Two events of ecumenical significance took place recently; one was the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to Rome; the other was the pilgrimage of a group of Anglicans and Roman Catholics to the Holy Land (“held as one by the Spirit”, 10 December). Both events were marked by a spirit of warm friendship. In both instances everything proceeded with admirable smoothness – and with an amicable agreement not to share the Eucharist.
During the Welby visit to Rome, Bernard Longley, the Archbishop of Birmingham and co-chairman of ARCIC, said gravely: “The obstacles to unity show that the road is much longer than was first thought in 1966.” In the matter of sharing Eucharist why should this be the case? Anglicans already invite members of other churches to share. The problem is a Catholic one, and it has become a scandal to many in the Church and a needless irritation to members of other churches.
The main reason for this regrettable attitude would seem to be that we have allowed high-ranking traditionalists to turn the Eucharist into a reward for virtue and a means of punishing those who have infringed man-made law. I have listened to the arguments offered in defence of the prohibition and I can find no theologically convincing reason why divided Christians should be denied the clearest expression of the unity they seek, together with the medicine to help to heal the wounds of division. What credible excuse can there be for the interminable postponement of Christ-like behaviour?
What are the “obstacles to unity” mentioned by the Archbishop? The short answer would seem to be reliance on the ecclesiology that prevailed in the period before the Second Vatican Council. The council gave us Unitatis Redintegratio, a decree on Church unity that transformed how the Catholic Church had come to think of itself. The days of regarding ourselves as “The One True Church” are gone. Yet we continue to allow misguided traditionalists to legislate for a Church that should be trying to be faithful to the teaching of its most recent council. We have already paid too heavy a price for complying with their antiquated theology and canon law.
As W. B. Yeats put it in another context” “Too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart.” It is high time for the institutionally impotent to speak truth to power: denial of the right to share the Eucharist with our separated brethren has become a scandal in which we are all involved, if we fail to protest publicly.
It is hard to avoid the suspicion that ecumenically inspired theologians are being forced to hand over their work for judgement by curial figures who are ecumenically untrained and perhaps hostile to the search for Christian unity.
Catholics obsessively preoccupied with laws, prohibitions and the defence of an allegedly “changeless Church” are unlikely to take a benign view of eucharistic sharing. But why should these naysayers, who happen to have institutional power in the Catholic Church at the moment, be allowed to set at naught the hopes of those who have laboured with faith, hope and love in the search for truth and unity?
Fr Gabriel Daly OSA
Letter to the Editor
7 January 2017