January 19, 2007

Peter, Feed My Sheep

It is Friday and time for the Friday Satirical Comment. But before getting to satire, I want to make an observation about ecumenism. I do this in light of my previous posting, which has met with enthusiastic approval in some circles and withering disdain in others. (I suppose if nothing else it goes to prove two truisms: “Everyone’s a critic” and “You can’t please everybody.”)

That sermon was written and delivered in an atmosphere of hope, and a setting in which sharing of the Holy Eucharist was then, as now, impossible — at the Mother House of the Roman Catholic Society of the Atonement, whose founder, Father Paul, a former Episcopal priest, was among those who can rightly claim to have “invented” the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The inability to share the Holy Eucharist with fellow Christians due to the strictures placed upon such sharing by the Roman Catholic Church has long been a source of some sadness for me. I was once at a conference of Anglican religious orders held at a Roman Catholic Benedictine monastery. The abbot made it very clear that he was happy to have us there, but under no circumstances would there be any relaxation in the rigor of the rules about sharing the Eucharist. Then-Bishop of Chicago Frank Griswold, who was conducting the meeting, observed the simple truth that Anglicans tend to see the Eucharist as a means to unity, while Roman Catholics see it as a sign of unity.

It has always seemed odd to me, to affirm the unity of all Christians in the first dominical sacrament of Baptism, but to deny sharing that baptismal unity-in-Christ in the second dominical sacrament, the Holy Eucharist, on the basis of the imperfect unity-in-the-institution of the visible church, in particular the one headed by the heir of Peter. Yet this is the position the Roman Catholic Church has taken, and, to judge by the recent statement from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, continues to take. For it makes quite clear that,

Through Baptism and our shared faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we become members of the visible Church, under the apostolic authority of the pope and bishops. The celebration of the Eucharist expresses and enacts this communion in Christ. With few exceptions, only those who are members of the Catholic Church may receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Eucharistic liturgy. (emphasis mine)
What makes this somewhat strange is a quotation from the present Pontiff, which also forms a part of this document (again with my emphasis)
Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body,” completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself.
It appears to me that we have in this statement, the seeds of a better and more generous understanding — and grounds for a more open sharing of communion — than either the past or present policy appears to favor. It is my fervent hope that the heir of Peter will indeed come to embrace a desire to “feed the sheep.”

+ + +

Now, all that being said, it is still time for Friday Satire. So, without further ado, and without wishing to tear down any good feeling that may have been built up, but also unable to resist the influence of my inspired Photo-shopping colleague from across the pond, MadPriest, here is the protected speech of the afternoon. Just remember, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, I live in hope!

Tobias Haller BSG


Grandmère Mimi said...

Firstly, Mother is not wearing her red Prada shoes. I wonder why.

Secondly, too funny. MadPriest is an inspiration to us all, isn't he?

Some of my grandchildren attend Roman Catholic schools, and grandparents are invited a couple of times a year to a mass for grandparents and grandchildren.

Not to be welcome at the Eucharist after I've been invited to the mass seems somewhat like being invited to a house, and then told by the host that I may not sit down and eat with the rest of the guests.

Sometimes, I don't go forward at Communion time, but sometimes I do. In my mind, I make a picture of Jesus up at the altar beckoning me forward, and I go. I know one of the priests there, and he welcomes me. The other doesn't know who I am, so he would not refuse me. So it's really up to me to decide.

I guess what I'd like is to make a choice once and for all, but I can't seem to arrive there. Each time it's ad hoc.

Senor Bozo said...

My friend Paul and I used to go on retreat at the Benedictine archabbey near our home. When I mentioned one time my sense of being excluded when it was time for the Eucharist, Paul said that he used his own similar feelings as an opportunity "to bear in my own body the brokenness of the body of Christ." I've remembered that ever since.

Tobias said...

Thanks for the comments from Mimi (who truly understands Southern Hospitality!) and the good Senor B. I do try to take that approach as well, and even more so after something that happened some years ago, at a time when I was much more causal about such things.

My (Episcopal) community was on retreat and the retreat leader was a RC nun who had been important in the foundation of my community. After one of the sessions, we had a eucharist in the chapel, which was across the landing from the retreat center sitting room. Sister HJ did not receive communion, but sat very still -- even at the end of the worship she was just sitting: a little elderly lady, eyes shut and deep in prayer, and almost glowing in quiet intensity -- as the brothers filed past her and out across the landing to the sitting room. As we gathered there, there were whispers "What's with Helen?" and then after a few minutes she appeard at the door, looked somewhat starteled as everyone spun around to look at her. As she regained her composure, she said, in a quavering voice with a bit of an Irish accent still, "Oh my dear brothers. You have no idea how painful it was for me not to share in the Body and Blood of our Lord with you. But I hope my small obedience in this will hasten the day when we can truly share it together."

