Comment : occasional articles about life in and about the Church
Helpful Information from Cathedrals
Have you heard of an organisation called Cathedrals Plus? No? Well, it’s a charity that provides a forum for those responsible for the care and welcome of pilgrims, tourists and visitors at places of Christian worship – specifically cathedrals, abbeys, shrines and major churches. It was formed in 1981 and previously known as The Pilgrims’ Association. The Cathedrals Plus website informs us that: “Today our cathedrals are still at the centre of the Christian Life of the area, still serving their local communities and the thousands of people who visit them each year from all parts of the world.” The Charity Commission declares their activities to be: “Helping cathedrals, abbeys and other greater Christian churches meet the educational and visiting needs of pilgrims, worshippers and visitors.” It sounds a worthy mission. The phrase we might bring out from this statement are: 'helping cathedrals ... meet the ... needs of ... worshippers.'
Most of the Anglican cathedrals in England and Wales (75% in fact) are members of Cathedrals Plus, so their collective Deans and Chapters clearly support and promote these activities – being likely to benefit from their mutual exchange of ideas and initiatives. There is just one thing that I, personally, would ask of these Anglican cathedrals and - for these purposes - the other 25% who are not members: could they please provide assistance to Traditionalist worshippers in a small way? The provision of some additional information would greatly help those of us who find themselves either in or near to a cathedral city on a Sunday morning and wishing to attend a Eucharist. The additional information? Identifying, by name, the celebrants at each Eucharist on Sundays.
I recently conducted a survey of published details for Eucharist services of all forty-eight Anglican cathedrals in England and Wales. The results: a quarter of cathedrals (12) name the ‘President’ or ‘Celebrant’ at every Sunday Eucharist; just over a tenth [that’s five cathedrals] name the ‘President’ or ‘Celebrant’ at only the main Eucharist (average time 10.30 am); yet more than 60% of cathedrals (29) make no mention at all of either the ‘President’ or ‘Celebrant’. Surprisingly, two cathedrals had no details at all [other than the ‘usual times’] of their Sunday services. Chester Cathedral no longer upload their weekly music sheet to their website (you have to email them to obtain a copy) and Blackburn Cathedral’s latest diary sheet was dated May 2015 when I visited their website on 12 July.
The situation, however, is not entirely clear from some of the cathedrals who do provide names: those using the term ‘President’ could, of course, mean that a particular Eucharist is concelebrated. Furthermore, presented with celebrants names such as Canon Sam Corley [in Bradford] or Canon Chris Barber [in Ely] may require a bit of an internet ‘identity’ search beforehand. Encouragingly, two cathedrals - Bradford and Monmouth - have improved their information about services [since a similar survey I conducted six months previously] and now name all celebrants of the Eucharist on Sunday. I am, however, proud to present my “Palme d’Or” award to five cathedrals who not only publish the name of celebrants on Sundays, but also those for every weekday Eucharist. These are Durham, Lichfield, Newcastle, Ripon and Wakefield Cathedrals. Thank you and well done!
With more than 91% of cathedrals already providing the name of the preacher at their main Eucharist on Sundays, surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to include the name of celebrants at each Sunday Eucharist? Many of these appear to be in some form of pre-planned rota anyway. Perhaps Cathedrals Plus might like to promote the very helpful initiative of the ‘golden five’ (mentioned above) amongst the other Deans and Chapters?
A minor, but nevertheless frustrating, problem is that service details (rather than the list of service times) on some cathedral websites are difficult to find. Several now group ‘Worship and Music’ together on their websites and the service schedules are quite easily found: particularly good were the Durham and Lincoln Cathedral websites. Very often, these detailed service sheets are to be found under ‘Music’ rather than ‘Services’ or ‘Worship’ – and most are not difficult to spot [usually pdf file links]. A few websites seem to, unconsciously one hopes, hide their service details in 'remote corners'. The most difficult to find were those for Portsmouth and Peterborough. Leicester Cathedral’s service list was a month out of date when visited on 13 July.
