Bishops are prepared to have a conversation about what Christian hospitality means “in relation to the Lord’s table.” Photo: Willford Tiller
Conceding that there was considerable email reaction to the recent House of Bishops’ statement on the eucharist, Primate Fred Hiltz defended the bishops’ unanimous position that Holy Communion is reserved for the baptized.
Baptism is the rite that admits people into the Christian community, making them eligible to partake of the meal at the Lord’s table. “The eucharist is a sacrament intended for the baptized,” Archbishop Hiltz said in an interview, adding that this is a basic article of church teaching.
He acknowledged that in some churches unbaptized people do come forward to take communion. “There’s no ticket taking at the altar,” he said. “We don’t ask everyone, ‘Are you baptized?’ ”
Although the bishops upheld the reservation, the primate stressed that they “are prepared to have a conversation about what Christian hospitality means in relation to the Lord’s table.”
To those who protested the statement-charging that the bishops may be slamming the door on people who want to come to the table and from there into the church-Archbishop Hiltz noted that bishops are the guardians of the faith and charged with upholding church teachings. “But they are open to further discussion on this issue.”
There is no question, he added, that the bishops are sensitive to the potential of the sacrament of eucharist for leading some unchurched people to baptism. “No one is dismissing that, but at the same time, a good pastoral coach can help people understand how baptism and the eucharist complement each other.”
As for the place of unconfirmed but baptized children at the eucharistic meal, he said: “We went through a period a few years ago when it was thought that children had to be confirmed to participate. But we have moved away from that now. The fundamental rite of admittance to the Lord’s table is baptism.”
Archbishop Hiltz noted that many churches offer programs where children can receive Holy Communion along with their parents and learn about the eucharist in that way. “It becomes a refresher course for the parents and it has a wonderful effect on the life of the family as a whole,” he said.