I've never received communion in a Roman Catholic Church since, and respect those who obey the rules from their side too. I just pray, the ball being rather in their Court at present, at least concerning their rules, that they might allow the wisdom to illuminate the knowledge.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I expect that Paul, and Sister Helen, and you, Tobias, are right. As part of southern hospitality, I know better than to go where I'm not welcome, and that should be sufficient to answer my own question.

Be still and pray that they will be enlightened.

Tobias said...

Thanks again, Grandmère. I love your image of Jesus standing at the altar, and I have no doubt he is not pleased with the restrictions his "Vicar" and the latter's Curia have set on hospitality.

I can tell you another tale. I noted the gathering of religious communities where the Benedictines didn't wish us to join them for the Holy Eucharist. Some years later I was at another similar conference, this time held at a (RC) Franciscan conference center in Arizona. In this case, we weren't even allowed to use the chapel! We were only allowed to have eucharist in a ghastly 60s era "meditation room" that we fondly dubbed "The Prayer Pit" for its sunken center. When we later saw that the chapel was being used for dance classes the message could not have been clearer. The ultimate irony is that this was during the year of the RC Great Jubilee, for which the slogan was "Open Wide the Doors" --- a poster declaring this was on the glass door to the chapel, from which we were excluded, but through which we could see the dance class.

This is when I'm inclined to say, "Peter, read your posters."

Thanks again, ma chere.
PS saw a wonderful/frightening film today, "Pan's Labyrinth." Recommended, though not for the squeamish. Bring several hankies.

Anonymous said...

First let me say that I found your last posting very moving.

I appreciated your words about the sharing of the Eucharist with Roman Catholics as well. Four years ago my former teacher and dear friend was received into the Roman Catholic church on the same day I was ordained a deacon in the Anglican church. Last year we got together for the first time since then and went to Mass. It was very hard when he went forward to receive communion and I wasn't able to.

I think Bishop Griswold is probably correct in his observation of the difference between Anglicans and Roman Catholics but it is possible to argue for both positions from within the Roman Catholic tradition. In his letter Mane Nobiscum Domine, John Paul II wrote: "The Eucharist is both the source of ecclesial unity and its greatest manifestation." It strikes me that one could argue for shared communion on the grounds that it is the source of unity in the church. Unfortunately John Paul came to the opposite conclusion as he went on to write: "The Eucharist is an epiphany of communion. For this reason the Church sets conditions for full participation in the celebration of the Eucharist."
Despite very different cultures in my experience the past few years of shared communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada has been fruitful. My experiences of more localized sharing of communion with Roman Catholics suggests that it would be fruitful if we could share communion with them too.

thomas bushnell, bsg said...

my current practice (and i am always re-thinking this) is to say that i believe it is illegitimate for the bishops of the RC church to enact the barrier they have. and, for that matter, i am not under their obedience; they have no more claim on my religious activities than does the Dalai Lama. (i do always find funny those Anglicans who think that the RC church has some curious quasi-jurisdiction over them.)

so when i am at an RC church, the statements of the vatican curia and the RC episcopate do not play any role in whether i receive communion. what plays a role is the welcome, or lack of one, from the actual celebrant there in front of me. if i am not known, i do not receive, because i presume that the celebrant is doing the "default" thing.

but if i am known and welcomed, i am not violating the rules of my own communion by receiving, and i am not bound by the rules of some structure of which i am not a part. if i had a well-founded belief that the celebrant could get in trouble by inviting me, i would hold back, but this has not been the case.

sister HJ is honoring the commitments she has made, and "offering up" the pain they caused her at that moment, and i am grateful for both. but the flip-side isn't the same, because unlike her, i do not have any obligation to follow the directions of the us catholic conference.

Tobias said...

Thank you, Erin, for the thoughts. I do see the fruit of such intercommunion, and hope it may become more widespread. We now have a similar agreement with the United Methodists, which in my own neighborhood could lead to some fruitful cooperation.

Brother Thomas, I do take your point; and certainly if one is invited to receive there is no need to say, "But I'm not a Papist!" I was thinking more in the sense of active witness (not to say activism) in response to the inconsistency in the RC approach. As Erin noted, in line with and preceding the tension in the current CCB statement, John Paul II appears to have been very much aware of the split-mindedness of this policy, though he continued it.

I very rarely attend RC liturgies, as I am not particularly fond of the current liturgical practice. Most often it's a funeral or wedding, and it is quite easy to refrain from receiving communion in such circumstances. I often find the quality of music and preaching to be a near occasion of sin, and so suitably refrain.