In Wales, only one cathedral website publishes the names of celebrants at all their Eucharist services on Sunday: Monmouth. The Brecon Cathedral website does give the names of those celebrating the main Eucharist service at 11 am. The remaining four cathedrals name no celebrants at all.
Note: The comments expressed in this article are the views of the author and are not necessarily those of Credo Cymru - Forward in Faith Wales
Sense over Incense
Have you been praying for common sense to prevail or were you getting ready to bury your remaining stock of Rosa Mystica? The headline to a report in the Church Times last July warning that ‘Incense could be a legal high’ seems to have been taken seriously by several level-headed people in the Church. The scare that priests using incense could be criminalised under a proposed new law being introduced by the government, via its’ Psychoactive Substances Bill, was clearly giving cause for concern. Yet should it have?
On 23 June, a month prior to the Church Times article, the Local Government Association (LGA) had sent a briefing document to the House of Lords Committee [before the Bill’s second reading and debate in the Lords] which included as one of their key messages: “If the definition of a psychoactive substance in clause 2 of the Bill could capture unintended materials, like incense, then consideration should be given to adding those substances to the list of exemptions in Schedule 1 of the Bill.” A thoroughly sensible recommendation.
Three weeks later, during the Bill’s second reading and debate in the Lords (and some ten days prior to the Church Times article) Lord Howarth of Newport said: “The expert committee warned that closer thought needed to be given to possible unintended consequences of the loose and generalized term “psychoactive substances” used in the Bill. We do not want to criminalise priests. The more vigorously the priest swings the censer, the more incense is let loose into the body of the church … we have to be very careful that we do not unintentionally criminalise either priests or florists because flowers have psychoactive effects.” No mention here though of altar servers, church suppliers and producers of incense (which includes a couple of monastic houses) who would also be criminalised!
Despite both the LGA’s sensible advice and Lord Howarth’s wise words, the Bill was despatched from their Lordships' House on 21 July without exempting incense. The following day, the Home Affairs Committee opened an inquiry into the likely impact of the proposed new laws banning psychoactive substances and inviting submissions from groups that would be particularly affected. The deadline for written submissions was 2 September. Just two charities, the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service and the Association of English Cathedrals, made submissions to the Committee appealing that either incense be granted specific exemption or a firm ministerial assurance be given – on the record – that the legislation is not intended to cover its' liturgical use.
Finally, on 25 September - three months after the disturbing Church Times article – the Home Office Minister responsible, Mike Penning MP, wrote to both charities explaining that a blanket ban was needed on all potentially harmful substances and that, in effect, incense would not specifically appear in the Schedule 1 exemptions. However, he added that: “We do not believe it right to equate the effect of incense wafting through the air with the direct inhalation of fumes, for example from a solvent. Moreover, the offences only apply where a substance is likely to be consumed for its psychoactive effect. As such, the use of incense in religious services will not be covered by the Bill.” So only last week could the Church Times report the final out-come.
Worry over - but what a convoluted process to reach a sensible outcome. Just don't use incense for anything other than religious services.
Note: The comments expressed in this article are the views of the author and are not necessarily those of Credo Cymru - Forward in Faith Wales
A comment upon "An Evangelical Pilgrim goes to Walsingham"
- an article by the Rt Revd Andy John, Bishop of Bangor. Published in the Church Times : 30 September 2016 -
The Bishop tells of his few days in Walsingham with thirty or so fellow pilgrims from North Wales. This comment is given here for those who may have missed this interesting article or who are not regular readers of the Church Times. Note: The Webmaster takes full responsibility for the editing of this comment.
Having outlined the early history of the Shrine (the appearance of the Blessed Virgin to Richeldis, its’ destruction during the Reformation and its’ restoration a little less than four-hundred years later) Bishop Andy reflects that: “…our Anglican history needs as much affirmation as it does censure.” The Reformation was not, he considered, just about a “King who had greed in his eyes” [a reference to a line of the Pilgrim Hymn] but also about “reasserting the centrality of the Cross and resurrection in salvation, and refocusing on the supreme importance of personal faith in Christ” – to stay close to the faith of our forebears.
