Open Communion redux

Open communion or communion without Baptism (CWOB,) as it is more accurately called, is in the news again. In an article “Who is worthy to receive?” Michael Paulson writes:

A quiet revolution is taking place at the altars of many churches – in the form of bread and wine.

Communion, the central ritual of most Christian worship services and long a members-only sacrament, is increasingly being opened to any willing participant, including the nonbaptized, the nonbeliever, and the non-Christian.

The change is most dramatic in the Episcopal Church, particularly in liberal dioceses like Massachusetts. The denomination’s rules are clear: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.” Yet, a recent survey by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts found that nearly three-quarters of local parishes are practicing “open Communion,” inviting anyone to partake.

Paulson also notes:

The public discussion of Communion in the United States has recently been dominated by developments in the Catholic Church, which maintains a traditional view of the Eucharist, asking that only members in good standing participate in the ritual. The Church’s rules preclude divorced Catholics who remarry without annulling their first marriage from receiving Communion, and the bishops next month are scheduled once again to talk about the contentious and unresolved question of whether politicians who support abortion rights should be eligible to participate.

But even within the Catholic Church, there has clearly been change in practice, but coming from the pews, not the pulpit. Church officials and scholars say the percentage of people attending Mass who receive Communion has risen dramatically over the last several decades. This suggests that the number of people who see themselves as excluded by sin has dropped.

Many Catholics have clearly decided to make their own rules, from public figures, like the twice-divorced and abortion rights supporting Rudolph Giuliani, who took Communion at a papal Mass in New York, to nonfamous persons who take Communion despite having been remarried outside the church, or engaging in premarital or gay sex, or other practices the Church defines as sinful.

Comments on the article are quite interesting and diverse.

Read it all here.

Other essays and articles on Episcopal Cafe on CWOB here and here and here.

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