I don't recall the form of the liturgical invitation in the Roman rite. Our own (especially the Cranmerian form) seems a bit problematical in an era when there may be any number of unbaptized persons in attendance. "All you who are in love and charity... who do earnestly repent you of your sins... draw near and take this sacrament..." This is, of course, another issue, but you remind me of it with your reference to invitation: and I'm not clear if you mean a personal invitation (which, as you say, might well be accepted as it's not your rules at risk) or a general liturgical invitation to the whole assembly. I know that the missalette used to have a "warning" on the back cover or nearby, explaining how and when non-RC people could participate; perhaps most parishes feel that is enough?

Grandmère Mimi said...

Tobias, regarding the movie, "Pan's Labyrinth", I looked at reviews, and I don't think I could handle it, as I am definitely among the fainthearted.

Anonymous said...

I remember a priest from the Anglican Diocese of Rupertsland telling me that when their new bishop was consecrated in the '80s they held the service at the Roman Catholic cathedral because it was bigger. They were setting up for the service in the afternoon when one of the Sisters walked in. She watched them for a few minutes and then walked over to the tabernacle and removed the reserved sacrament. It was a lot like being welcomed into someone's house but then noticing that they were putting the breakables away for fear you might break them.

Anonymous said...

Or putting the silver away for fear of having it stolen.

On the other hand, our bishop was consecrated in a Roman Catholic Church, because it was larger than our cathedral, and they were most gracious.

Anonymous said...

The minister I grew up with said that Jesus never asked whether anyone had been baptized or what religion anyone was before the Last Supper or before he fed the 5000. He simply fed them. As should we, in my humble opinion. A desire to receive the sacrament should really be all that is needed. If Jesus didn't place such obstacles before people, why should we?

Anonymous said...

Hmm...I'm ex-RC. I recently went to an RC funeral, and I didn't receive.

I felt, unwelcome to receive, although, no one would have stopped me, because very few people at the funeral knew I'd left the RCC.

But, if the priest knew me, and told me to receive, I would have, because, like Br. Thomas, I would have felt invited to do so.

Mystical Seeker said...

American Catholic bishops have gone even further than just not sharing the Eucharist with non-Catholics. They have also declared that even Catholics are not supposed to take communion if they are thinking people who happen to disagree with certain teachings of the church. In other words, you shouldn't just be a Catholic, but a Catholic automaton. It is all a huge joke.

In reality, though, it isn't clear to me exactly what most Episcopalians believe on this, because I hear a lot of talk of sharing the Eucharist with other "Christians". I don't know this means that only Christians should be invited to participate. If so, then this is just as much a perversion of Jesus's open commensality as the Catholic approach is. Jesus didn't ask you if you were a Christian or not (there were no Christians anyway.) Jesus didn't place conditions like that. If you are going to practice communion and if you believe that it is an important part of Christian worship, the only way to honor Jesus by doing so is to offer the communion to everyone, Christian or not. Otherwise, you are just practicing another form of exclusionary religion, precisely the opposite of what Jesus taught.

Anonymous said...

Mystical - The joke of it is, how would the priest, or the Eucharistic Minister know what is in the heart of mind of the person before them?

No warning bells go off when you go to receive.

My uncle, a Lutheran, has been going to an RCC for YEARS. He's never converted, but he always receives communion. No one has ever barred him.

So, really, the declarations are a joke. There is no way to tell if one is ok to receive or not. It's supposed to be a matter of individual conscience - that as an RC you know what is expected of you, and you abide by it. In the US (and I suspect Canada), I don't think this is taken particuarly seriously, Much to Benny's consternation.

It is the same situation in the Episcopal Church. They call all baptised to receive, but, if you weren't baptised, and you received, no warning bell goes off - and in my church at least, I don't think either of my priests would deny that person, even if they weren't baptised - although they might want to discuss it with that person privately afterward.

Anonymous said...

I don't mean to be rude, but my logic implores me to ask: if Anglicans wished to receive Our Lord in a RC Mass, why did they break communion in the first place? If the RC Church is so undesirable as to make one wish to not be a part of it, why would one wish to share in her sacraments?

Again, I mean no offence. And I do yearn for the day when the Church will be whole, but until that day comes.... Pax.

Anonymous said...

Hi Thom. As an Episcopalian, the only reason I would be attending a RC church would be for a wedding or some such other event I would be invited to. I haven't had an occasion to go in many years.

When you mention "her sacraments" I am supposing you mean the "RC Church's sacraments"? There is an assumption of ownership in the way that is phrased that is troubling to me. Are the sacraments not God's sacraments? I don't believe the sacraments belong to any one church. The sacrament of communion, in my understanding, is freely given to us, regardless of whether the sign on the door says "Roman Catholic" "Episcopal" "Lutheran", etc. etc.

I know many churches may quibble over being the "one true church," but I see the Lord's Supper as coming from God through Jesus to humankind. No church can claim it as their own exclusive sacrament.

If I have interpreted you incorrectly, please forgive me.

Anonymous said...

