Admittance to Holy Communion varies enormously between ecclesial communities. Some Communions defends the sacrament most rigorously, as it is well known, and thereby causes pain not only to their sister churches but also embarrassment and deep marginalization to many of their own members. Many ecclesial communities list a disciplinary rubric surrounding the Eucharist, concerned with what to do with those of a notorious evil life or whose conduct makes them a scandal to other members of the community.
Whether it is appropriate to use the Eucharist as a means of discipline is, however, a tricky question. Very occasionally we will encounter individuals who come to the Eucharist to disrupt and divide, but fortunately this is rare. But even in such a case, our best hope is to make the Eucharist so dynamic, so participatory, so engaging (and thereby so excruciating for those of evil intent) that the Liturgy does its own ‘screening out’ without recourse to canon law or a bishop’s intervention.
Since our inception and taught by our forebearers, the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches maintains the custom of the priest or the deacon during the Liturgy, following the Lamb of God litany, to announce that all, from any tradition or no tradition, are welcome to receive Holy Communion.
Consistent with Catholic theology, especially as promulgated by the Second Vatican Council called by John XXIII, we recognize the one baptism and faith of all our Christian brothers and sisters. By virtue of our common baptism, a genuine unity already exists in Christ’s Church. Therefore, we are pleased to make known to all our Christian brothers and sisters, regardless of denominational affiliation, Christ’s invitation to partake in the Eucharist. All are welcome to receive and to celebrate the sacramental life in our communities. We recognize that the sacraments are not rewards for any human achievement or accomplishment but are divine gifts of grace to enable us to become the People of God.
Some of our liturgical invitations to Holy Communion vigorously proclaim:
“In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) We encourage you to take your place at the table, for we understand and acknowledge that this is Christ’s table and that this sacred meal is Christ’s supper. We are all invited guests. No one is excluded. All are welcomed here!”
"We have long recognized that this is not our table but the Lord's Table. Jesus is the host of this Eucharistic meal. It is Jesus who invites you to come and receive of Him. It matters not what church or denomination you are affiliated with if any. What matters is that you respond to the invitation of Christ in accord with your heart's desire to come to Him. As a Catholic faith community we recognize that we encounter the living presence of the Risen Christ in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharistic Meal. As such, we refer to the bread and wine as His Body and Blood. We also recognize that Holy Communion is not a reward for any accomplishment or achievement of our own but rather, it is a gift offered to us by God's grace so that we would be enabled to be the Body of Christ, the presence of Christ, in the world."
These have their origin in a growing awareness that the most radical thing Jesus did was to ‘eat with publicans and sinners’ (Matthew 9:11). He scandalized the religious authorities of his day by his outright refusal to observe the purity laws in relation to eating and drinking. He sat down to eat with all and sundry, the elite and the riffraff. As a result, it can be said that it was his open table, his policy of unconditional hospitality, as much as anything he ever said or taught, that led to his downfall.
As a result, there is an increasing uneasiness about refusing Holy Communion to anyone, either because they are too young (we have made Christianity such a cerebral thing) or because they are considered somehow beyond the pale, due to their lack of belief or the non-existence of their washing habits (we have made Christianity such a prim and proper thing).
This unease with traditional practice resonates with our own experience of everyday life in that we know how the shared meal has a power to reconcile, to heal and to unify that is almost sacramental in its power. We recall those times when we have been ‘pleasantly surprised’ by dining companions we would never have chosen and from whom we instinctively shrank at first sight. The Eucharistic assembly, as well as being an intimate community of the like-minded, can be understood also as God’s ‘mess’ where we are all required to sit down with all sorts and conditions, to have the corners rubbed off us, our assumptions challenged, and to find healing and hope in the company of people radically different from ourselves, with whom we would never have chosen to break bread.
In these post-Christian days, when those who seek God, or truth, or meaning, or something, present themselves in our Synodal Catholic assemblies of faith, it is no time to quote rubrics or canons. Far better to respond as the One whom they seek, Jesus Christ. We can live the Benedictine response and treat ‘the guest as Christ come among us.’ Or as St. Augustine urges us to ‘become what you see, receive what you are: the Body of Christ’ (Sermon 272).
Come to the Table!
The great ecumenist and monastic, Brother Roger Schütz of Taize, once prayed:
"O God the Father of all,
you ask every one of us to spread love
and reconciliation where people are divided.
You open this way for us,
so that the wounded body of Jesus Christ,
your church, may be leaven
of communion for the poor of the earth
and in the whole human family."
Our fundamental call in our common Baptism as disciples of Christ is one of unity. Jesus prayed this to his heavenly Father: "that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21). Our most profound witness to our discipleship is to be found in our unity with God, others, and self. God was, is, and shall always be relational rather than obscured or removed from our experience of who God is. The most blessed Trinity is the core doctrine of Christian faith that models for us and instructs us in holy relationships. Indeed, the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches (CSCC) chooses to re-embrace the Holy Trinity as our pathway for life together and with others. Our synodal polity and practice are given full life through our contemplation of the unique yet interdependent Persons of our Godhead. Each expression of the Trinity teaches us the profundity of divine love for all and inspires us repeatedly to persevere in this way of love we have discovered together in our communion.
Christianity's greatest blessing is her diversity of expression. Sadly, for many Christians though, this sacred gift of diversity has become a distraction that bleeds us of energy for authentic Gospel living. Denominational spats, ego-based schisms, and the unrelenting "us and them" diatribes only serve to give scandal rather than bear witness to the prayer of Jesus. It is lamentable to behold the sacred Body of Christ so wounded, as well as the part that we may have played in this malady of faith.
As members of the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches we seek to go back behind the divisions of the sixteenth century and to rediscover the great Catholic Tradition. We seek to be attentive to the treasures of faith of the Eastern Church. We never desire to break fellowship with anyone or to be a symbol of repudiation for those who transmitted the faith to us. We seek to be men and women of communion, overcoming and detesting antagonism or rivalry between persons or households of faith. Our unity with one another and the entire Body of Christ is intensified by our charity and hope as Christ has shown us: "may all be one!"
Peace and every blessing, in XP!
As the Presiding Bishop of the Communion of Synodal Catholic Churches, I have been called forth by the Communion to serve with our Bishops as "first among equals" to represent the Communion, to articulate the vision and mission of the Communion and to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.