A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Sign Language. The post was written in response to a question posed at an informal Adult Forum called Ask a Priest: https://stalbansparish.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/sign-language/ The point of that post was that in a liturgy like ours, a liturgy replete with signs and symbols, the only “mistake” one can make is to “do something and not understand why.”
A friend read the Post and sent me a one-word response: Amen. Rich is usually more verbose than that; sure enough a little later I received another e-mail: “On the other hand, understanding can be overrated, whether one is doing it or not. A few years ago, we talked in EfM about the practice of giving communion to children. Someone suggested, without being pushy, that maybe it would be better to wait until the person receiving communion could understand it. My reaction: I hope that’s not the standard, because I’d not like to think myself ineligible in my 60s; I may not understand the eucharist, but I don’t want to miss it, either.”
I wrote Rich back to say that I was 100% in agreement. I remember my “First Communion” in the Roman Catholic Church. I was 12 years old. I went to confirmation class and had chosen my confirmation name: Luke (a name I chose not because I knew who wrote a certain Gospel but rather because I had recently seen a certain movie – Cool Hand Luke!). After receiving communion for the first time I don’t remember anything changing in me, ontological or otherwise.
Whenever parents or guardians ask me the question posed in Rich’s EfM class my answer is that the first time a child should receive communion is the first time that they reach for out it, for the very reasons Rich articulates above. In the Episcopal Church “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body, the Church (BCP).” In other words Holy Baptism is the moment we are invited to communion… communion with one another and communion with God.
At. St. Alban’s we practice “open communion or an open table.” This means that anyone who comes to the altar, baptized or not, is eligible to receive Holy Communion. In the Episcopal Church, anyway, open communion isn’t practiced universally and there are some priests who believe that it’s contrary to church doctrine (just the same I’ve never had a Bishop who asked). A few years ago I heard a compelling argument that because so many people are “unchurched” these days the Eucharist (Holy Communion) has replaced Baptism as the Sacrament that invites people into Christ’s body, the Church; that the Eucharist precedes baptism rather than the other way around. I can’t imagine God preferring one track over the other.
The word liturgy, literally translated, means The Work of the People. Rich concluded his e-mail with a pithy sentence (one that I’ll never forget): “So, maybe the work of the people involves doing, religiously, what we don’t understand.” Amen, Rich… and food for thought, to be sure!