Oops. And I meant to bring that around to saying that is why an Episcopalian might desire to receive the sacrament of communion at a RC church -- because of a feeling that the sacrament belongs to God, not the church per se. Sometimes I lose my original point completely! Sorry... :)

Tobias said...

Dear Mystical, and to some extent, Thom —
My objection to the current RC position is directed at the logical (and I think theological) contradiction in declaring baptism to be entry into the body of Christ, and then withholding that same body (in eucharistic form) from some of those who are members of the body but who lack “unity with the heir of Peter.” As the papacy itself only emerges to something like its present form long after the institution of the eucharist by Jesus, it seems a singularly illogical and indefensible position — especially in light of the obvious inclination to greater openness expressed in some of the documents.
While I certainly feel that Christians should practice hospitality, and also not “card” folks for their baptismal status at the communion rail, I do not see the norm of baptism preceding participation in the eucharist as an onerous limitation. I would here merely observe that Jesus gave a commandment to baptize all nations, but gave no such commandment for the eucharist; he came from a baptizing community and most if not all of the early disciples would have been baptized. I would also observe that while Jesus shared table fellowship with all, the eucharist appears to have been more limited in its scope and intent. The idea that baptism — to which all are invited — is the entry to communion is precisely the principle denied under the current Roman Catholic practice — and that alone is the point of my critique.

Tobias said...

My challenge would be to expound on the degree to which unity with the Roman Pontiff is the same thing as unity in "the faith." Anglicans accept the "faith" of the undivided church, as articulated (most importantly) in the Nicene Creed. Apart from "unity with the Roman Pontiff" there is no clue in the recent document from the CCB to indicate what issue of the faith (common to all Christians) is lacking, or required, apart from this matter of ecclesiastical obedience/unity.

It appears, then, that it would be perfectly possible, and consistent with the practice of the early church, to acknowledge the "faith" of all Christians on the one hand, and sharing in the communion that is -- like baptism -- given by God but only received (not owned) by the church, while still upholding the ecclesiastical distinctions between the various traditions which find expression in different "churches." The unity of the early church was always held to be unity in Christ, with the members of each various region remaining in ecclesiastical unity with their own bishop. It is the rather late development of a model of papal primacy that appears to be the main issue defining the divisions. As the document itself says, "As we become one body with Christ in receiving Holy Communion, so we are also united with one another." Note the sequence! This is the logical disparity at the heart of my critique: if we are one in baptism (agreed) and members of Christ's body (agreed) and if this communion is emphazised / celebrated / reified in the eucharist (agreed) -- then why not allow it, precisely as (as I said in my inital observation) as a "means to unity rather than as a sign of unity."

Ultimately, the Roman Catholic argument concerning the papacy collapses under the exception granted to the Eastern Orthodox -- who are acknowledged to share in the "faith" and "very close" but not "full communion" with Rome. (See Appendix A)

Mystical Seeker said...

In my view, the idea that Jesus, who practiced open commensality throughout his public career, would have then turned around and commanded his followers to engage in an exclusionary practice that contradicted everything that he lived for and taught just makes no sense. An exclusionary Eucharist that is offered only to a select group of people, whether they be Catholics, or baptized Christians (which means that Quakers are excluded), or whatever you choose--contradicts the very essence and core of Jesus's life, in my view. The idea of an exclusionary Eucharist is, in my view, abhorrent on so many levels. I have no doubt that post-Easter Christianity evolved a doctrine that moved away from what Jesus lived and taught in many ways, and thus developed a doctrine of exclusion in the Eucharist, but these kinds of changes were taking place in other areas in the decades after Jesus died, as the accumulated crust of dogma developed around the core of Jesus's life.

The (non-Episcopal) church I attend practices open communion, but because of all the exclusionary garbarge that has been associated with the practice of Communion over the years, I almost never participate. The only times I have done so have been when the pastor has explicitly made it clear that you need not believe or have done anything to participate. Without that explicit statement, I don't feel moved to take part. I will not participate in any exclusionary practice as part of worship. I just won't.

I cited the example of Quakers above because, as a former Quaker, this illustrates the problem with exclusionary dogma. The idea that baptized Christians are "one", and that the ticket to that community is necessarily baptism, automatically excludes Quakers from the Christian community. The whole thing is ridiculous. Anyone who dares to judge the Christian credentials of Quakers doesn't get very far with me.

Ultimately, it seems that to criticize Catholics for excluding non-Catholics from Communions while saying it is okay for them to exclude non-Christians from it is a half-assed criticism. Either you criticize exclusion, or you don't. Inviting people to attend worship but then telling them that part of the experience is closed off to them does not provide an inclusive, welcoming message to newcomers.

Tobias said...

Dear Mystical Seeker,

I suppose the problem for me comes with your use of "exclusion" to describe a disicpline by which people who are baptized are welcome to participate in the eucharist. I don't see baptism as being "exlusive" -- all are welcome to be baptized. I don't know enough about the Quaker movement to know whether they reject baptism or simply regard it as unneccesary or indifferent. But do the Quakers similarly regard the eucharist as necessary or rejected or indifferent? If the latter, why the bother?

