A New Step in Eucharistic Fellowship?: Feeling Hope and Shame at St Mark’s

image St Mark’s Church of Ireland in Newtownards last night hosted the third instalment of the ecumenical initiative, ‘In Joyful Hope: A New Step in Eucharistic Fellowship’. This and the two previous services, held in Methodist and Catholic churches, have provided opportunities for Christians of all denominations to gather to share Holy Communion, albeit imperfectly.

The fourth and final service will be Thursday 12 May at 8 pm in St John’s Presbyterian Church in Newtownbreda.

As we know, Christians are not permitted by the authorities in some of their churches to actually eat the bread and drink the wine together.

So the events have been comprised of shared prayer and worship, and then varying degrees of participation and observation of Communion itself.

I continue to be surprised by the numbers attending. There were at least 150 there last night, fewer than the large crowd at the service at St Bernard’s Catholic Church during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but a healthy gathering nonetheless.

What’s happening at these events might be thought of as a churchy form of civil disobedience. But more profoundly, I think it is a witness to the tragedy of the divisions among Christians.

Gathering together for the Eucharist, only to then see some Christians at the service forced to abstain, should prompt the wider church to think – and pray – more deeply about why they have allowed the divisions to continue.

I was struck by the tragedy of it all last night when the Church of Ireland minister began to distribute the bread and wine. He had to pass over Fr Gerry Reynolds from Clonard Monastery.

I know that this was not the intention of this service – far from it – but what this says symbolically (at least to me) is that Fr Gerry is somehow less of a Christian, or not really a Christian at all.

Of course, that’s not what those present at last night’s service really think, thank God. All were invited to kneel at the altar either to receive Communion, or a blessing. I received mine between a Methodist, and a Catholic priest who also had to abstain.

Seeing Fr Gerry, that priest, and the other Catholics who could only abstain, made me feel ashamed that the churches, hundreds of years after the Reformation, are still at this point.

The title of the initiative is ‘In Joyful Hope’ so I also know that the services are not intended to simply prompt a sense of tragedy and shame. Samuel Stone’s ‘The Church’s One Foundation,’ a 19th Century hymn, was sung at the conclusion of the service, and I thought this verse appropriately captured the mixture of sadness and hope that these services evoke:

The world with scornful wonder

May see her sore oppressed,

By schisms rent asunder,

By heresies distressed;

Yet saints their watch are keeping,

Their cry goes up, How Long?,

And soon the night of weeping

Shall be the morn of song.

The ‘morn of song’ still seems pretty far away to me. But maybe those are appropriate emotions to feel heading into the season of Lent.

(Image sourced on flickr photosharing creative commons, by freefotouk)

4 Responses to A New Step in Eucharistic Fellowship?: Feeling Hope and Shame at St Mark’s

  1. Martin March 8, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

    Catholics believe with the certainty of faith that their Holy Communion at Mass is the very body and blood of Christ, whilst non-Catholics believe that it is just a symbol, and that is what they partake of during their services.

    Click on my name ‘Martin’ for a short article on Christian unity: what it is and how it can be achieved.

  2. Tanya Jones March 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm #

    Well, that was inevitable. Fortunately, it isn’t by any means always the case that “non-Catholics believe that it is just a symbol” – e.g. http://anglicansonline.org/basics/catechism.html#The%20Holy%20Eucharist
    Meanwhile, though we Catholics believe the words used in our catechism, our understanding of what they mean is necessarily limited and slightly different for each of us. The Eucharist is a mystery of which we can only catch a tiny glimpse – to divide us according to our formulations of that glimpse is, as Gladys says, a matter of sadness and regret.

  3. rodney neill March 9, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    “However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”

    This part of the catechism displays an hopeful and to me a
    suprising and unexpected spirit of generousity to protestants as still being part of the body of Christ and to be treated with respect and affection…surely this can be a good basis for ecumenical co-operation,

    Rodney

  4. Paul March 11, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Martin, having looked at the article linked through your name I’m confused by the term “Catholic”. If its in reference to the Roman Catholic Church the claims in the article ignore that Church’s historical, political and theological development which has moved it quite a distance from the original theme given to the world by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. That development created the schisms we see today and most noticeably a badly needed Reformation which for the most part and with some admitted errors, tried to return man to the true message of Jesus. If the reference is to the Christian Church then the debate should not start with a declaration that only one group has the true path to Christ for surely history teaches us that such a declaration is prone to the greatest of errors given mans ability to usurp all the power unto himself.

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