Bishop Andy goes on to applaud the richness of Anglican liturgy – the rhythm and shape of the Anglican Offices grounding “our devotional life in spirituality and discipleship that is robust and rounded, with scripture and prayer at its heart.” As an Evangelical, one might expect the ‘mediating’ role of Mary in ‘powerful intercession’ with her Son (as expressed in the Walsingham Prayer) is clearly difficult for him. Touching on this he says: “what is most important is the intention that our devotion and prayer should come before God” and requires “deliberate thought, so the connection is strong.”
When mentioning the Shrine Guardians upholding “the practice of male officiants” Bishop Andy says he was grateful that: “female priest colleagues in his pilgrim group were treated with dignity and respect and, within this practice, invited to attend preparatory meetings and to minister accordingly.”
Having said this, he found that his pilgrimage to Walsingham [his fourth, he tells me] was a very positive one. In his own words: “It is a place soaked in prayer to God. Sitting quietly in the Shrine Church or any of the chapels is not only to become conscious of the years of prayer that have been offered there, but to experience this afresh. As you sit there, you are likely to be surrounded by other pilgrims who are reaching out for God in hope and longing.”
“The pattern of devotion at the Shrine moves the soul, and opens it to the goodness of God. Whether you stand at the hoy well and drink from the water blessed and poured into your hands, or open your life in confession to a priest, you are invited to encounter God with vulnerable honesty. I found it impossible to be unmoved by this, and appreciated the gentle approach of the worship, which was never pressuring or conformist, but was freely welcoming.”
“Appropriately, the Eucharist is at the heart of the worship at the Shrine, whether in services held by particular pilgrim groups or by those who minister there full-time. The care with which the Eucharist is celebrated creates worship that is never fussy or false, but reverent and clear.”
“This is the place where Christ meets us supremely in worship; where the body of Christ meets the head of that body, and is drawn closer together, to become the people for who he died.”
“The ministry in Walsingham is focused on the formation of Christian living. Any notion that pilgrimage is a spiritual ‘bolt from the blue’, or an escape from the realities of life, is contradicted by a visit to this place. The aim is to renew us for the life that we live when we are back home, re-energised for service and mission in the world.”
“The shape of the pilgrimage, from preparation with song and prayer on the journey, to the final worship at the moment of departure, creates a structure to enable this energy to be sustained in the days and weeks to come.”
“The pilgrimage programme makes it possible to relax and enjoy fellowship not only with your own group, but with other visitors. Liquid refreshment is an excellent way of ending the day, and allows space to laugh, reflect, and put the world to rights.”
“The chance to visit the ancient abbey, to walk the road to the Slipper Chapel, to sit in the beautifully kept grounds, to enjoy the tranquillity of the wider area, or simply to sit in quiet, alone, means that you leave Walsingham refreshed, despite its being a long journey for most pilgrims.”
“A pilgrimage to Walsingham – and many other holy places – offers an excellent way of being drawn closer to God and to others. You may not find everything you experience there to be easy or comfortable, but deepening our faith in God should take us beyond ourselves. That is how we grow.”
I am grateful to Bishop Andy for his kind permission to quote extensively from his original article.
PILGRIMAGE IN NORFOLK
Ecclesiology – the doctrine of the Church, what she is, and what she does in the purpose of God – has always been a central concern of catholic-minded Christians (using the word catholic in a wide and generous sense). The divine society is an integral part of God’s purpose in redemption, and the New Testament knows of no Christian life that is lived outside of her fellowship. Clergy of my age were encouraged in our training to read Michael Ramsey’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church, and if my memory serves one of his key themes in that modest volume is that the Church is not only the bearer of the Gospel, not only does she bear witness to it, but she is part of it as an integral element in the good news of God’s kingdom.
All this raises acute questions for those of us who believe our Anglican church to have taken a seriously wrong turn in ordaining women as priests and bishops. Catholic-minded Anglicans have always struggled with the question of where the true Church is to be located, and by what criteria she is to be recognised. That issue becomes more acute when the church you belong to acts in a way which calls its credentials into question; and as the liberal agenda unfolds and moves on to other contentious issues of doctrine and morality, this distress is compounded. How far does a church have to move from traditional orthodoxy before its claim to be part of the divine society, the Body of Christ, becomes so tenuous as to render continuing participation in it seriously open to question?