In short, what I find confusing is a refusal to accept the welcome into membership, provided by Christ, through baptism, while insisting on participation in the eucharist as if it were commanded by Christ (it wasn't) or as if it were a natural right. It seems to me that what Christ provides is a natural two-stage process, to which all are welcome: baptism, followed by eucharist. I don't think that this was an "invention" of the early church, as you seem to suggest. Baptism appears to have formed an intrinsic part of Christ's own ministry, at least equal to his commensality -- but he also seems to have emphasized that the commensality was neither casual nor universal: the many parables of the wedding banquet, for example, seem to indicate that "many are called" but not all take advantage of that call.

If I can put it in the form of a parable: all are welcome, but please use the door! It isn't about "exclusion" but about the appropriate "way" of joining the celebration -- and that way is open to all.

Anonymous said...

Ultimately, the Roman Catholic argument concerning the papacy collapses under the exception granted to the Eastern Orthodox -- who are acknowledged to share in the "faith" and "very close" but not "full communion" with Rome. (See Appendix A)

I guess the difference between the Eastern Orthodox and the Anglican Communion is that, in the RC Church's eyes, the EO still have a valid, unbroken priesthood, while the Anglicans don't, necessarily.

Tobias said...

Indeed Thom, that is true, and it makes sense for the restriction placed upon RCs not to receive the Sacrament in churches which in their eyes lack a valid priestly ministry. But that would appear to have little or no relevance to lay persons from those churches receiving communion from a valid Roman Catholic priest -- and the fact that this can indeed happen in certain very restricted circumstances is part of what leads me to suggest that this is not a doctrinal matter (as in the case of communion of the unbaptized), but a disciplinary one, and Rome could just as easily broaden the scope of inclusion further than it has in the exceptions noted.

Mystical Seeker said...

Tobias, my point about Quakers is that they do not believe in baptism, and do not baptize their members. So if you claim that one must be baptized in order to be a Christian, then you are denying that Quakers are Christian. This is an example of the sort of exclusionary doctrine that I find offensive.

You are insisting that the only way that one can be "welcome into the membership" is if they participate in a given ritual. You then say that the worship experience is only available to those who have done said ritual. I say that this is exclusionary. The worship experience should be available to everyone who wants to participate, regardless of whether they have participated in a given prior membership ritual. To invite visitors to worship and then tell them that they are not entitled to participate in certain parts of that worship is to reduce certain classes of worshipers to the status of second-class citizens. A truly welcoming congregation invites all worshipers to the full worship experience, however that congregation defines it to be. In the case of Quakers, for example, there is no Eucharist, so it is a moot point, but Quakers still recognize that all who attend can participate in their means of worship. Those who practice closed communion, on the other hand, are being exclusionary. This I find offensive.

Personally, I don't care one way or another about Communion. As I mentioned, I don't bother to participate if it is not offered in any way that suggests that one must have done or believed something before they can participate. It just doesn't matter that much to me. What does matter to me is the attitude that lies behind the way this is offered, and what it says about the church. If a church is going to offer communion, but only to a select number of people, then I can write that church off as being exclusionary and as having perverted the message and life of Jesus. I want no part of that. Thus it isn't the Eucharist per se that I am demanding access to, but rather I am evaluating how welcoming a congregation really is.

The idea that imposing conditions on the invitation to the banquet somehow doesn't make it exclusionary is nonsensical. Either everyone is invited to the banquet, or everyone isn't. It is as simple as that. I believe that worship should belong to anyone who wants to participate, as Jesus taught and lived himself through his open commensality. It is double talk to say that everyone is invited and then impose conditions on whether they can participate or not. Either they can participate, or they can't. It is really that simple.

To impose conditions on Jesus's commensality also strikes me as a real perversion of his message. Jesus invited everyone to the table. The fact that not everyone accepts that invitation might not make it "universal", but the invitation was to everyone. In fact, there weren't even any Christians when Jesus was alive--Christianity as we know it didn't exist! Jesus was a practicing Jew, as were his disciples. The idea of restricting worship practices to "Christians" as going back to Jesus is thus nonsensical. There simple were no "Christians" to restrict worship to.

If this sounds like a hot topic for me, that's because it is. One of the things I have little use for is exclusionary practice that perverts the very thing that made Jesus's life and teachings so special--his open commensality.

Tobias said...

Dear Mystical Seeker,
I really do understand your ideas here, but I'm afraid I must disagree. I would suggest that you are presenting a very partial picture of Jesus, with an undue emphasis on his table fellowship -- which is only one part of his ministry, and has no immediate connection with the eucharist -- which as I've noted is a very different sort of meal, restricted to his immediate disciples.

