Whatever happened to shared Eucharist? If one travels in ecumenical circles in Ireland – as is inevitable for me, being employed by the Irish School of Ecumenics – one often hears it said that shared Eucharist or joint communion is an issue that has been abandoned by the ecumenical movement.
Some say this is because the churches have better things to do, such as working together on social justice issues or, especially in Northern Ireland, on peacebuilding and reconciliation.
That may be so in some cases, but research for my School’s Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism project has revealed that for many, shared Eucharist/joint communion remains a very alive and a very painful issue.
That’s why I’m intrigued by what is being billed as ‘A New Step in Eucharistic Fellowship.’ On Monday 22 November people from all denominations are invited to share in a Methodist Holy Communion at 8.00 p.m. in Knock Methodist Church in Belfast.
Similar events will follow in Catholic (Jan. 25), Church of Ireland (March 7) and Presbyterian churches (May 3).
I heard about the event through Christine Dawson, one of the students on our Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. For our Community Learning and Reflective Practice in Northern Ireland module, she is working with the Reconciliation Project at Clonard Monastery.
Christine brought flyers promoting the initiative to our School. Fr Gerry Reynolds of Clonard is one of the Catholic clergy promoting the initiative. The list includes:
- Rev. Dennis Cooke (Methodist)
- Rev. David Cooper (Methodist)
- Rev. Ken Smyth (Church of Ireland)
- Rev. Jim Campbell (Presbyterian)
- Fr. Gerry Reynolds (Catholic)
- Fr. Daniel Whyte (Catholic)
The flyer contains both a Guideline Statement and various answers to the question, ‘Why are we doing this?’ I have not been able to find these reproduced online, so I will do so here.
The apostle Paul records the command of Jesus on the occasion of the Last Supper: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me’. In the same way, after supper, he took the cup, saying, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood: do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (I Corinthians 11:23-25)
In the fourth gospel Jesus refers to himself as the Bread of Life: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
The words of Christ encourage us to cherish and value the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper. As Christians from different Christian traditions, Roman Catholic and Protestant, we are thankful for the wide-embracing love of Christ, proclaimed and received in the celebration of the Eucharist. We acknowledge the differences that exist in theological interpretation and liturgical practice and would request respect for these differences, evident, for example, in the Eucharistic discipline of the Roman Catholic Church.
However, we firmly believe that the joy of being present at the Eucharistic worship of another Christian tradition is greater than the pain experienced by observing this Eucharistic discipline. Thereby we hope that we will contribute to bringing nearer the day on which we may share in a common Eucharist.
(This Guideline Statement is the work of an interchurch group of clergy who, in the spirit of Fr. Jean M. Tillard’s prayer, have come together “in one and the same faith and love” in the hope of bringing nearer “the day on which we may share in a common Eucharist”.)
Why are we doing this?
- To surrender ourselves together to the Lord’s will as we share his prayer “Father, may they all be one.”
- To experience together the realisation that Christ is present among us in our various Christian churches.
- To be edified, inspired, encouraged by one another’s faith in the sacrament of Holy Communion/Eucharist.
- To anticipate in so far as we can the common Holy Communion/Eucharist we yearn for.
The flyer also states:
We have informed the Churches – sometimes individuals within the churches – of the venture and have been encouraged by their interest and support. In some instances the response was one of quiet acceptance. We are pleased to report that the Guidelines Statement was agreed with the Most Reverend Anthony Farquhar, Auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, on August 9th 2010.
(Image sourced on flickr, by + Alan)