October 27, 2011


A thing that bemuses me about Communion without Baptism [CWOB] is that it is often favored by some who make the most fuss about the Baptismal Covenant. It is deeply ironic to me that some who advance the slogan "All the sacraments for all the baptized" don't seem to realize the implication of that slogan for CWOB. One of the reasons I do not favor CWOB is my strong support for the Baptismal Covenant and all it requires, including the promise to remain faithful in "the breaking of the bread." Yes, all the sacraments for all the baptized.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


LKT said...

But a family can gather for dinner while still inviting guests to join in the meal. It doesn't make the family less of a family or the meal less of a family meal.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Is the Holy Eucharist simply "a meal"? Anyone is certainly welcome to come to the parish supper or coffee hour. But if one believes that the Holy Eucharist is a participation in the Body of Christ, then it seems fair to say that only members of that Body should participate in it as a sign of their membership in that Body. A "family meal" with guests isn't really a "family meal" any more. It's a wonderful thing, and I'm all for hospitality, but in its proper place. Some things are reserved to the family alone. The challenge for the church, now that it has made the HE a normative church experience, is how to welcome people in a post-Constantinian world into meaningful participation. I suggest Open Baptism, and the use of Baptism as an evangelistic tool.

By the way, I did not mean this post to launch into a fulsome discussion of CWOB, which I think I've addressed at length elsewhere, but rather the discontinuity between the slogan and the practice.

LKT said...

Actually, one of the things that's strange about that slogan to me, now that I think about it, is that we don't require baptism of all who participate in marriage services in our churches. Or burial services, for that matter. At least I haven't.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed so. That is another aspect of the incongruity of the slogan. (To say nothing of the issue of what the "sacraments" are!

It isn't just the slogan, though, but the continued emphasis on the Baptismal Covenant as formative of thinking in TEC. I get the feeling that the "Covenant" part has sunk in thoroughly, but not the relation to Baptism as initiation and incorporation. Perhaps it's because of the holdover of earlier emphases on the remission of sin, as opposed to the real stress in the newer rites on entry into a new relationship, the "Apostles' fellowship" in the "household of God" and participation in the "eternal priesthood"? The newly baptized is no longer merely a guest, but a member of the family.

LKT said...

I think you're right. Obviously the CWOB part doesn't bother me, but I've noticed we invite everyone to recite the baptismal covenant, whether they are baptized or not. That seems to me to be particularly incongruous.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Excellent observation. Frankly, I don't think we are really very good hosts, in spite of the "EC Welcomes You" signage. My secondary beef with CWOB revolves around it being a "too easy" answer to a rather deep issue of welcome, and I've heard from a few non-Christian visitors that they find it a bit "colonial" to invite them to do something they don't really believe in.

I'm certainly not about to suggest a return to the ancient liturgical dismissal of all the non or not yet baptized prior to the recitation of the Creed and the Prayers! But the principle does bear thinking about. What would the best form of hospitality be, that honors both a high understanding of the EUcharist and the dignity of all guests? I think it is harder, and more costly, than a simple invitation to join in.

But I see I am straying to the larger issue and not just the incongruous bit...!

JCF said...

I think your "CWOB" is something of a Straw Man, Tobias.

You make it sound like it's Communion Without Ever Baptism: that's certainly not what *I* favor!

I just believe that an individual unbaptized Imago Dei, present at a specific Eucharist, may feel drawn to altar---hungrily. And in that circumstance, the Christ's Eucharistic Minister should not pass them over, leaving them empty.

That's all. Economy of Grace, and not diminishing the need for Baptism.

[Heh, I feel strangely convicted however, to tell you that my wv is (kid you not) "culpa"! ;-X]

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

JCF, again, not to get off onto the topic of CWOB itself, rather than its incongruity with the Baptismal Covenant... but I'm not talking about the occasional graced movement of the heart of a seeker, but the standing policy of "in your face" invitation to all to participate -- which seems to say more about the host than the guests, and leaves some unbaptized persons feeling patronized rather than welcomed.

MarkBrunson said...

I think that, if you are going to participate in the deepest ceremonial and communal aspect of a community of worship, you have to make a visible committment to the community.

No. I do not favor communion without baptism first.

The argument of a family meal is indeed misleading, because the communion is much more than a meal - communion is a word itself that implies much more deep knowing and participating than even that of family. The social aspect, the general sharing aspect, is in the liturgy of the word, beyond that, if the communion has any meaning for you, you need to have committed to the community. If the community has little meaning to you, or the act of communion itself has little meaning, other than to get something you feel your participation gives you a "right" to, I can't understand why you would participate in the first place; a sip of wine and bit of bread is bound to disappoint.

MadPriest said...

Back when I was a priest I used to work a lot with people with Alzheimer's and senility. I would turn up at different care homes each week and preside at communion services. Most of those who attended would have been unable to tell me if they had been baptised or not. I didn't even ask. I just gave the sacrament to anybody who wanted it.

One could argue that this was a special circumstance. But my mind is too logical to accept that. My conclusion was that if the sacrament was real for those people, and I truly believe it was, then baptism is not a prerequisite for the efficacy of the sacrament. Therefore, I would never refuse to give communion to anyone who asked for it.

