||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2010)|
Open communion is the practice of Christian churches that allow individuals other than members of that church to receive Holy Communion (also called the Eucharist or the Lord's Supper). The phrasing and exact requirements in a particular local church may vary, but membership in a particular Christian community is not required.
Open communion is the opposite of closed communion, where the sacrament is reserved for members of the particular church or others with which it is in a relationship of full communion or fellowship, or has otherwise recognized for that purpose. Closed communion may refer to either a particular denomination or an individual congregation serving Communion only to its own members.
In the United Methodist Church, open communion is referred to as the Open Table.
Generally, churches that offer open communion to other Christians do not require an explicit affirmation of Christianity from the communicant before distributing the elements; the act of receiving is an implicit affirmation. Some churches make an announcement before communion begins such as "We invite all who have professed a faith in Christ to join us at the table."
Open communion is generally practiced in churches where the elements are passed through the congregation (also called self-communication). However, it is also practiced in some churches that have a communion procession, where the congregation comes forward to receive communion in front of the altar; such is the case in the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, most Anglican churches, and some Lutheran churches.
Those practising open communion generally believe that the invitation to receive communion is an invitation to Christ's table, and that it is not the province of human beings to interfere between an individual and Christ. Some traditions maintain that there are certain circumstances under which individuals should not present themselves for (and should voluntarily refrain from receiving) communion. However, if those individuals were to present themselves for communion, they would not be denied. In other traditions, the concept of being "unfit to receive" is unknown, and the actual refusal to distribute the elements to an individual would be considered scandalous.
Most Protestant Christian churches practice open communion. It is official policy in groups such as most Anglicans, the Church of the Nazarene, the Evangelical Free Church, the Church of God, Community Churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church in America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Canada, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, the Free Methodist Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Foursquare Gospel Church, Association of Vineyard Churches, Metropolitan Community Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Assemblies of God, the Reformed Church in America, and Seventh-day Adventists. All bodies in the Liberal Catholic Movement practice open communion as a matter of policy. The official policy of the Episcopal Church is to only invite baptized persons to receive communion. However, many parishes do not insist on this and practice open communion. Among Gnostic churches, both the Ecclesia Gnostica and the Apostolic Johannite Church practice open communion. The Plymouth Brethren were founded on the basis of an open communion with any baptized Christian: today, following John Nelson Darby, Exclusive Brethren practise closed communion, and Open Brethren practise open communion on the basis of "receiving to the Lord's table those whom He has received, time being allowed for confidence to be established in our minds that those who we receive are the Lord's." Most churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America practice their own form of open communion, offering the Eucharist to adults without receiving catechetical instruction, provided they are baptized and believe in the Real Presence. The Churches of Christ, Christian churches and churches of Christ, and the Calvary Chapel and as well as other nondenominational churches also practice open communion.
Notable exceptions include the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church (excluding most churches in the ELCA ), Reformed Seventh Day Adventists and some Reformed tradition churches such as Calvinists. All these typically practice some form of closed communion.
Other groups that practice open communion are the Moravian Church Wesleyans, Christian and Missionary Alliance and Christadelphians. Within the Latter Day Saint movement, the Community of Christ practices open communion. The LDS Church, on the other hand, views its corresponding ceremony (known as the Sacrament) as having meaning only for church members (though without actually forbidding others from participating).
In the Anglican Communion, as well as in many other traditional Christian denominations, those who are not baptized may come forward in the communion line with their arms crossed over their chest, in order to receive a blessing from the priest, in lieu of Holy Communion.
Position of the Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church does not practise open communion, holding that reception of Holy Communion is reserved for those who are baptized. In general it permits access to its Eucharistic communion only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. In lieu of Holy Communion, a non-Catholic may come forward in the line, with his arms crossed over his chest, and receive a blessing from the priest. The Catholic Church, however, also recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.
Thus it permits Eastern Christians who are not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church (Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and Assyrian Church of the East) to receive Communion from Roman Catholic ministers, if they request it of their own accord and are properly disposed, and it applies the same rule also to some Western Churches that the Holy See judges to be in a situation similar to that of Eastern Christians with regard to the sacraments.
For other baptized Christians (Anglicans and Protestants) the conditions are more severe. Only in danger of death or if, in the judgement of the local bishop, there is a grave and pressing need, may members of these Churches who cannot approach a minister of their own Church be admitted to receive the Eucharist, if they spontaneously ask for it, demonstrate that they have the catholic faith in the Eucharist, and are properly disposed.
The Catholic Church allows its own faithful to receive Communion from ministers of another Church, only if it recognizes the validity of the sacraments of that Church. Other conditions are that it be physically or morally impossible for the Catholic to approach a Catholic minister, that it be a case of real need or spiritual benefit, and that the danger of error or indifferentism be avoided.
Position of the Lutheran Church
The Lutheran Church has a variety of practices, depending on denominational polity. Some branches of Lutheranism, such as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, do not practice open communion; they exclude non-members and require catechetical instructions for all people, even members from other Lutheran churches, before receiving the Eucharist. This generally stems from an understanding that sharing communion is a sign of Christian unity; where that unity is not present, neither should Eucharistic sharing be present.
Other parts of the Lutheran Church, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and many members of the Lutheran World Federation, practice open communion and welcome all Baptized Christians, regardless of their denominational affiliation, training, or specific beliefs, to the table. In fact, the ELCA has specific communion sharing agreements with a number of other Christian denominations, encouraging the sharing of the sacrament across belief system boundaries. The understanding that lies behind this practice is that Communion is both a foretaste of eschatological Christian unity as well as an effective means of fostering that unity.
- PCA Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Fencing the Lord's Table
- "St. Peter's AME Church". Stpetersame.com. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- "The Vineyard Church | Houston, Tx". Houstonvineyard.org. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- Website of Brook Street Chapel, Tottenham
- At what age do ELCA congregations allow members their first Communion?. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
- "Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale | Our Beliefs: Statement of Faith". Calvaryftl.org. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- "The Sacrament of Holy Communion". Moravian.org. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- "The Wesleyan View of Communion". Kenschenck.com. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- "FAQs". Living Rock Church. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- "Whose Truth? | Stories of ex-Christadelphians". Beyondthechristadelphians.wordpress.com. Retrieved 11 October 2013.
- The Episcopal Handbook (in English). Church Publishing, Inc. 1 September 2008. Retrieved 25 June 2012. "Pastoral blessings are often available for children or adults who are not communing. Simply cross your arms over your chest if you wish to receive a blessing."
- Code of Canon Law, canon 842 §1 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 675 §2
- Code of Canon Law, canon 844 §1 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671 §1
- Flader, John (16 June 2010). Questions and Answers on the Catholic Faith. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- Mass & Communion Etiquette. Holy Family Catholic Church. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- Code of Canon Law, canon 844 §3 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671 §3
- Code of Canon Law, canon 844 §4 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671 §4
- Packman, Andrew. "Table Manners: Unexpected Grace at Communion" (in English). The Christian Century. Retrieved 25 June 2012.
- Can a non-Catholic receive Communion?
- Code of Canon Law, canon 844 §2 and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671 §2