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Printable version

One Bread, One Body ... One Year

A response by Bishop Richard Clarke one year on.

(This article first appeared in the Winter 1999 edition of "Search" and is reproduced by kind permission of the editor.)

A year may be but a brief flicker in the unfolding of the ecumenical vision, but somehow the painful event of the publication of One Bread One Body seems already to have receded into the distant past. At the time it certainly seemed as if a hammer-blow had been dealt to the hopes of ecumenists. Nor was this an unreasonable response.

It is certainly true that, so far as recognition of the validity of Anglican ordination and sacraments was concerned, One Bread One Body had changed nothing de jure from the Roman Catholic side. Over the previous few years there had however been a growing (if almost subliminal) acceptance within each tradition that Roman Catholics and the Church of Ireland were both involved in what was at heart the same thing when they celebrated the Eucharist. This did not mean that an unrestricted inter-communion was about to become a reality. The brouhaha that followed what had undoubtedly been a careful and conscientious decision on the part of President McAleese that she should receive communion at a Church of Ireland service in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin in 1997 had made that clear. There was, nevertheless, an almost unconscious acceptance on the part of many Roman Catholics that the Holy Communion service in a Church of Ireland church was certainly not any pretence. But this all seemed to be dismissed by the explicit and rather bland contention in One Bread One Body that it could not be affirmed that any of the churches of the reformed traditions had retained ‘the authentic and full reality of the Eucharistic mystery’ and that, in consequence, any notion of reciprocity in sacramental sharing was just ‘not possible’. (§41) The suggestion that followed from this – that Roman Catholics may ‘on occasion, properly attend’ (sic) the Eucharistic celebrations of other traditions and ‘find in them a source of inspiration and encouragement’ - seemed patronising in the extreme.

On the one hand, therefore, was a sadness that One Bread One Body treated the other Christian traditions with less than respect or even reverence in the proper sense. There was also a secondary aggravation that although the documents of the first Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC I) were being utilised with great creativity and freedom to describe the beauty of the Eucharist, the logic of those documents - that there is indeed a genuine and deeply spiritual convergence between the two churches on the meaning of the Eucharist – was utterly ignored.

That was a year ago. It seems reasonable to consider after such an interval what may have been the practical results both of the publication of One Bread One Body, and of the response of other Christian churches in Ireland. Rather to the surprise of many, very little attempt was ever made by the establishment of the Irish Roman Catholic Church to defend or even to discuss the document. Indeed there was a rather disconcerting silence. Even direct criticism of the document, from both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church was never rebutted. Some observers sensed in this an embarrassment on the part of the Roman Catholic hierarchy at the document. Others wondered whether the Catholic establishment had been taken aback by the hurt and vexation of the other churches, and felt that the best course of action was to say little and so to prevent further distress.

But other effects there have been. It is certain that there is now a much greater degree of self-consciousness among Roman Catholics about accepting eucharistic hospitality from other churches. Those who felt that they could on occasion conscientiously receive communion at a Church of Ireland service are very conscious that they would now, at the same time, be making a statement of disobedience towards their own church. It has also meant that Roman Catholics in prominent positions who still make the decision to accept such hospitality on a major public occasion may find that this is reported by the media as a matter of public interest. Not only is such intrusion into what is genuinely a decision for private conscience utterly deplorable, but it has meant that in this situation any such personal symbol of loving acceptance of another’s tradition becomes a matter for public debate and for the correspondence columns of newspapers. This was particularly apparent in the aftermath of Bishop Paul Colton’s consecration as bishop in March of this year. But one must sadly suspect that the principal victims in this entire affair have been, as so often, the partners in inter-church marriages. They have been told explicitly (§84 ff.) that their practice of worship should be to attend the Eucharist together at each other’s churches, not to take communion at the same altar, but inside to receive a ‘blessing’ in the other’s church. (In One Bread One Body, even the word ‘blessing’ is placed in inverted commas.) It has therefore become very difficult for any local and personal accommodation to be reached, such as is certainly attempted in other provinces of the Roman Catholic church. For those in inter-church marriages it has been yet another church-inflicted wound.

Although nothing that has been suggested thus far may, I believe, be seriously contradicted, the interval of a year has given a number of different perspectives on One Bread One Body. In the first place, inter-church discussions have clarified the process by which One Bread One Body was produced.

When the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism was presented for the whole Catholic Church in 1993, local provinces were given the responsibility to interpret and explicate the Directory for local practice. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales began this work independently of the other Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of these islands (in other words, the Scottish and the Irish conferences), and the latter two conferences entered the process that produced One Bread One Body at a relatively late stage. The provenance of the document is therefore weighted towards the English / Welsh context rather than the Irish or, for that matter, the Scottish context. This question of provenance is of considerable importance.

