Episcopalians, also known as Anglicans, are part of a worldwide community of churches which separated from the Catholic papal legacy in the 16th century during the English Reformation. While there is a great deal of independence among Anglican churches, the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-Nine Articles are the standard for liturgy and doctrine. The principal service of the Episcopal Church is the Holy Eucharist, also known as Holy Communion. While churches differ in how Eucharist is celebrated, all Anglican churches offer Communion during services. According to Anglican doctrine, any baptized Christian, regardless of his or her denomination, is welcome to receive Communion in an Episcopal church. This practice is known as "open communion."
Open Communion in Practice
The practice of open communion is based on Episcopal Canon law, specifically by Canon 1.17.7 which reads "No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church." Because the Anglican church recognizes all those who have been baptized as Christians, the Eucharist is open to any Christian who wishes to receive it. This doctrine differs from that of the Catholic Church, which requires that those who wish to receive communion first "confirm" their faith. Catholic confirmation generally takes place between the ages of 7 and seventeen. By contrast, in the Episcopal church, confirmation is not required and baptized children of any age may participate in Eucharist.
Debate on Open Communion
Some Episcopalian churches allow anyone who wishes to take communion to do so, regardless of religious beliefs or background. This concept of an "open table" at which all are welcome is part of an ongoing debate about removing the baptismal requirement in the Episcopal Canon. In 2012, the Diocese of Eastern Oregon put forth a resolution to the 77th General Convention to remove the baptismal requirement but it was not adopted. Instead, the church restated its belief that "baptism is the ancient and normative entry point to receiving Holy Communion".
The Episcopal Eucharist
For Anglicans, Eucharist is the celebration of Christ's life, death and resurrection and echos the Last Supper, which Christ is believed to have taken with his disciples on the evening before his crucifixion. During an Anglican communion service, consecrated bread or wafers and wine are used to symbolize the body and blood of Christ and are distributed to those who wish to receive them. Once the wine and bread have been consecrated they can't be simply be thrown away. They may be saved for a sick or absent member of the parish or they may be consumed by the priest or other congregants.
The Evolving Eucharist
While Episcopal churches adhere to the general format laid out in the Book of Common Prayer, some churches have made approved modifications to the Eucharist service to allow for non-gendered inclusive language or other alterations to suit the needs of their congregation.
- The Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Roslyn: A Beginner's Guide to the Anglican Church
- Anglicans Online: The Catechism Or An Outline Of The Faith
- Bible Gateway: New King James Matthew 26
- Rev. Rebecca's Guide And Explanation To All Things Anglican: The Sacraments - Baptism, Eucharist And Other Rites
- The Episcopal Church: Book of Common Prayer
- The Church of the Holy Trinity Toronto: May 1st Second Sunday in Easter 2011 Bulletin
- American Catholic Newsletter: Confirmation - A Deepening Of Our Christian Identity
- Episcopal News Service: Baptism Before Communion Is Still Church's Norm - Convention Debate Shows Practice Doesn't Always Follow Canons
- Church of Christ of Incarnation: Eucharist Explained
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