Much has been said and written in recent months about “open communion” for all Christians, and even for unbaptized persons. Of course, those who advocate this idea of hospitality do so in all good conscience. However, such actions are really spiritually dangerous, and not permitted in the Episcopal Church.
First, as to unbaptized persons, Canon I. 17. 7 states, “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.” This simply continues the declared teaching of the Church Catholic at least since the second century, as set forth in the Didache: “Do not let anyone eat or drink of your eucharist except those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord.”
The basis for this principle is found in Chapter 11 of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians: “Therefore, whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body” (vs. 27-29).
Reference to St. Paul’s admonition is found in the Exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer:
But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup.
For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body.
Finally, the 1979 General Convention adopted specific guidelines for non-Anglicans receiving communion in the Episcopal Church (Resolution No. A43). That resolution gives five conditions for the reception of Communion by non-Anglicans:
”¢ They shall have been baptized ”¦ and shall have previously been admitted to the Holy Communion within the Church to which they belong.
”¢ They shall examine their lives, repent of their sins, and be in love and charity with all people ”¦
”¢ They shall approach the Holy Communion as an expression of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ ”¦
”¢ They shall find in this communion the means to strengthen their life within the Christian family ”¦
”¢ Their own consciences must always be respected as must the right of their own church membership to determine the sacramental discipline of those who ”¦ make that their spiritual home.
Further, the resolution commended the Commentary on Eucharistic Sharing by the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations as the pastoral context for the interpretation of these standards.
That commentary warns against any idea of “open communion”: “If local circumstances present a pastoral need for a public invitation, it should not in any way be coercive, nor should it be in terms of an ”˜open communion’ applied indiscriminately to anyone desiring to receive communion.”
In the words of an editorial [TLC, Sept. 19], “To welcome nonbelievers and those who are not baptized to receive communion is not an act of hospitality but of disrespect both for them and for the Blessed Sacrament itself.” It is also a repudiation of scripture, ancient tradition, canons and General Convention action.
”“The Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland is the Bishop of Eau Claire, retired. He lives in Seminole, Okla. The preceding Reader’s Viewpoint originally appeared on page of the December 26, 2004 issue of THE LIVING CHURCH magazine, an independent weekly serving Episcopalians. The Reader’s Viewpoint article does not necessarily represent the editorial opinion of THE LIVING CHURCH or its board of directors.
(This originally appeared in an older version of the blog here).