Although it does not solve some of the difficulties created by the document, the fact that One Bread One Body was not written with an Irish context uppermost in view is worth knowing. There are a number of important differences between Ireland and England. The first is that in Ireland, even if the situation is changing rapidly, the proportion of practising Christians (of all traditions and within the total population) would be significantly higher than in England. This means that any community (and particularly a rural community) will have a degree of commonality in religious practice of some kind. The tone of One Bread One Body will therefore have a far greater effect on this kind of community, than in places where any religious practice is very much a minority pursuit. The situation in Ireland also differs from England very markedly in that the Roman Catholic Church here in Ireland is very much the majority rather than a minority in the totality of religious traditions and faiths. The effects of One Bread One Body are inevitably very different where the Christian traditions other than Roman Catholic constitute, in the island as a whole, a small minority in comparison. And so, in the Irish situation, the smaller Christian traditions inevitably feel that One Bread One Body treats them as less worthy of serious consideration. Reading the document in the light of its original intended context – a setting very different than Ireland – unquestionably softens the effect..

In addition, it has also been established in inter-church dialogue that the practical instruction on communion and inter-communion (which are at the conclusion of One Bread One Body) was the first part of the work to be completed, and that the more free-flowing and constructive discourse on the Eucharist itself, which forms the opening chapters of the document, actually followed later. This accounts for a number of the more unsatisfactory aspects of the document. It was commented upon by many, both inside and outside the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, that there seemed to be some kind of dislocation between the devotional opening sections of One Bread One Body, and the two final sections which seemed to be different in tone and were concerned almost entirely with a justification for the strictness of the regulations. In effect there are indeed two documents, the second one conceptually pre-dating the first. This greatly effects any ‘reading’ of the document and goes some way in accounting for the apparently illogical use of the ARCIC documents. There is much in the first part of the document that could form a basis for genuine dialogue, although it has to be said that the same cannot be said for the second part.

The interval of a year has enabled all involved to read the document with a little more subtlety than was possible in the excitement of its publication There are undoubtedly places where the language is less rigid and more nuanced than it might have been, and where space is being made, probably intentionally, for a breadth of interpretation. Phrases such as ‘We give examples.. without in any way intending to suggest categories of situations’ (§112) or ‘When applying norms to a particular case, there is no intention to present that case as a type or precedent for other apparently similar cases’ (§107) suggest that flexibility is not in fact being entirely written out.

But how are we to move forward? In the first place I believe that we in the Church of Ireland have to look at little more carefully at our own consciences and our own history. There was a time, and not beyond living memory, when the Church of Ireland took an attitude that was very similar to that of the Roman Catholic Church in One Bread One Body, with regard to other Christian traditions. The Church of Ireland’s practice of eucharistic hospitality has indeed broadened in recent years, but there would still be some Anglicans in Ireland as elsewhere who would question whether Methodists or Presbyterians are sufficiently on the same eucharistic wavelength as classical Anglicanism to warrant eucharistic sharing.. Indeed it seems as though there is now almost an unofficial ‘pecking order’ in the matter, that might be comical if it were not tragic. The Orthodox churches allow no other Christians to share sacramentally with them. The Roman Catholic Church would allow members of its church to receive the Orthodox sacraments (§102ff), were they permitted to do so by the Orthodox which they are not. Anglicans are, under their own rules, permitted to receive Roman Catholic or Orthodox sacraments, but are permitted by neither to do so. And so on. Let us remember our own history (and even our own hauteur) in the matter of validity of sacraments and orders, before we become too censorious of those who place us below themselves in the pecking order.

It is therefore, I believe, essential in this context that we begin to see a very clear distinction between inter-communion and eucharistic hospitality. The former, inter-communion, always seems to suggest a rather careless laissez-faire indifferentism. On the other hand the latter, eucharistic hospitality, recognises that ‘spiritual nourishment is always ‘ecclesial’; it involves the visible community’ (as One Bread One Body puts the matter so clearly - §92). At some stage in our quest for Christian unity, we must all be brought to the point where we truly recognise that the Eucharist is not ours but Christ’s, and that the invitation to receive the sacrament is ultimately his invitation not ours, while continuing to grasp that the Eucharist exists within the context of a visible community, and that the Church is not yet that single visible community. Eucharistic hospitality, where a Christian community welcomes a visitor of another community - as a welcome guest - to receive the Holy Communion seems to accept without a fudge the realities both of non-ownership of the Eucharist, and of different traditions and understandings of the Eucharist. It should be emphasised that it is grossly unfair and discourteous to issue an invitation to communion in such a way that those who do not feel that in conscience they may receive communion in a Church of Ireland Eucharist are led to believe that they are somehow thereby behaving badly. But equally, it is totally unacceptable to suggest (as seems to be done in One Bread One Body §99) that the reformed churches should actively discourage Roman Catholics from receiving Communion in their churches.

