Eucharistic Hospitality in the ELCA

A reader has recently informed me that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has begun a discussion in their congregations about the norm requiring baptism before admission to Holy Communion.

A request asking for discussion of this practice came out of the Northern Illinois Synod of the ELCA and was accepted by the 2013 Church Wide Assembly. As a result, the ELCA has begun a discussion process and has published a guiding document on their website which attempts to set the stage for this discussion. The document “Table and font: Who is welcome?” begins by acknowledging that the recommended practice in the ELCA is for baptism to precede Holy Communion. In this regard, the document quotes Principle 37 of “The Use of the Means of Grace:”

Admission to the Sacrament is by invitation of the Lord, presented through the Church to those who are baptized.

The document goes on to point out that “increasingly, in many congregations of this church and our ecumenical partners, the invitation to receive communion is for everyone, not only for those who have been baptized.” The document points out that this practice has developed under the notion of “Eucharistic Hospitality.”

According to the document, the discussion on the invitation to Holy Communion must address “the relationship between communion and baptism, as well as the relation between the sacraments and the proclamation of God’s word, the worship space, music, prayers and the whole of the liturgy.”

It will be interesting to see what comes of this discussion. Call me a traditionalist, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the practice of admitting non-baptized persons to Holy Communion. For me, requiring people to be baptized before receiving the Eucharist is not inhospitable; rather, it attests to the importance and priority of baptism and membership in the Church.

What are your thoughts? Are any of your churches dealing with similar issues? Is there a wider context, in practice or in theory, within which this discussion should be understood? Do you or your parish use a set text for invitation to Holy Communion?

Please comment below.

More information on this discussion can be found at the ELCA website under their Worship Resources tab.

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14 comments

  1. From what I understand, many Lutheran synods postponed reception of Holy Communion until after Confirmation. I could be wrong, though. If I’m right, Is this still the case in some synods?

  2. This discussion is an indication to me of what can happen as a result of open mindedness: sheer nonsense. So because some clergy are welcoming people to the table who are not baptized, the church should revisit the historical link between these two sacraments? Thank God for sacred tradition and for practices rooted in sound theological reflection. BTW, why should we at PT be interested in a matter pertaining to ELCA?

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #3:

      I did not mind Chase sharing this information with PT readers. Let’s just hope and pray that the ELCA discussions will produce a reaffirmation of the tradition of baptism as the gateway to the sacraments.

      Discussing our liturgical practices is usually a good thing. I can’t wait for the Non Solum discussion of how the communion procession in many US parishes has become the opportunity for everyone in the pews to approach the altar to get “something,” whether that be the Body and Blood of Christ, or a sign of the cross on the forehead, or (as is done in the parish where I am currently “subbing”), a slight tap on the left shoulder of a person who is not receiving communion.

    2. @Fr. Jack Feehily – comment #3:
      Pray Tell was founded to be an ecumenical liturgy blog. What happens in other churches is relevant to all of the others. PT values an ecumenical approach to liturgy and for this reason we post on liturgical topics happening in other churches.

  3. Fr. Jack Feehily : This discussion is an indication to me of what can happen as a result of open mindedness: sheer nonsense.
    Thank God for sacred tradition and for practices rooted in sound theological reflection.

    BTW, why should we at PT be interested in a matter pertaining to ELCA?

    @Fr Jack Feehily

    It occurs to me, Father, that it’s worth noting simply because without comment and information, ‘nonsense catches on’ remarkably and regrettably easily!

    Just saying …. 🙂

  4. I think it may also have to do with those denominations which the ELCA, is in union with. That is, whose ministerial orders the recognize. I know the Episcopal church is one of them but I am sure there are others and some of those others might not require baptism to receive communion. Finally, just because a Synod requested a study does not mean change will happen.

