The Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales asked the Legal Sub-Committee to advise them on the legal position of admitting to Holy Communion those baptised but not yet confirmed. We also asked if we had authority to issue the Pastoral Letter as published in September 2016. The Legal Sub-committee consider that the Bench of Bishops have such legal authority to issue the Pastoral Letter and that the admission of those baptised but not yet confirmed is lawful.
Until 1970, admission to Holy Communion in the Church in Wales was governed by the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer 1662 which stated:
“And there shall none be admitted to Holy Communion, until such time as he be confirmed, or be ready and desirous to be confirmed”.
This position was altered by the enactment in 1970 of The Order of Confirmation, which is now contained in the Book of Common Prayer 1984, volume 2, p.704. Paragraph 6 of the rubric states:
“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 Constitution and Prayer Book contain a single rule in the terms of the Rubric. Episcopal permission is not an exception to that rule; it is an instance of that rule. A person who takes Communion by virtue of the permission in the Pastoral Letter does not do so by way of an exception to a rule of Church law; he or she does so in accordance with the rule. In plain language the meaning of the Rubric is:
No Communion without:
(a) confirmation; or
The wording of the Rubric is plain and straightforward. No restriction is placed on the Bishop’s power to give permission, and the Legal Sub-Committee found no proper basis on which to infer any particular purpose for which the power is to be exercised.
The Legal Sub-Committee have confirmed to us that the permission conferred by the Pastoral Letter has the effect of removing a potential “lawful cause” for denying admission to Holy Communion. Both the confirmed and the baptised but unconfirmed are admitted to Communion in accordance with the criteria of the Rubric.
The Pastoral Letter has been described as “radical”, but we do not consider it so. In 2001 the Bench of Bishops approved guidelines for the admission of baptised children to Holy Communion. Those guidelines, which have been in operation since October 2001, are similar in principle to the position authorised by the Pastoral Letter, though they were given with specific reference to children. They show that the Church has hitherto understood the Rubric to confer a power on the Bishop to give a general permission to the baptised to receive Communion, not merely an individual permission on a case-by-case basis. The fact that this has been the understanding of the Church over many years tends to confirm that the objections now raised to the Pastoral Letter are misconceived.