Will you continue?

The posts that I’ve made on this blog which have attracted by far the most comment in recent months have been those connected with whether baptism must necessarily happen to a person before the Eucharist.

I think we’ve established that a lot of people care very much about this question. It is my view that baptism should normally precede the Eucharist. It is the view of some people that baptism must essentially precede receiving the Eucharist. I’m quite untroubled by this. Some people are quite troubled by assertions in this area.

The US-based Episcopal Church is due to have a conversation about this at its General Convention very soon. General Convention only takes place every three years for them, unlike General Synod over here which happens each year. That means they do a lot of stuff when they do meet. My guess is that the communion-baptism question is likely to be one of those things that we will hear quite a lot about. I’d be surprised if they changed their polity on this, but I expect quite a loud attempt to try to shift it. Unlike in Scotland, their canons explicitly ban anyone from receiving communion before being baptised.

Now, I’ve said most of what I want to say about this before (here and here). I just want to add one thing to that at this juncture.

It is that there those who want change in this area can draw quite a lot of comfort from most modern baptism rites, including those in both Scotland and the USA.

The “Baptismal Covenant” – so beloved of American Episcopalians and so glossed over by Scottish Episcopalians is pretty much the same in both countries on this issue, I think.

In it, we find the following question which is addressed to baptismal candidates and either answered by them directly or on their behalf by parents/godparents:

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Continue!

Right?

Comments

  1. Sure, ‘continue’ — as in ‘You came today to be baptised and receive holy communion; will you continue?’ There’s no implication that the baptisand was receiving communion before the service at which she or he makes that affirmation.

  2. Nor praying before being baptised either?

  3. The most interesting thing, I think, is that AKMA and I have just demonstrated that this statement can be read ambiguously. It can be asserted by different people who can claim to affirm it but mean quite different things.

    That’s the ambiguity that is currently not available to the US-based Episcopal Church in this area because of their unambiguous canon.

    In passing, it may be worth making the point that it seems to me that if one takes either Akma’s reading or my reading of that line at all seriously then one must consider requiring Eucharist to be received at baptism either by the candidate themselves or vicariously by the parents/godparents. I don’t think that is a position that many churches actually adopt.

    The only alternative to that would be to presume that the Baptismal covenant was directed more at the church corporate than the candidate.

    • What you haven’t mentioned is the fact that it is liturgy and liturgy isn’t literature. While the use of water could be argued to be doctrinal and the use of the words ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’ certainly is, everything else is liturgy and as such for the people to work out in their lives. For some that might mean receiving communion for the first time at that point for others it might mean not receiving it until sometime in the future, for still others in might indeed mean they continue to receive what they have already been receiving. All are possible whether all are desirable is another matter.

    • I like the idea of ambiguity being `available’. Hail the positive permissive ambiguity. 🙂

  4. In the Orthodox church those who are baptised are then given communion…even infants 🙂

  5. Yes – those who are baptised in St Mary’s are always welcome to receive communion at the same service, regardless of their age.

  6. Brother David says

    1. I read it as AKMA reads it, not as a question of the continuing previous behavior, but as a commitment to a future behavior.

    2. I have to wonder as a non-native English writer if this is not something originally ambiguous, but an archaic form of using your language that modernity renders its continued use ambiguous.

    3. Our prayerbook is the official Spanish translation of the TEC BCP. The Spanish is exactly as the English, but in asking folks to look at the question and tell me what it means to them, no one interpreted it as continuing previous behavior.

    4. I don’t have your prayerbook to check, but in the TEC prayerbooks, the rubrics state that Holy Baptism is to be administered in the context of Eucharist. Baptism outside of Eucharist would be the exception.

    • The rubric is:

      The Rite is intended for use within the Eucharist, following the gospel.
      Whenever possible the Bishop presides.

      However, the rite also provides material for baptisms which are not celebrated during the Eucharist.

      I think I would have to say that the intent is that baptism should normally be in the context of the Eucharist but that it is recognised that it isn’t always so.

      Rather similar to my statement that we might expect baptism normally to precede receiving the Eucharist.

      Before anyone asks, it is the case, I think, that most baptisms in our church are performed by priests, notwithstanding the rubric.

  7. With regard to ‘praying’, I note that the question uses the distinctive expression ‘the prayers’, suggesting that something more than simply ‘Now I lay me down to sleep’ is involved — again, on my reading, the specific prayer life of the ordered community constituted by baptism. But one can certainly read it differently, as you demonstrate.

    And yes, I am emphatically in favour of communion for all the baptised, and would be in favour of baptism without preconditions if the way were clear for that.

  8. Elizabeth says

    Our liturgy is so sneaky.

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