Who shall partake? Churches grapple with the question of when to deny sacrament

According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ statement on communion, “grave matters” that should cause a person to refrain from communion include missing Mass on Sundays “without serious reason” and dishonoring one’s parents “by neglecting them in their need and infirmity.” Add being pro-choice, using birth control and engaging in premarital sex, says Father Robert Bussen of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Park City, and “if you really take the checklist seriously, nobody could receive communion.”

The canons of the Episcopal Church say that all “baptized Christians” are invited to communion. But more and more Episcopal churches aren’t following those rules, says the Rev. Canon Mary June Nestler, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. “Instead, they’re extending the invitation of communion to any person who feels led to receive it.”

That said, the Episcopal Church does recommend denying communion in some cases ”” described in the church’s Prayer Book as people who are “living a notoriously evil life” or “are a scandal to the other members of the congregation.”

In her 28 years of ordination, she says, she has never had to deny communion and has only witnessed two denials ”” a person involved in a serious financial misconduct of parish funds and the case of a triangle of adulterers. Even then, says the Rev. Nestler, the priest did not refuse communion on the spot. Instead, as advised in the Prayer Book, the priest spoke privately to them, advising them not to come to the communion table until they had given “clear proof of repentance and amendment of life.”

But faced with an uncertain situation, says the Rev. Nestler, “I would say it’s best to err on the side of generosity, because Christ’s table is a generous table. Second-guessing at the communion rail is always a difficult call.”

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Eucharist, Parish Ministry, Sacramental Theology, Theology

9 comments on “Who shall partake? Churches grapple with the question of when to deny sacrament

  1. libraryjim says:

    I agree that second guessing at the rail is not a good thing, especially if confronted by strangers.

    But if the priest has a relationship with the people in the congregation, he should know if there are those coming forward who need a blessing and a later counselling session rather than allowing them to receive at their peril (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians).

  2. libraryjim says:

    I guess this is why the older prayer books counselled turning in one’s name to the verger on Saturday if one wished to receive communion.

    From the 1662:

    [blockquote]So many as intend to be partakers of the holy Communion shall signify their names to the Curate at least some time the day before.

    If a Minister be persuaded that any person who presents himself to be a partaker of the holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary of the place, and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the Sacrament to any person until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord’s Table;

    Provided that in case of grave and immediate scandal to the Congregation the Minister shall not admit such person, but shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary within seven days after at the latest and therein obey the order and direction given to him by the Ordinary; Provided also that before issuing his order and direction in relation to any such person the Ordinary shall afford him an opportunity for interview.[/blockquote]

  3. Words Matter says:

    [i]says Father Robert Bussen of St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Park City, and “if you really take the checklist seriously, nobody could receive communion.”[/i]

    Obviously trained at the Desmond Tutu School of Theology: a pithy one-liner instead of a thought. There really is a thing called “scrupulosity”, that being an inordinate attention to one’s sinfulness. Then there is Fr. Bussen, who apparently doesn’t take sin seriously.

    For those not familiar with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, here’s a statement from their “abbess”:

    [i]We are dismayed that a moment of genuine communion during sacred worship is being twisted for political gain by the forces of hatred and dissension. — Sister Edith Myflesh, Current Abbess of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Inc. [/i]

    Yes, they aren’t mocking anything at all!

    Here’s more information on the “Sisters”, not from a sympathetic point of view.
    [url=http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/10/24/cstillwell.DTL]Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence: Perpetually Juvenile[/url]

    Here’s their own website:

    I will grant the complexities of denying Communion to politicians and others: tbere are canonical and pastoral realities. But the greatest Catholic scandal of the present day is the failure of the bishops to take seriously open dissent from Catholic moral teaching. That began with [i]Humanae Vitae[/i], continues through other marital issues into abortion, euthanasia/end-of-life issues, sexual mores and so on. It’s possible that Abp. Niederauer didn’t recognize something amiss, but he should have. The parish is an open homosexualist haven and he’s been there long enough to have addressed the problem.

  4. Larry Morse says:

    Nice world this, a world in which the only standard is no standard. This is what inclusiveness means; and as a result, these people – Sister MYFLESH? This is hard to believe – live in a world where the only rules they need obey is the ones they themselves generate – and then it turns out, they expect everyone else to live by them. IN short, a world of no standards – except mine which you have to obey. This contradiction, as you know, does not bother the liberal mind at all. Indeed, theh don’t see it as a contradiction, just an assertion of their ownership of the truth. What’s YOUR problem? How often does all America have to listen to this before they realize they are being conned?

  5. Ed the Roman says:

    The problem goes well past not taking open dissent seriously. It is more like being pissed on and remarking that the rain is awfully warm today.

  6. DonGander says:

    libraryjim lays out the clear operational principles.

    In short, it is the partaker that has the responsibility of partaking properly. All the Scriptural warnings are toward him. The minister must deal with the private sins in private, but if one comes in open sin then the minister must deal with him in public.

  7. AnglicanFirst says:

    It is my understanding that in the early church, the service was broken into two parts.

    The first part consisted of teaching after which those not yet baptized as adults were excused.

    The second part consisted of the sacrament of the Eucharist during which those persons who had been certified in Christian instruction and baptized were permitted to participate in the sacrament.

    Later, the Roman Church instituted infant baptism, but added confirmation to ensure that proper certification of Christian instruction was achieved.

    So I assume, that for a trditional Anglican Communion, that certification of instruction should be achieved, i.e., ‘confirmation.’
    And this should an Anglican confirmation or one approved of by the Anglican Communion and not just ‘any confirmation.’

    One should also review one’s own behavior/thoughts and acknowledge, confess, ask for forgiveness and atone/intend to atone for one’s sins before participating in the Eucharist.

    Unrepentant sinners should be denied the Eucharist when the presiding clergy are aware of the individual’s unrepentant behavior.

  8. Father Will Brown says:

    The canons of ECUSA do NOT say that “all baptized persons are invited to communion.” Canon I.17.7 says “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”

    That’s very different. In this country, no one under the age of 15 is allowed to drive. But that doesn’t mean that everyone OVER the age of 15 is allowed to drive. There are other restrictions. You can’t be blind, for example.

  9. Tom Roberts says:

    The interesting thing about this article is that in quoting most of p409 of the PB correctly, it makes ecusa sound more restrictive than the Mormons. That has got to be a first for me.