However, having said that, if it is the tradition of a church to place baptism before communion I would accept that as valid. In fact, I would say it is the most beneficial way of doing things. But only if the members of the church accept that this is a tradition they follow for their own benefit and not for the benefit of God or because God is not present in the sacrament if hoops haven't been jumped through first.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mark and Jonathan, I agree with both your points. I think the level of "meaning" is very important; as is the question of whether this is a matter of impulse or invitation. My concern is what does it "mean" to a visitor at a church when invited to participate in something of which she is clearly not a part? Some may welcome it, but others will find it "odd" and not a bit presumptuous.

I have had the same experience in nursing homes -- just a few weeks ago, in an elevator after a visit to an ailing parishioner, a man on a stretcher quickly asked, "Father, do you have communion?" I said yes and quickly administered, no questions asked. Ultimately, grace happens. No questions asked.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for offering this brief posting on the discord between supporting both CWOB and the Baptismal Covenant. I agree, and in fact a while back I posted some preliminary thoughts on communing the unbaptized in which I noted (among other troubling points) the irony that "many of the proponents of this 'open' and 'inclusive' theology I've talked to and read pieces by are also committed to the ethical implications of the Baptismal Covenant. If I'm right, however, then they can't have it both ways. If you remove Baptism as the foundation, then you also render the Baptismal Covenant peripheral at best, and irrelevant at worst."

I'm curious, Tobias, as to your thoughts on how likely it is that in the future, we will make CWOB an official part of our sacramental practice in the Episcopal Church.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Bryan. (The link you created isn't working, and I'd welcome a working one as I'd love to see what you said.) I too have been meditating on the dilemmas involved in CWOB for quite some time, first over a decade ago as chair of the NY liturgical commission, asked to prepare a paper on the subject which then was quashed out of fear some would take offense. I brought up the specific incongruity I raise here a few years back at an early meeting of the Chicago Consultation -- noting that those who were (rightly, I think) brandishing the Bapt Cov in service to that cause needed also to give it due respect when it came to administering the Holy Eucharist. {Pin. Drop.}

I have to say that I think this is somewhat of a peculiar issue, and that it will not become part of our normative practice. The deep pattern of initiation > celebration is I think well embedded in the minds of the serious liturgists. The urge to cwob seems to come more from pastoral impulse.

And I say that with the admission that I can live with the pastoral impulse part -- and would never turn someone away from the altar. But I think we err seriously when we invite participation in what I can only see as a patronizing way that I feel unintentionally devalues the giver, gift and recipient all at once.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

My apologies for the bad link, Tobias. Let's try that again: "Communing the Unbaptized: Some Preliminary Thoughts."

I do hope that you're right about this being "a peculiar issue" that "will not become part of our normative practice," even as I, too, am willing to make allowances in certain pastoral situations (the exceptions that uphold the norm). And thank you for taking a stand on this issue in contexts where it may not be terribly popular to do so!

Jon said...

Its always struck me as odd when the community reaffirms the baptismal covenant even when most there were baptized using the rites from the 1928 book.

John-Julian, OJN said...

I remember my Pastoral Theology professor in seminary saying, "Receiving Holy Communion together is more like making love than merely sharing a meal—and I am very narrow-minded about who I will go to bed with!"

Erika Baker said...

If this is really about the pereception of those who are invited, then it becomes simply a matter of you phrase the invitation.

Anonymous said...

John 2007
A couple of points:

(1) The Eucharist may look to both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday but never just to the former---as IMHO it overwhelmingly does in the common everyday discourse of our people.

(2) Granted the evangelical power of the Eucharist (and the well known example of Simone Weil tutored by George Herbert's poem Love iii being converted) the CWOB is another soporific influence on our catechetical charge, relaxing our energies to make disciples, as I see it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Bryan. Good article with some helpful insights. I think the point about [misplaced] hospitality is good. How many parishes that practice cwob leave the visitor cold at coffee hour? (Note this is a prevailing sin in almost every parish I've ever visited, cwob or not!)

Indeed, Pilgrim; and in those days you had to be confirmed (or "ready and desirous") in order to receive communion -- perhaps folk have forgotten just how far we've come.

Fr. JJ, an example of promiscuous administration?

Erika, often the phrasing perforce includes an acknowledgement that a rule is being broken (as it is!) and I think that is offputting to a real seeker. People who are searching for a depth of welcome, a form of discipleship that entails some kind of discipline, will not feel "welcomed" by such an invitation, but patronized. A well-informed non-Christian might well feel insulted. In the long run I think this practice tells us more about the hosts than the guests.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

John, your note arrived as I was writing the previous. Yes, the whole Paschal mystery is tied up in this. It is good to remember that Christ is our Passover, and that baptism was long considered the Christian "circumcision" that admits one to the new People of God, and the ability to share in the New Passover feast.

And yes, I concur that CWOB seems a far too casual means of inclusion at depth.

JCF said...

While I was baptized w/ the '28 liturgy, the one I've been re-affirming for 35 years (most of my life), has been the '79 (intro'd in 1976 in my home parish). Natch, I consider the '79 "My Baptismal Covenant"!