I want to look with you at three of the letters with which the book of Revelation opens, letters which the author of that book, generally known as St. John the Divine, tells us are nothing less than communications from the glorified Christ, the Lord of the churches. I hope to highlight three principles which, while they certainly will not solve all our problems, may give us a steer as we seek to live faithfully in our time and circumstances.
1. The Church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)
This was a community at the heart of the Roman province of Asia in one of the great cities of the ancient world. It was a church that was doctrinally alert and resistant to false and destructive teaching, and the Lord finds much to commend in it. But is has a truly serious deficit which threatens its very existence. It is failing in love. Whether this means love for the Lord or love for each other within the fellowship or love for one’s fellow human beings in general is not clear – perhaps all three are in view. But so serious is this failure that the Lord threatens to remove the Ephesian church’s candlestick from its place: to cease to sustain it by divine grace and power so that it ceases to exist. Here we come to the first of the three principles I mentioned earlier. No church is guaranteed a continuing existence if it should prove unfaithful in some serious respect. True, we have the promise of our Lord in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church; but that promise relates to the Church as a whole. Local, specific congregations and regional churches can and do fail and cease to exist if they fall under divine judgment in this way. We need to be aware of this – and perhaps we will need to remind others of it. The challenge to love, to zeal, and faithfulness implicit in this warning is one that none of us can afford to ignore.
2. The Church at Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)
None of the seven churches was in a worse state than that at Sardis. The Lord says nothing to commend it. As has been tartly observed by commentators, the only good thing about the church at Sardis was its reputation, and that was not based on fact. It was a church that was spiritually dead. Yet even at Sardis there were faithful Christians. The tragedy was that they were so much in the minority that they could not be held to be representative of their church. They were the exception. ‘Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy’ – ‘they deserve to’ (Kiddle). But - and this is the point that interests me - the Lord did not urge them to leave and found a rival church; they are not invited to start a new ‘denomination’. Presumably they were to stick it out in the church at Sardis, continuing to witness to truth and embody a zealous faithfulness to the Lord, that very faithfulness that was so sadly lacking in that community as a whole.
Let me say clearly that I respect those Anglicans who, because of innovations past or anticipated, have left for other Christian churches, whether that be the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Orthodox jurisdictions or even one of the more conservative Protestant bodies. I understand their reasons. The day may come when some of us here feel that we have no choice but to do likewise. Nevertheless, those so inclined will have to face this fact, that (our second principle) this passage gives faithful Christians no encouragement to separate from even a manifestly failing Church.
3. The Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
The very word Laodicean has entered our language to describe what is lacklustre and half-hearted. This was a church characterised by complacency, utterly self-satisfied and unself-critical. So dire was its condition that the Lord portrays himself as standing outside it rather than within it. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.’ Many an evangelistic sermon, some of them very fine, has been preached on this verse. But sometimes it has not been noticed that the invitation here is addressed not to those outside the church, but to those within it. There are two things to be noted here: that Christ the Church’s Lord may in fact be outside a body which bears his name; and that it is still open to the individual belonging to such a body to enter by personal choice into rich fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. Here is our third principle: that each one of us must respond to the Lord’s invitation and seek to live a life open to his presence.
As catholic-minded Christians we are deeply concerned about the Church as a body, as the divine society. But let us not lose sight of the place of the individual. We as individuals can and must open our hearts and lives to the Lord that he may enter and lead us into that rich fellowship with him that is the superlative blessing of the authentic Christian life. No such individual Christian can ever be separated from the true Body of Christ. The Lord himself validates his or her belonging within it. The Lord’s own promise here guarantees the ecclesial standing of all who love him with faithful and warm obedience, whatever be the character and state of the church to which they belong.
A Steer - as we seek to live faithfully in present times
by Canon Peter Russell Jones
A Sermon preached by Canon Peter Russell Jones on 1 October 2016 at St Bridget's Church, Dyserth.
