Further information on admission of children to Holy Communion in the Church in Wales
Earlier this month, we reported that the Bishops of the Church in Wales had issued a Pastoral Letter concerning Admission to Holy Communion: as from the First Sunday in Advent this year, 27 November, the Bishops are giving permission to communicate “to all who are baptised in water and in the name of the Holy Trinity” [within their dioceses and jurisdictions]. The Pastoral Letter, initially posted on the St Davids diocesan site, has now been published on the CinW’s provincial website in addition to other explanatory material: Press Notice; Pastoral Letter; Theological Background; Church Guidance; and Congregation Guidance. These are available in English and Welsh, and in Word or pdf format.
The Theological Background to the Admission of All the Baptised to Communion first assesses the question “Is baptism the complete rite of Christian initiation?” and its answer in the affirmative is followed by:”Are there any reasons to deny communion to the baptised? No, Any obstacle that you might place in between the two gospel sacraments of baptism and communion risks making that thing seem more important, more powerful, than the grace of God”. It dismisses making “understanding” a criterion for reception as inappropriate, and likewise another standard of
“Are there any reasons to deny communion to the baptised? No. Any obstacle that you might place in between the two gospel sacraments of baptism and communion risks making that thing seem more important, more powerful, than the grace of God”.
It dismisses making “understanding” a criterion for reception as inappropriate – likewise any other standard of “worthiness” – because none of us would reach it. The document suggests:
“[t]he mission of the church might be better served by returning to the ancient link between baptism and communion … the ability to introduce communion into fresh expressions and pioneer forms of church without having to route these new church members through a solid church gateway of confirmation might be beneficial. However, we would also stress that enabling the freedom to receive from baptism onwards is not the same as making it compulsory.”
With regard to Confirmation:
“the work of the Doctrine Commission illustrates well that this rite has had a whole number of meanings and has been conducted in many different ways over time. The Commission was also unanimous in affirming that confirmation has a very important place in the life of the church today and should continue to do so.
Confirmation needs, we feel, to be freed up to be this joyful expression and recognition of mature faith and commitment to discipleship, while baptism and communion together affirm the equal value of all God’s people, wherever they are on that journey of faith, and our commitment to do all we can to support and feed that journey of all our members, whatever their age, sophistication or capacity.”
The Church Guidance is entitled Inviting all the baptised to share Communion: a Guide for Churches and addresses the key points of the new policy, its basis, the potential benefits/outcomes, and what is happening to Confirmation. The document then gives practical advice on introducing the new policy. Important aspects include:
“6. Care should be taken to ensure that the children admitted to Holy Communion have the active support of parents. Churches should decide how best to communicate this to children and parents and how to help them make an informed decision and indicate consent. Membership forms for Sunday schools might be amended to allow parents to give or withhold consent for receiving Communion. Where parents do not live together, it is good practice for the Church to contact both parents where possible.
7. Those who are not their parents but who bring young children to the altar (e.g. Sunday School teachers, grandparents, parents of the child’s friends) will be acting in loco parentis and should have discussed with the children’s parent / guardian(s) whether the children in question can receive or not.”
“9. It should be made clear that Communion can be received in one kind and that this is a full participation in the Eucharist. Wine cannot legally be given to under 5s. Churches might consider the advice previously published by the Bishops about the possibility of using a separate chalice containing wine that is fermented from grape juice but has had the alcohol subsequently removed. This might also be provided to adults who cannot, or do not wish to, receive alcohol.
10. In the case of young children, bread could be given to the parent / guardian or other person accompanying the children for them to give an appropriate portion to the children.”
The Congregational Guidance is an A5 document An invitation to Communion: Guidance for members of the congregation containing much of the above information.
S 5 (Giving intoxicating liquor to children under five) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, as amended, states that:
“If any person gives, or causes to be given, to any child under the age of five years any alcohol (within the meaning given by section 191 of the Licensing Act 2003, but disregarding subsection (1)(f) to (i) of that section), except upon the order of a duly qualified medical practitioner, or in case of sickness, apprehended sickness, or other urgent cause, he shall, on summary conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.”
Orthodox children are baptised, chrismated and given communion as part of the same rite – and communion in Orthodoxy is by intinction. Whether or not any Orthodox priest has ever been prosecuted under s 3 for giving communion bread soaked in alcohol to an under-5 we do not know – but we very much doubt it.
Our earlier post attracted substantial readership and comment, and no doubt this additional material will further these discussions, both on the underlying theology and the practicalities of putting the new policy into practice.
David Pocklington and Frank Cranmer
With thanks to Thinking Anglicans for the link