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Eucharistic Sharing - by Bishop William C. Wantland


By The Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland

In recent years, more and more congregations have declared "open Communion", that is, any baptized Christian may receive Communion at our altars. Some have even advocated Communion for the unbaptized. Never mind that baptism has always been seen as a prerequisite to receiving the Sacrament. Canon I. 17. 7 specifically states that no unbaptized person shall receive Holy Communion in this Church.

In 1979, General Convention adopted Resolution A-43, which provides:

Resolved, . . . that the following standard be adopted for those of other Churches who on occasion desirre to receive the Holy Communion within the Episcopal Church:

a. They shall have been baptized with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and shall have previously been admitted to the Holy Communion within the Church to which they belong.

b. They shall examine their lives, repent of their sins, and be in love and charity with all people, as this Church in its Catechism (PBCP, p. 860) says is required of all those who come to the Eucharist.

c. They shall appreach the Holy Communion as an expression of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ whose sacrifice once upon the cross was sufficient for all mankind.

d. They shall find in this Communion the means to strengthen their life within the Christian family "through the forgiveness of (their) sins, the strengthening of (their) union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet . . ." (PBCP, p. 859-60).

e. Their own consciences must always be respected as must the right of their own Church membership to determine the sacramental discipline of those who, by their own choice, make that their spiritual home.

The Resolution also provided that the Commentary on Eucharistic Sharing prepared by the Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations be used as a pastoral context for the interpretation of these standards.

The Commentary declares: "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."

The Commentary goes on to state: "What about those times when Christians cannot communicate at the same altar because of church doctrine, discipline or reasons of conscience? One of the realities of life within a divided Church is this very brokenness at the Table of the Lord.

There is a great temptation to pretend that this is not true or to believe that we as individuals can do what denominations still feel should not be done.

This is an experience of the Cross in a sinful world. Often it is more appropriate to bear the pain and give testimony to the integrity of faith and discipline in one's church than to act as though full unity existed where it does not."

Neither the Resolution nor the Commentary has ever been amended or repealed by General Convention. It appears that too many in the Episcopal Church are either ignorant of the teaching of the Church, or simply don't care.

Bishop Wantland is the retired Bishop of Eau Claire.


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