Published with his kind permission (the title of which has been applied by the Webmaster and not him).
The Church in Wales claims, repeatedly, to be “part of the one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”, and to be bound by its historic formularies, including the Book of Common Prayer. In Wales this is part of the Church’s Constitution, and changes to it are subject to Bill procedure in the Governing Body – a synod of bishops, other clergy, and laity voting by houses, in each of which a two-thirds majority is required to give effect to measures affecting faith and order. A synod, of course, is a “coming together” of the local Church to achieve a common mind and to follow a common way (cf Acts 9.2, etc). It is not supposed to be a form of political democracy in which minorities can be repeatedly outvoted; but neither is it something to be taken for granted by an oligarchy or dictatorship, however intentionally benevolent.
Disregard for the Governing Body and the Constitution of the Church in Wales on the part of its bishops dates back to February 1998, when the Bench issued a statement allowing remarriage in church after divorce. This was clearly designed to bypass the Governing Body, which had rejected a Bill to that effect two years before. The historic teaching of the Church and its Canon Law, the consistent teaching of the Welsh bishops since Disestablishment, and the reiteration of that teaching in the 1984 BCP counted for nothing. The bishops had spoken – the Civil Law was all that mattered.
Now they have spoken again. In September 2016 they issued a Pastoral Letter “to all the faithful” concerning Admission to Holy Communion. This was supported by three other papers: A Theological Admission of all the Baptised to Communion; Inviting all the Baptised to Share Communion: A Guide for Churches; and An Invitation to Communion: Guidance for Members of the Congregation.
The Pastoral Letter and its supporting papers are subject to grave objection on grounds of both process and content: they create a situation of crisis in both respects. They undermine the Constitution of the Church in Wales, the bishops’ own authority as guardians of the faith and the teaching office of the clergy, and they introduce confusion to clergy and laity alike at the fundamental level of Christian initiation and membership of the Body of Christ. Below is a flavour of their content.
From the Pastoral Letter:
The Sacrament of Baptism, commanded by Our Lord, is in fact the whole ceremony, entire and complete in itself, by which a person is incorporated into Christ, and recognised as a Christian.
The Bench of Bishops wishes now to readopt the practice of the early Church with respect to admission to Holy Communion.
No barrier should be erected to prevent all the baptised from making their Communion, other than that which is required by civil law … [which] does not permit the administration of alcohol to children under the age of five.
[Confirmation] will no longer be the gateway to Communion, but take its proper place in the sacramental acts of the Church as a channel for God’s grace, affirming disciples of their place in the fellowship of the Church and commissioning them for service in the Church and world. We have asked the Standing Liturgical Advisory Commission to prepare work on a new Rite of Confirmation that will reflect more clearly this understanding.
From A Theological Admission of all the Baptised:
We describe ourselves as the community of the baptised, rather than the community of the confirmed, or the community of the theologically educated, or the religiously proficient or the morally superior.
Are there any reasons to deny Communion to the baptised? No. Any obstacle that you might place in between the two sacraments of Baptism and Communion risks making that thing more important, more powerful, than the grace of God.
The system we have inherited at present was appropriate for a different kind of society.
This is not just about children. It helps make sense of our sharing at the altar with ecumenical friends who have not been episcopally confirmed.
What then of Confirmation? The work of the Doctrine Commission illustrates well that this rite has had a whole number of meanings and has been conducted in many different ways over time. The commission was also unanimous in affirming that Confirmation has a very important place in the life of the Church today and should continue to do so.
From Inviting all the Baptised to Share Communion:
Participating in any specific course of preparation or special service should not now or in the future be required of anyone before receiving Communion.
Being welcome at the family table and participating in the Church’s family meal by receiving Holy Communion is a natural consequence of being a family member.
Under 5’s should receive bread only. Over 5’s may receive wine as well with a parent’s or guardian’s consent.
[Confirmation] can now be more fully understood as a wonderful opportunity for people to affirm their baptismal vows, to confirm for themselves their place in the family and to signify, publicly, a willingness to be used by God in the mission of the Church as disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Wording such as the following might be printed in service booklets… : Anyone who is baptised in the Name of the Trinity is welcome to receive Communion in this church. When you come to receive, hold out your hands and you will be given bread and wine.