In overemphasizing his table fellowship, you set to one side his commandment to baptize as well as his participation in baptism, and I am not prepared to do that; nor have you offered a reason to do so. Rather than seeing baptism as an act of exclusion, I see it as an act of invitation; and it seems to me that you are being rather more intolerant in refusing to participate in worship with anyone who doesn't see things your way, than I am in saying all are welcome to participate in doing what Jesus said to do, and did himself.

As to the Quakers, from the little I know of them, I have great respect for them. I also have great respect for the traditions of Judaism and Buddhism. I do not believe baptism is necessary for a relationship with God, or in order to worship God. There are many forms of Christian worship which do not require baptism, and many forms of worship in which Christians and non-Christians can fully participate together. But the eucharist is a particular "ritual" of the Christian faith, just as is baptism.

Mystical Seeker said...

My view is that Jesus's open commensality was not just a small part of his ministry, but, as John Dominic Crossan has suggested, essential to it. I also believe that it would have contradicted what he taught and believed for him to have turned around and introduced an exclusionary practice.

I don't know if you are referring to Matthew 28:19, often cited as the basis for this, when you refer to Jesus having "commanded" baptism, but unless you assume that all that is attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are accurate and authentic (which I do not), then I would first suggest that the authenticity of that passage, which comes from a work written some 40 years after Jesus's death, and which is wrapped in a semi-Trinitarian formulation that I consider highly likely to have come from the post-Easter community and reflect a more developed Christology, probably doesn't go directly back to Jesus. Furthermore, the command takes place in the context of a resurrection story that I consider mythological and not historical in any sense that we would understand. Matthew's resurrection appearance story is the first one to appear in the New Testament (Paul made no reference to a physical, bodily resurrection, and Mark gave no post-resurrection stories either). Thus the "Great Commission" comes from an later evolving narrative about Jesus's post-resurrection activities. But suppose for the sake of argument that this command to baptize from Matthew is authentic--commanding people to baptize does not in and of itself require excluding people from the act of worship if they don't are unbaptized. In any case, the first few generations of Jesus-followers continued to participate in Jewish worship in the synagogues alongside those who were not baptized, until the final break with Christianity occurred. Early Christians couldn't even agree among themselves on whether people could eat kosher and be uncircumsized and still be in the movement, as both Paul and Acts reported. Early Christians were far too busy trying to figure things out, determine correct practices, and developing an emerging Christology, to have settled on any such strict doctrines, in my view. And they rarely agreed among themselves on many theological subjects, contrary to what later Christian orthodoxy claimed. Bart Ehrman has done a good job of describing the variety of Christianities that existed in that time.

My decision not to worship with those who will exclude others from their worship practices is simply a matter of principle to me. Inclusiveness is far too central to my spiritual values, and for me to worship with those who would practice closed communion would mean that I would be tacitly accepting their own two-tiered model of worshipers. Fortunately for me, there are churches in my area (including some of the Episcopalian variety) that practice open communion.

Suzer said...

But Tobias -- what if the act of including an unbaptized person to the communion table caused that person to feel such overwhelming love and welcome that they decided to be baptized (when heretofore they had not wanted to be a Christian at all)? What of that circumstance?

My former minister related a similar story to me. He welcomed "all who have need of God in their lives" to communion each week. Once, a woman broke down in tears when he said that. He went to her and asked why she was crying. She said, "I've been told all my life I could not take communion because I'm not baptized. And now you have invited me to God's table." His act of radical welcome brought someone closer to Jesus and let that woman know, in a way she hadn't previously, that God loves her.

Tobias said...

Dear Mystical,
I really do understand where you are coming from, but I do not share your trust in Crossan's methodology, and therefore, his conclusions. I do not see evidence in the canonical text for an unusual commensality showing Jesus inviting people to eat with him. Rather, the texts speak of Jesus accepting invitations from people like the tax collector, and the offense this commensality with such sinners caused in the eyes of the Pharisees. When Jesus comes to actually inviting people, he makes it clear that while all are welcome there are certain requirements -- the kingdom of heaven is not a casual affair! And the eucharist evolves -- in some sense -- from either the Passover, or the chaburah fellowship meal: neither of which are "open" in the usual sense of the word.

The problem with your methodology (from Crossan) is that it allows you to dismiss anything that doesn't fit in with a model which you find favorable to your vision of what Jesus ought to have been, or actually was. So you dismiss the command to baptize because it is framed in a resurrection account. But what do you do about Jesus' own baptism, and the fact that the gospels clearly present him as emerging from and participating in a baptismal community? The Jewish community was a baptizing community: no one is suggesting they used the trinitarian formula! But how do you know what formula Jesus' immediate disciples used in their own baptizing: which was clearly different from that of John the Baptist. The concepts underlying the Trinity are present in Judaism -- so it may well be that Jesus introduced that formula early in his ministry.