Given that One Bread One Body expresses doubt that we within the Anglican communion have retained the a full and authentic understanding of the Eucharist (§41), we would surely also do well to ensure that all our members are in fact able to account for the faith that is in them and - in this particular context - to explain the Anglican eucharistic faith. I suspect that in this matter, as in many others to do with the faith, many members of the Church of Ireland would be far more confident in saying what they do not believe than in expounding what they do in fact believe. The traditional catechism makes it very clear that Anglicans believe that in addition to the outward physicality of bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ is by the grace of God also given spiritually but definitively through Communion. A Zwinglian understanding of the Holy Communion as an action in symbol alone is openly disavowed by Anglicanism. Where Anglicans do certainly draw the line is in over-defining what God does in the Eucharist, but that is not the same thing as denying his autonomous and effectual action in and through the sacraments. We have been foolishly reluctant to emphasise this latter point. The Anglican view with regard to the presence of Christ in the Eucharist has probably never been better put that in that famous passage from Bramhall’s Answer to M. de la Milletière :

We rest in the Words of Christ, This is My Body, leaving the manner to him who made the Sacrament. We know it is Sacramental, and therefore efficacious, because God was never wanting to His own ordinances where man did not set a bar against himself; but whether it be corporeally or spiritually (I mean not only after the manner of a Spirit, but in a spiritual sense) ; whether it be in the soul only, or in the Host also ; and if in the Host, whether by Consubstantiation or Transubstantiation ; whether by Production, or Adduction, or Conservation, or Assumption, or by whatsoever other way bold and blind men dare conjecture ; we determine not. "Motum sentimus, Modum nescimus, Praesentiam credimus."

This was the belief of the Primitive Church, this was the Faith of the ancient Fathers, who were never acquainted with these modern questions de modo, which edify not, but expose Christian religion to contempt. We know what to think and what to say with probability, modesty, and submission, in the Schools; but we dare neither screw up the question to such a height, nor dictate our opinions to others so magisterially as Articles of Faith.

I believe with utter conviction that Bramhall’s understanding would contribute enormously to any discussion on Eucharistic presence.

Our way forward in the furtherance of the ecumenical vision now is surely that we are prepared, lovingly but firmly, to ask the awkward questions in our ecumenical dialogue. At what point does the frontier of the community have to give way to a common obedience to a Christ who assures us that he will never turn away those who come to him? Can any of us justify to ourselves, let alone to God, our disgraceful treatment of those in inter-church marriages, reminding ourselves that the concept of ‘disgraceful’ does contain within it a denial of grace that needs to be given its full spiritual connotation? But we in the Church of Ireland need also to look at ourselves again with honesty. Is there not a sense in which there may well be a subconscious relief in the midst of our apartheid–ridden church communities that the Roman Catholic Church is in fact preventing something which (at a visceral level anyhow) we might not necessarily want anyhow. How precisely would a small rural Church of Ireland congregation of 20 or 30 people react if descended upon periodically by 200 local Roman Catholics who decided that the Church of Ireland time suited them better than the time of mass at their own church?

But together, as churches, we need above all else to recognise that many people in Ireland are not living inside the ‘walls’ of traditional denominations. An increasing number are out on the edges, on the margins, in a place between belonging and not belonging, between believing and not believing. The Church has been given to the world not simply to indulge itself or even to make rules for itself, but to save the world. If, in the midst of our rule making and word games, we refuse to acknowledge that great multitude of people on the edges of belonging and of belief, we are denying the Christ who called the Church into being.

In the middle of the second century, St Justin suggested that there should be three conditions for participation at the Eucharist – orthodoxy, baptism and right living. Baptism no longer presents a problem – that former shibboleth at least has been surmounted. I presume that the authors of One Bread One Body would recognise that there are those who are ‘right living’ in the ranks of the other churches (although it is strange and far from reassuring that right living no longer carries the weight it once did in the eucharistic discipline of either of our churches). Perhaps now we need to see if, in a growing between our different traditions, orthodoxy can be made less juridical and more dialogical, pastoral and devotional. That is after all what Pope Paul VI and Archbishop Michael Ramsey wished for when they set ARCIC on its way thirty years ago.

+ Richard Clarke
Bishop of Meath and Kildare
August 1999