Each child may be given written evidence that they have been admitted to Holy Communion. The date and place of their first Communion, and the incumbent’s signature may be added to their baptism certificate – or they may be given a certificate designed for the purpose.
From An Invitation to Communion:
The Communion service will help you prepare to receive. We confess our sins… We receive God’s forgiveness… The service also helps us focus on our faith through hearing the Bible read, through teaching and through prayer. At a particular point in the service everyone is invited to come to receive Communion…
It should be emphasised that the Pastoral Letter is addressed to all the faithful, and that the practical advice on introducing the policy in Inviting all the Baptised to Share Communion: A Guide for Churches is addressed to “Ministry/Mission Areas and local churches” – not parishes and parish clergy. Although parishes and parish clergy are recognised in the Constitution of the Church in Wales, the new Ministry/Mission Areas and their leaders have no such recognition.
The presuppositions of this policy appear to be congregational, and bypass the traditional structures of diocese and parish in which the vast majority of practising Anglicans have been nurtured. This will no doubt be claimed to be in the interests of “mission rather than maintenance”, but it is hard to see in these documents any incentive to take up the Cross and follow the Lord in the way of the Kingdom. But there are more specific and conclusive objections to be made.
The Revd Professor Thomas Watkin, a distinguished academic lawyer, has written a learned paper reflecting on the Pastoral Letter. Unfortunately – but not surprisingly – it was not accepted for publication on the Church in Wales website. Professor Watkin divides his critique into Legal, Theological, and Practical and Pastoral Concerns. I will follow that pattern and, with his permission, present some of his comments.
Rubric 6 of the Order of Confirmation of the 1984 Book of Common Prayer states that “except with the permission of the Bishop, no one shall receive Holy Communion until he is confirmed, or is ready and desirous to be confirmed”. The readiness presumably refers to Rubric 1, which requires candidates for Confirmation to have been baptised and to have worshipped regularly within the Church: “They must also have been instructed in the Catechism and be able to say the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Ten Commandments.”
Speculating on what possible grounds the Legal Sub-Committee might have had for their advice that the Pastoral Letter was not directly contradictory to the BCP, Professor Watkin points to the exception in Rubric 6 and goes on to explain that an exception proves that there is a rule, and to issue a blanket exception in effect abolishes the rule. Such a change would require careful consideration by the whole Church, and debate under Bill procedure in the Governing Body. The bishops appear to have acted illegally and unconstitutionally. The same would apply to the contradiction of Rubric 6, which, however interpreted in practice, clearly requires careful and individual preparation for receiving Holy Communion.
Canon Law, then, is swept away as though it were simply erecting “barriers to Communion”, rather than safeguarding something sacred in the interests of the well-being of the Church as a whole and the salvation of the individual communicant.
These are deep and heartfelt, on behalf of the existing faithful and of those who may come to faith in the future. These are existential concerns about our identity as Christians and the doctrinal integrity of the Church in which we have been baptised and confirmed – and in which some of us have been ordained – in whose communion (however impaired) we share in the divine Eucharist. We are not, frankly, interested in indulging in polite academic debate about the history of Christian initiation or the doctrine of the Eucharist. We simply wish to continue to be “obedient to the Tradition” – a phrase of the former Archbishop of Wales, Lord Williams – which we found we were able to do, at least as far as Initiation, Catechism, and Eucharist were concerned within the Church in Wales.
The assertion that baptism in water in the name of the Trinity is the whole rite of Christian initiation is simply wrong. It is not, and never has been, in those Churches which have retained the historic episcopate. There have been attempts to persuade Anglicans otherwise, notably in the Ely Report of 1972, no doubt in order to bring our practice into line with the non-episcopal Churches. These attempts have failed, partly because the majority of church people recognise the spiritual authenticity of their own experience, and partly because there are cogent arguments for the continuity of the Tradition and its roots in the apostolic age and the age of the Church Fathers. The reinvention of the sacraments by a simplistic reading of the New Testament is a continuing temptation for the Reformed tradition, resulting, in Calvinism, in the abolition of the episcopate. Abolishing Confirmation on the grounds that it was not explicitly and in terms commanded by Our Lord would be a similar mistake.