Of course, if you simply say all of this is retrojection from the early church, we are right back where we started. The fact is, everything we know about Jesus comes through the early church. An examination of the Jewish substrates from which Jesus draws (see Sanders, Charlesworth, Meier, Falk, etc.) would appear to indicate a prominent place for Baptism in the various Judaisms of the time, and this is carried forward into Christianity in its various early manifestations.

By the way, the absence of a resurrection account in Mark is not an indication the resurrection didn't happen: rather it is a rhetorical device in keeping with Mark's style of "reader response." But that is a subject for another time. Meanwhile, I am glad you have found a worship community in which you feel nourished. Ultimately that is what is important. I hope you will understand that there are many people who find the traditional ordering of baptism prior to eucharist to be equally meaningful to them.

I by no means want to sound like I'm being a hard-liner on this. However, I would rather, given the challenge the church is now facing -- that there are more unbaptized people than at any time in history -- rediscover the dignity of baptism as the liturgy of welcome, than try to make the eucharist serve that function. The story you tell is moving, and wonderful, and a sign of grace. But note that had that woman not experienced the previous feelings of exclusion, the act of inclusion would have meant nothing special. If we simply "open" the communion, I fear that in a few generations it might well become a triviality, as mundane as any other form of worship -- as indeed baptism became when it was more or less "automatic" or "cultural." We are living in a post-Constantinian world, and there are many opportunities to explore these issues; and I am hesitant to simply leap at what seems an "obvious" answer to the needs of the times.

This is a complicated issue, and rather far from my initial concern about inconsistencies in the current practice of the Roman Catholic Church! Perhaps it deserves a fresh posting to carry the discussion further. It is a question about which I have thought a good deal, and even written a bit of historical background. However, it is not a matter which is of "high" concern for me either in trying to promote or stamp out the practice of inviting the unbaptized to communion. I think we need to acknoweldge the traditional rationale, and leave the door open for grace.

rowan said...

VERY, very, interesting! And I would gladly share all my experiences in this area except that I am dashing out the door for a 10:10 showing of Pan's Labyrinth on your recommendation.

I will however, if you'll permit me, post a portion I read on another blog this evening which puts the subject in the more everyday terms of coumputer usage:

"But it is much more than that. It is a profound theological and pastoral error--veritably, a sin. In the parlance of the 39 Articles, it "overturneth the nature of a sacrament." Baptism culminates in Eucharist, and Eucharist is grounded nowhere but it Baptism. To use a computer metaphor, Baptism is the "operating system" for the Eucharist, which is an "application." Ever try to launch Word without first opening Windows or Mac OS? It doesn't work. Together, the two sacraments manifest the heart of the Paschal Mystery. Apart, the theological significance of both--their "sign value"--is eviscerated. The theme of hospitality is not central to the Eucharist, it is ancillary. Offering Communion to the unbaptized is letting the ancillary tail wag the substantive dog. It is motivated by good intentions, but is, in fact, allowing sloppy sentimentality to trump sound theology."

I am a radical hospitality kind of gal myself but I believe that baptism is the welcome. As you said, it is the door by which we enter the feast. Would anyone having been invited to a fabulous dinner party approach the house and then climb in through the window?

There's quite a lot for me to think about here. Thank you, Tobias, for your great blog!

Oh, and the passage I quoted is from http://www.cariocaconfessions.blogspot.com/
Dan Martin's blog... Of all the people for me to quote from...
Just goes to show you how desperately we all need one another.
Linda McMillan
Austin, Texas

Tobias said...

Thank you Linda. I had seen Fr. Dan's comments on HoBD. This is one of those things where I agree in principle, but would phrase the matter a bit less bluntly -- as I hope I have.

Let me try to explain further: it is not for me to say how God might work through the heart of an unbaptized person who comes to the altar rail and recieves communion. Some will cite the old patristic saying on the subject, "You can't feed a dead body" -- with the implication that until baptism one is as if dead.

But I am forced to acknowledge the concept of "baptism by grace" and the story of Martin of Tours, who encountered Christ while still a catechumen. While I see coming through the window rather than the door as in poor taste -- even as I wrote of that analogy I remembered the story of the folks who tore open the roof to let a man have access to Jesus.

What bothers me in the present discussion is the suggestion that there is something "wrong" in the traditional sequence, or seeing the traditional sequence as "exclusive" (that is, designed to keep people out) as opposed to simply a rational limit that allows access but in an orderly and meaningful way. This is, I think, where I diverge from Mystical Seeker.

I still think the solution is to rediscover the importance of baptism: and make it a clear symbol of welcome and incorporation even more than a "washing away of sin" -- giving it, in fact, an emphasis closer to that of the Eastern Church than the Western.

