When I attend a Catholic Church, one of the saddest parts of the service for me is the Eucharist. I’m a Christian – but not a Catholic – so that means that I’m prohibited from taking part in that meaningful and central ritual. Sometimes I feel angry, because in other Christian churches everyone is invited to receive communion. The message I’m getting from the Catholic Church is that, somehow, Christ’s grace doesn’t extend to me.
This week’s Church of Ireland Gazette (5 February 2010) reports that Gillian Kingston, a leading Irish Methodist laywoman and former President of the Irish Council of Churches, has called on the Catholic Church to share Holy Communion with other Christians at the Roman Catholic Eucharistic Congress, set for 2012 in Dublin.
The theme of the Congress is ‘Communion with Christ – and with one another.’ Ms. Kingston is quoted as saying,
‘Would it be too much to suggest that theological considerations might, on this occasion, take second place to the interests of common witness? That, in an act of witness, we might indeed break bread together and recognise Christ among us as we do so?’
Ms. Kingston goes on to say that the Congress could be an opportunity, ‘to do something prophetic.’
Dr Andrew Pierce, in an article in the journal Doctrine and Life discussed previously on this blog, pointed out that among some people in Ireland, there is a hunger to push the boundaries on this issue. He notes the case of the attempted shared Eucharist in Drogheda, which was subsequently condemned by both the Catholic and Protestant hierarchies.
We also found this ‘prophetic’ perspective among some of those who responded my School’s surveys about faith on the island of Ireland. When asked what the priorities for the ecumenical movement should be, a Church of Ireland minister from Co. Tipperary said,
Doing together as much as possible, including the occasional provocative ‘bottom up’ activities such as con-celebration of Eucharist. Continually challenging church leaders for theological justification for structures that limit and define others, such as participation of women in full ministerial roles (both conservative evangelical and Roman Catholic!)
Some Catholic laypeople critiqued their own Church for its stubbornness about Eucharist, like this woman from Co. Galway,
Shared worship, but that can never happen as long as Catholic Churches refuse communion to those who are not Catholic. The welcoming notices as in, say, St Martin’s in the Fields, welcoming ALL to the altar do NOT appear in Roman Catholic Churches. Indeed I have seen one (not in Ireland) in a cathedral forbidding non-Catholics to approach the altar. This negates my understanding of Christianity.
And this Catholic man from Dublin City,
Let’s get the finger out and get a common declaration on Eucharist and inter-communion. It pains me hugely that the Roman Catholic Church is so slow to move on inter-communion and the few areas like retreat houses where it was possible are now coming under fire. I obviously do not understand enough about the complexities but I feel these complexities are part of turf wars. With the wave of secularism Christians need to affirm common values or at least admit others of good faith to share in the Eucharist and let God worry about the worthiness or understanding or whatever. In a typical congregation of Roman Catholics the range of actual understandings of Eucharist is wide indeed. So why not admit others with different views as long as they are respectful to our table? I have been impatient about this for more than twenty years.
Others, like this Church of Ireland woman from Co. Cork, shared the same sadness that I feel when attending Catholic services,
It is hard to explain to Roman Catholic friends and relations the hurt one feels at being denied access to the Lord’s Table. And Church of Ireland folk do not always appreciate the gesture that Roman Catholics are making by receiving in a Church of Ireland Eucharist.
On the other hand, the surveys also asked people what ecumenism includes, and gave them a list of 13 options, of which Shared Communion/Eucharist was one.
On the island as a whole, both faith leaders (clergy, pastors, ministers, leaders of other religions) and laypeople ranked Shared Communion/Eucharist just 11th of the 13 options.
Among both Catholic clergy and laypeople, Shared Communion/Eucharist was dead last. Church of Ireland laypeople gave it the highest priority. For them, it ranked 9th of the 13 options.
One must be careful when interpreting a result like this from a ‘tick box’ question on a survey. But one conclusion that could be drawn is that Shared Eucharist/Communion isn’t really that high on anyone’s agenda.
Whether that lack of urgency about Shared Eucharist/Communion is due to apathy or hostility is unclear. But some take exception to this, like Ms. Kingston and the others who I have quoted here. They are impatient with the hierarchies and theologies that do more to keep Christians apart than to bring them together.