The claim that the bishops are not abolishing Confirmation is difficult to understand. They are at least inventing something else, which they are calling Confirmation: an optional rite for those adults who wish to “confirm” their baptism and affirm their status as communicants. First, removing Confirmation from the context of initiation must radically change its meaning, whatever they may want to call it; and secondly by making the meaning of the word something that we do, rather than what God does, means that the rite is no longer sacramental.
It is hard to imagine what the bishops have in mind. The radical reformed insistence on only two sacraments leads to a misinterpretation of confirmatio, which in the Latin tradition from the early centuries was an equivalent to robur, meaning “strengthening”: in this case, with the Holy Spirit, the gift of whom, in the Church’s tradition, is not just taken for granted but manifested in Confirmation. Many have noted the almost complete absence of any reference to the Holy Spirit in the Pastoral Letter and its accompaniments.
We now come to the extraordinary instruction forbidding “any specific course of preparation or special service” to be required of any potential communicant. There is the assumption that instruction in preparation for first Communion presents some kind of intellectual hurdle that might compromise the grace of God and suggest that communion is something to be earned. This betrays the most extraordinary misunderstanding of the purpose of Christian catechesis, which is surely to deepen and to elicit repentance and faith on the part of those approaching the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, there needs to be sufficient understanding according to the age and mental capacities of the person concerned; but no one, surely, regards confirmation class as a course in moral and sacramental theology. It is spiritual preparation, which is never in this life complete, for full participation in the sublime Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The official English title of the Eucharistic liturgy in the Church in Wales is “The Holy Eucharist”. Not once in the documents we have been considering is the word “Eucharist” used. It is the “Communion Service”, and the emphasis is all on the individual “receiving Communion” or being given “bread and wine”. Even the passage about the liturgy itself providing a complete and all-sufficient preparation for Communion fails to mention the Eucharistic Prayer and consecration, as though this were incidental. The “family meal at the family table” is essentially a purely congregational concept, lacking any sense of the Eucharist as the offering of the whole Church, let alone the sacrifice of Christ. It is His Body and Blood that we receive – we were bought at a price.
There is an emphasis in these documents on divine grace. That is good; but it is completely undermined by emptying Confirmation of sacramental content, and by seeming to trivialise Eucharistic communion. There is no reference whatsoever to the sacramental Ministry of Reconciliation, which is part of the Church in Wales’s provision in appendices to the Holy Eucharist in both the 1984 and 2004 Prayer Books. These papers are redolent of the “cheap grace” against which Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned.
Pastoral and Practical Concerns
The bishops are giving us until Advent to enact this new policy. Meanwhile, of course, the damage has been done. We are already hearing stories of children and adults coming to the altar without seeming to know what they are doing, and not even knowing whether or not they have been baptised, or if they need to be baptised.
Such is, of course, the practice of the Orthodox Churches; but in a context where three things apply. First, infants are chrismated (that is, confirmed) immediately after their baptism. Secondly, they are brought to the altar by their parents to communicate with their parents, presupposing a devout Christian family whose home is as much a house of prayer as the church building itself. Thirdly, at years of discretion the child will cease to communicate as a member of the family, and will be instructed and make his or her first confession before communicating as an individual.
We are far from such a culture in the Church in Wales today; so, if reform is needed, it has to build on the Tradition as we have received it, and not undermine the very foundations of our Christian life and culture.
Where do we go from here? The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, has said that he looks forward to presiding at many Confirmations in the future. But what does he mean by “Confirmation”? What rite will he be using? Will he be confirming children? What about ordinands? Will they continue to need to have been confirmed, and, if so, with what intention will they have been confirmed? It is difficult to see how any of these questions could be answered satisfactorily unless the Pastoral Letter is withdrawn. The Church of Wales is in a very grave crisis indeed.