seek communion!]

Some, here, may not be aware of my own discussions relating to this:

I think your point, “we have not adequately addressed all of the issues of moving from Christendom to a post-Constantinian world” is central. This is the border where I serve as a chaplain in an Anglican school where students are from a variety of Christian and non-Christian faiths as well as atheists and agnostics. In practice it is not as much of an issue as in theory.

As to the Peace/Prayers. In NZPB the Prayers are omitted at ordinations – I don’t think there’s a NZPB rubric allowing their omission otherwise (anybody?). The Peace may come at the start of the service – I would not place it there as it confuses the role of the Peace – I see no issue in having the Peace where it is as part of the movement from lectern/ambo to altar. I see its RC positioning after the Eucharistic Prayer as far more problematic.

Finally, back to the communion invite – I merely note that all this is talking about adding words to the words of the liturgical rite.

Christ is risen!