A Matter of Honesty, Part VIII--Real Talk on Ecumenism

Let's take a moment and think about world Christianity, 2016.  You can slice all the Christian bodies that exist in various ways, but one easy way to do that has to do with the Eucharist.  On one side, you have all of the bodies that subscribe to some version of the "memorial" model of the Eucharist--it is a symbolic reenactment of the Last Supper, and nothing more.  Into this bucket one would place all of the churches influenced by Calvin and his theology, all of the evangelical Christian bodies, the Mormons--lots of different folks.  On the other side, you would put what are generally called the "high churches"--those that would argue that the Eucharist is not only a symbol, but also reflects some sort of "Real Presence" of Jesus in the Eucharist in a unique way.  Here, we can think about three sub-buckets within that group--the Orthodox Churches (both "Chalcedonian"--i.e. the Greeks, Russians, etc.--and "non Chalcedonian" or "Oriental"--i.e. the Copts, the Armenians, the Ethiopians, etc.), the Roman Catholic Church, and Porvoo Communion, which includes both the Church of England (and, by extension, all of the Anglican Churches in the world) as well as many of the Lutheran Churches of Europe.

Let's focus on the second group and the three sub-buckets here.  Roman Catholics have traditionally taken the position that the Porvoo folks don't believe in the Real Presence enough or in the right way, though it seems that many Catholic sources are coming off of this position.  So, if we accept that the basic understanding of the Eucharist is the same, or at least within the range of acceptable disagreement, it is natural to wonder why the churches do not share Eucharist together?  Indeed, this is the question that has been raised with the Pope's visit to Sweden in commemoration of the Reformation (the Church of Sweden is a member of the Porvoo Communion).  Much of the dialogue coming out of that meeting on Monday had to do with the possibility of shared communion, including breathless speculation that something could be hammered out within a year.

But, you see, there is a massive problem.  The Churches of the Porvoo Communion all allow women to be priests, or if they don't use the term "priests" then serve in the role of presiders over the Eucharistic service.  Roman Catholics do not, and Pope Francis has today made it clear that he believes that this is not going to change, ever.  Moreover, the issue is not simply that the Catholic Church doesn't allow women to be priests, but that any ordination of a woman is invalid on its face.  So, when a group of women get ordained in an objectively valid rite by bishops with unquestioned apostolic succession, it doesn't count and it doesn't matter.

So, what are we talking about here with this business of shared communion?  How can we possibly have shared communion between, let's say, the Catholic Church and the Church of Sweden, where the head of the Church of Sweden is, from a Catholic perspective, ontologically incapable of presiding over the Eucharist?  I mean, I guess in theory the Catholic Church could allow Lutherans and Anglicans to take Catholic Eucharist while still maintaining that the Lutheran and Anglican Eucharist was a chimera of the Real Thing.  But, then, it's not really shared Eucharist, is it?  Shared implies that this is a two-way exchange.  Shared requires that you recognize that what the other side is doing is every bit as valid as what you are doing.

I cannot see any way that the Catholic Church can affirm that with regard to the Porvoo Communion churches.  I mean, are they really going to say, "it's totally fine to go to your local Lutheran or Episcopalian parish and take communion, but only if the presider is a dude, because otherwise it's not really communion at all"?  And do they really think the Lutherans and Anglicans are going to go along with that?  They can't go along with that, not without completely invalidating their own internal theology and polity.  More to the point, it will be a clear message (as if it wasn't obvious already) to its own members that this whole business is about nothing more than misogyny.    

I think there is no question that Pope Francis wants, in a general sense, for there to be shared communion between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church.  But he doesn't see--his fixation with an antiquated notion of gender doesn't allow him to see--that this is impossible unless he is willing to reconsider the ban on women's ordination.  Any hope of shared communion that might have existed yesterday was strangled in its crib today by his statements on the plane.  It makes the whole thing farcical, a kind of cruel joke.

The Church of Sweden, and the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church, are not going to un-ordain the women those churches have ordained.  This is only moving in one direction.  The Catholic Church can choose to join it or not.  But we need to be honest about what it means to say that you won't join it.  It means that you won't have shared communion.  And it will not be because those other churches are unwilling.


jim said…
This has nothing to do with the ordination of women. This is about a magical ritual called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Catholics believe the magical ritual actually works (actually transmutes bread and wine into the literal flesh and blood of the son of god) every time it's done 'correctly," I.e. within the confines of the RCC.
Other Christian denominations no longer think the spell works. Protestants, therefore, must have lost their magical powers at some point.

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