Thursday, 2 July 2009

Thoughts around Communion

A number of different issues have all cropped up at once making me think about when people may receive communion. The first was that recently I have had reason to attend a number of Roman Catholic services, and I was shocked to discover the pain I felt at not being allowed to receive. And yet some were while I was on retreat (at Ampleforth), and I could have chosen not to attend any more communion services, but I did - at least in part to explore my feelings of exclusion. These were particularly acute on a couple of occasions when the words of the service felt particularly exluding:
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive but only say the word, and I shall be healed"
"Remember those who take part in this offering, those here present and all your people, and all who seek you with a sincere heart" (Eucharistic Prayer 4)
I also remember at my selection conference taking part in a conversation about communion before confirmation where another candidate reported that her granddaughter had asked "Granny, aren't I the body of Christ?" (from the words at the fraction "We break this bread to share in the body of Christ. Though we are many, we are one body,because we all share in one bread.").

It struck me that this comes down at least in part to Eucharisitic theology - after all, I realised that at Ampleforth I didn't share their understanding of what was happening to the elements - so what would receiving have meant? My theology in this space is very much one of community, and I recall a priest I know telling me that at theological college he had been told to receive each time he was present (after having refused as he felt unworthy) because in refusing there is a breach of community.

This was also highlighted in a recent discussion at church where we were talking about being a welcoming community, and it was said that we welcome everyone - I had to point out that we don't - the Eucharist is exclusive- even though we admit children to communion before confirmation (and here of course lies another problem - only the baptised - when in many cases it is Christian parents who have carefully thought about this who do not have their children baptised).

This was then followed at Deanery Chapter by a discussion on what common practise is - most said that if people put out their hands they would receive.
So... what does this all mean? As I was pondering this I stumbled over this report from the Episcopal Church.
I also had pause for thought, as I can remember attending a RC church many years ago and not feeling excluded - perhaps because I was less attached - so is there something about people desirous of receiving communion being in a state of being ready for baptism? (cf Canon B15A on receiving communion: "members ... who have been confirmed ... or are ready and desirous to be so confirmed").

It also struck me that in some senses people are perhaps behaving with more integrity now - If baptism is a big deal then it shouldn't be entered into lightly, and people shouldn't be "done". I think it also ties in with the fact that people don't "join" as much any more (sounding like and old codger), not just the church but anything - when we present quite a hard picture of baptism as "joining" perhaps it is no surprise that just as people now see marriage as the completion of a journey rather than the start of it, so they don't want to commit to baptism until they are sure.
Am I arguing for open communion? I don't know. Perhaps a better approach would be to teach more about baptism and encourage people to see it as the start of a journey - for after all we never end the journey this side of the grave! What I do know is that I feel drawn to the invitation to communion that goes:
    Come, not because you must, but because you may, Come, not because you are strong, but because you are weak, Come, not because you are righteous, but because you sincerely love Christ, Come, not because you wish to receive the benefits that Christ may bring, but that you wish to be his disciple, Come, not to express an opinion or to make a statement, But to seek a presence and to pray for a spirit. Come - for Christ himself wishes to meet with you here.
and if an unbaptised person comes forwards and puts out their hands they will receive.

PS I forgot to add that recently I also attended a Greek Orthodox Church - but didn't feel excluded there, perhaps for two reasons: firstly many of the other attendees did not receive either, and secondly the liturgy was so far removed from the Anglican liturgy that it was difficult to recognise it as such - unlike the RCs, where the service is remarkably similar.

PPS and then I read this

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