    1. @Earle Luscombe – comment #8:
      ELCA is in full communion with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church of America, the United Methodist Church, the Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church, and the Episcopal Church. These are ecumenical agreements in North America; although there are other Lutheran/Anglican agreements (Porvoo being the most significant, involving quite a few national churches in Northern Europe), and other Lutheran/Reformed agreements, they are not international. I honestly don’t know which of these require baptism (baptism and confirmation?) as a requirement to receive holy communion.

    1. @Joe O’Leary – comment #9:

      Didn’t Luther teach that the Eucharist is the forgiveness of sin? A baptized (and, perhaps also confirmed) person, after a personal examination of conscience, affirms his or her trust in real presence and Christ’s ability to reconcile sin by receiving the Eucharist. This is one reason why some Lutheran synods practice closed communion. A pastor cannot know for certain that a person is properly catechized (and thus able to examine one’s conscience) if he or she cannot prove that they are of the same synod as that particular church.

      How can one desire the forgiveness of sin through the reception of the Eucharist if he or she isn’t baptized? In Lutheranism, original sin is not completely forgiven but rather imputed to Christ’s sacrifice. Regardless, an unbaptized person has no intuitive understanding of Luther’s fundamental eucharistic theology. The ELCA’s practice strikes me as theologically incongruent, to say the least.

  5. First, as an Episcopalian, I offer thanks to my brothers (don’t think any sisters have chimed in yet) who affirm Pray Tell as a forum for concerns of the broader Church.
    While the Episcopal Church has not yet officially addressed this concern, many parishes have adopted an invitation along the lines of “all are welcome” rather than the official “all baptized Christians are welcome.” I was at first uncomfortable with this and am still ambivalent but mostly favor the hospitable invitation. It says “Come join the feast” instead of “Come watch us at the feast.”
    But I see the inherent “danger” of Baptism being reduced to an option rather than “the gateway to the sacraments” (thanks, Ron).
    Some Lutheran traditions have had a practice of a tightly “closed” communion, requiring a signing-in before receiving; this is probably a factor in the ELCA discussion.
    I pray that discussion of this topic will be opportunity for discerning what we do and don’t believe about the mystery of Baptism.

  6. In a very large Catholic church with lots of visitors, how many people standing in line to receive communion on a given Sunday, may not be Roman Catholic? How can the priest or eucharistic minister know? A smaller parish is another matter. I received communion more than once as a non – Catholic, at the invitation of the pastor I might add, so I know it happens.

    Finally, don’t mix the ELCA, and the LCMS, up. About the only thing they share in common is the word “Lutheran.”

  7. The conversations in which I have participated don’t just paint with a wide brush of “Eucharistic Hospitality” because it is not true hospitality if we are dumbing down the liturgy or focusing on “getting people” connected as a way of fostering some sort of commitment down the road that rarely, if ever, comes when we have no clarity of practice or of the gospel.

    That being said, the folks I hear supporting and even practicing already this sort of open table root their practice in the ancient tradition of Baptism and Communion being unified and equal sacraments and of infants being communed at the time of their baptism, as was my son a couple years ago.

    Application 37D in the Means of Grace booklet reads,
    “Infants and children may be communed for the first time during the service in which they are baptized or they may be brought
    to the altar during communion to receive a blessing.

    Continuing Application 37E reads, When infants and young children are communed, the parents and sponsors receive instruction and the children are taught throughout their development (so we can believe or have faith for another).

    Background 37F Catechesis, continuing throughout the life of the believer, emphasizes the sacrament as gift, given to faith by and for participation in the community. Such faith is not simply knowledge or intellectual understanding but trust in God ‘s promises given in the Lord’s Supper ( ” for you ” and ” for the forgiveness of sin”) for the support of the baptized .

    Application 37G speaks an important idea in this discussion saying, When an unbaptized person comes to the table seeking
    Christ’s presence and is INADVERTENTLY communed, neither that person nor the ministers of Communion need be ashamed. Rather, Christ’s gift of love and mercy to all is praised . That person is invited to learn the faith of the Church, be baptized, and thereafter faithfully receive Holy Communion.

    All of it boils down for some, to be about God’s Grace active in calling people to the table and…

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