It’s that time again — musing about eucharist, ordination and church. A friend recently cited two reasons for not taking communion in an Anglican church. First, he highly doubted whether Anglicans really believe in transubstantiation, i.e., that they truly believe they receive the actual Body and Blood of Christ. Second, he feels he cannot receive in a church that is not “in communion” with Rome.
I replied by referring to the substantial agreement on the eucharist that exists between Roman Catholics and Anglicans (ARCIC 1971), including on the Real (and permanent) Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic Body and Blood: “We believe that it is of utmost importance for our two Churches to acknowledge their substantial identity in the area of Eucharistic doctrine, and to build upon it as they go forward in dialogue.” *
But my friend remained unconvinced: “I’m not interested in ecumenical documents. I’m interested in the actual beliefs of the people. A lot of Anglicans don’t even think it is a mass. You either believe in transubstantiation or you don’t. And the Anglican Church, as a whole, does not. Individuals within it do. That’s not a position that makes logical sense as a basis for inter-communion.”
I felt sad. Learning about ecumenical agreements, especially on the eucharist, would go a long way to help my friend appreciate our current shared understanding. I know Rome consistently holds that unity at the eucharistic table can only arise as a result of ecclesial unity. But that does beg the question: How do we know we have achieved enough unity to share the table of the Lord? And who gets to determine this? Ecumenical agreements on the eucharist between Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans now raise the question whether the remaining differences need to be church-dividing.
Moreover, the Gospels portray Jesus as sharing himself indiscriminately with all types of people, regardless of criteria for full communion. It is Pope Francis who insists that we trust the unifying and healing power of the eucharist as a “powerful medicine for the weak.” Continuing to limit access to this unifying and powerful medicine in one another’s churches seems to set up a logical contradiction. The eucharist is Jesus’ banquet of complete self-giving; Christ himself is the host, the church its servant.
The Anglican reverence for the individual’s capacity of faith allows for the person to appropriate the eucharistic mystery of real presence in whatever way they can. This comes through at the distribution of holy communion: The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving. The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful. (Order for Holy Communion, Book of Common Prayer)
Do any of us really fully grasp Jesus Christ’s self-giving to the point of death? I do not expect to ever exhaust the meaning of this profound mystery. Anglican eucharistic spirituality fosters a deeper humility, making me more hesitant to pass judgment on how others understand and live their Christian faith: Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone; for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us. Our outward comportment and behaviour may be better than theirs, but this, though good, is not the most important thing: there is no reason why we should expect everyone else to travel by our own road, and we should not attempt to point them to the spiritual path when perhaps we do not know what it is. (The Interior Castle St. Teresa of Avila)
When all is said and done, I can only stand humbly before a mysterium tremendum.
* For a complete listing of Anglican-Catholic Documents and Agreements, visit: https://iarccum.org/agreed-statements
Rev. Marie-Louise Ternier is now an Anglican deacon, serving the Anglican and Lutheran parishes in Watrous, SK. In her spare time she serves on the programming team at Queen’s House in Saskatoon. Marie-Louise is a published author and spiritual director, retreat leader and conference speaker. This column is co-published with the Saskatchewan Anglican. Marie-Louise blogs at http://graceatsixty.wordpress.com