I would even go so far as to suggest, in certain settings, making a point of it by asking at the beginning of a liturgy -- Is there anyone here who is not baptized? And proceed to instruct and baptize them right there and then! The idea that we need a long catechumenate -- as opposed to a long mystagogy -- had its time, but I think that in our day we would do better to work with a more "open" baptism followed by a more intensive instruction. I realize I'm bucking the RCIA and the SCLM here -- but there's nothing new in my being in a minority!

Mystical Seeker said...

What bothers me in the present discussion is the suggestion that there is something "wrong" in the traditional sequence, or seeing the traditional sequence as "exclusive" (that is, designed to keep people out) as opposed to simply a rational limit that allows access but in an orderly and meaningful way. This is, I think, where I diverge from Mystical Seeker.

Actually, I would go farther than, for example, your Episcopal cohorts who favor open communion would. For example, Saint Gregory's church in San Francisco, which has provided a detailed explanation of its views in favor of open communion on its web site, still does believe in baptism and communion as sacraments. I am much more radical. I simply do not believe in the concept of "sacraments" at all. In this sense, I am still deeply influenced by my former Quakerism. I would add that I have nothing against either of these activities per se. I see them as nice for those who want to participate. I will even partake of communion myself if it is not presented as something that you have to passed an undergone rite to be allowed, but rather as an example of an open table that is open to all. To me, communion is a nice little participatory ritual, like lighting a candle or singing a hymn, no more and no less. I do see some symbolic value as relating to the uniquely human practice of food sharing in general as a communal activity--I'll grant that. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with my relationship with God, and I reject anyone's attempt at suggesting that my relationship with God is in any way influenced by whether or not I am baptized or take communion. That being said, for those who deem it important for themselves, by all means they should do it.

I think that suzer's anecdote about the woman who was brought to tears by open communion illustrates the problem with I would call hard-ass Christianity. I mean, seriously, are you so hardened in favor of your rules and rituals that you are not moved by that story? I am reminded of a parable or two that Jesus taught about people who were so attached to following their nice little rules that the human side of their religious customs were cast aside. Or maybe you dismiss it, as did another commenter, as "sloppy sentimentality". I guess that guy from Samaria who thought compassion was more important than purity rules was also given to sloppy sentimentality. I'll take compassion and openness over rigid application of traditional rules any day.

In fact, when I think of theological hardassedness, I am also reminded of those Christians who, when told of the pain that Christian homophobia has brought to gays, will simply harden their hearts and say it doesn't matter, because rules are rules, and the "rules" say that homosexuality is a sin. A hard heart is a sad thing indeed.

Frankly, I'll take "sloppy sentimentality" if it means being more compassionate and hospitable. We are told, given all the theological mumbo jumbo that surrounds the Eucharist, that it isn't about hospitality first and foremost. I say--any religion that consigns hospitality to a secondary status needs to do some serious self-examination.

The theological mumbo jumbo, as I view it, that surrounds the sacrament of Eucharist in some churches also applies to baptism, of course, which is what is used to justify creating two classes of worshipers--the "in" crowd and the outsiders. This is really unfortunate. Again, I think baptism is fine for those who want to engage in an outward, voluntary, sign of faith in a traditional manner. But still. The funny thing is, aside from Saint Gregory's, I know of other Episcopal churches in the SF Bay Area that have open communion, so it isn't like you have to be innovative in your worship practices (as Saint Gregory's is) to believe in this concept.

The importance of hospitality cannot be underemphasized. Too many people have been excluded from intolerant religions. Open communion may seem like a small thing, but for many it can be an extremely important, and highly symbolic, healing message that can tell them that they are welcome somewhere and thus help draw people back in to the faith. To not understand this is to miss the point of the anecdote about the woman who was brought to tears.

Tobias said...

Dear M.S.,
I think I do understand Suzer's anecdote; that is why I do not take a "hard line" approach to this matter, as some of my colleagues do. I will defend the historic sequence, but do not make it a shibboleth.

Clearly we come from very different religious traditions -- your mystical approach to communion with God unmediated by material means, as opposed to the sacramental approach which is part of my spiritual "way." I do not limit the grace of God to the sacraments (that's what the Episcopal Catechism says, and I think it's right) -- but I believe them to be means of grace -- a belief the Catechism also affirms, but which you appear to reject. Or are you only denying that sacraments are a means of divine paricipation for you? If you are saying that the sacraments aren't means of grace (or divine pariticpation) for anyone then it would appear that my belief system is big enough to include you, but yours not big enough to include me.

As I tried to make clear in my previous comment, it is not for me to say what happens when an unbaptized person receives Communion. At the very least, I have to say it is in God's hands, and the person may well experience, in this, what is called the "baptism of desire." But you appear to be saying that nothing happens in baptism or the eucharist at all, beyond a kind of symbolic act or sense of fellowship, no more meaningful than a hymn or a candle. I do not share that view.