Thursday, October 11, 2007

With Tears

There is probably no blog that so regularly edifies me as Fr Stephen Freeman's, Glory to God for All Things. I "share" his posts so often that I sometimes feel like a groupie; I'm certainly a junkie. Fr Stephen is an Orthodox priest. What does that mean? Well, whatever else it means, it means this much: If I were to meet him, we could not receive Holy Communion together.

I had a dream the other night that my family went to a Baptist church and the people of the church tried to force me to take communion with them, which I refused. It was one of those dreams; it bothered me throughout the day.

Sometimes the oddest things will get me thinking about the oddest things.

There are many of you, many whom I dearly love, with whom I cannot receive Holy Communion. We are separated, here, at the Lord's Table.

And I'm struck by how casually we discuss our separation - should I even be able to speak of it, let alone argue about it, without tears?

I cannot receive Holy Communion with friends.

I cannot receive Holy Communion with family.

And the reason we cannot share in Holy Communion is because our separation, this wound, is the reality in which we live. (And I know my part in it. But there are some places one must go regardless of the cost. Aren't there?)

I'm not sure I intend anything by writing these words. I was simply reading Fr Stephen's blog when I saw his picture and imagined meeting him.

You and I, we are brothers and sisters, separated. It is not as though there is no unity, of course, but we are not one as we ought to be. And how can we speak of our disunity, our brokenness, with anything but tears?


Sven said...

I would love to hear more about this. Specifically, why do you believe you can't recieve Holy Communion together even though you are brothers in Christ? What is behind that separation and why are we so unable to mend? Why must we simply accept it as the reality we live in?

For me, this is something with which I really struggle. Being a cradle Catholic, I have been raised with the belief that I too cannot share Holy Communion with my non-Catholic friends and family. For most of my life I never questioned it but rather just accepted it as fact.

In college, once a month, I would attend the Lutheran church to which my mother belongs, playing my guitar with the choir. Each time she would remind me that I was invited to join them in Communion and each time I would politely decline. I know it broke her heart.

As I continue to explore my faith and deepen my relationship with God, inside The Church and out, I struggle to find a justification for what seems to be such and arbitrary rule. We are after all, brothers and sisters in Christ. Why then shouldn't we share at table together just a Jesus did with his brothers and sister. And yet, I can't bring myself to do so.

I've passed up many opportunities to share in The Body of Christ, with The Body of Christ, but I always stop short. Sometimes I don't even know why.

These days I only occasionally visit my mother's church. The saddest part for me is that she has stopped asking. If I truly mean to live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loved, why should I cleave to a "rule" I'm not even sure I really believe given how much I know it hurts the people I love?

paul said...

Scott & Sven, thanks for your openness. May I ask for more yet?

What I'm wondering is, each of you used the word "cannot" or "can't" to describe your decision to not take Holy Communion. Why is it "cannot" or "can't" rather than "will not" or "won't"?

Not meaning to be pedantic, just wanting to better understand what sounds like an inability or lack of freedom being described.

Scott Lyons said...

Paul, it is not my intention or desire to offend in my answer, but only to answer honestly about what I believe and what the Catholic Church teaches (may I answer faithfully). I hope you understand and recognize my heart in this matter.

I say "cannot" rather than "will not" because of the negative connotations easily associated with "will not" in this context (stubbornness, arrogance, etc.). And also because the "will not" is the reason for the "cannot," which I hope will become clearer in a moment. In other words, the "will not" explains the reasoning behind the Catholic Church's "cannot."

So Paul, I both cannot and will not receive Communion with my brothers and sisters who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. I cannot because the Church says I may not. And I will not for two reasons. First, for me to do so could be the source of scandal among those Protestants with whom I am participating in Communion: (1) They may believe something false about our unity with one another. (For Catholics, Holy Communion is a declaration of our unity and not a means to it.) (2) Likewise, they may believe that I agree with or approve of their understanding of Communion. Therefore my participation could become a lie, a false or bad witness, regardless of my intention. Which leads me to the second reason I will not - because of what the Blessed Eucharist is and what it means. In the Catholic Church, the Blessed Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. It is the mystery of Christ Himself among us - body and blood, soul and divinity. It is the gift of the riches of Emmanuel, the gift of Himself. Therefore, to participate in something other than the fullness of this holy Mystery seems to me, now for me, an offense against God and His intention for our sharing in Him in Holy Communion.

That is not to deny the spiritual unity that my Protestant brothers and sisters feel and receive in Communion. I have been there. That is not to say that sincere Protestants anger God by their Communion. Or that God does not honor their sincerest intentions and worship. But it is still one thing to spiritually unite yourself to Christ in memorial and symbol and another thing to actually be consumed by Christ as we consume the fullness of Him in this Mystery - the Blessed Sacrament that is memorial and symbol as well as sacrifice and substance. (And this holy Mystery He has given to the Church and to Holy Orders).

Sven, I understand your hurt and where your heart is because I feel the same. But I don't think that Holy Communion is the place we ought to build our unity. We can work toward and show our unity in other ways. And it is important to distinguish between our disunity and our love - the one should not reflect or affect the other. Also, our unity will never be achieved by denying the differences of our beliefs. As it concerns the Blessed Sacrament, we believe very differently. We also, and this is the wonderful part of it, believe about a great number of things very similarly. And we can rejoice in those similarities even while our disunity wounds us.

John Paul the Great in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia says the following (Section 30) concerning the Blessed Sacrament and our participation in a Protestant Communion service:

"The Catholic Church's teaching on the relationship between priestly ministry and the Eucharist and her teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice have both been the subject in recent decades of a fruitful dialogue in the area of ecumenism. We must give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the significant progress and convergence achieved in this regard, which lead us to hope one day for a full sharing of faith. Nonetheless, the observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church [Protestant churches] remain fully pertinent: 'The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory.'

"The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity. Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full communion, including Eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it.

"The fact that the power of consecrating the Eucharist has been entrusted only to Bishops and priests does not represent any kind of belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church this gift redounds to the benefit of all."

paul said...

Thanks for elaborating. I think I'm hearing you, Scott, and there's no offense here. Just looking for clarity amidst your passion.

The mystery of Jesus' gift of body & blood to his followers is symbol, yes, and FAR more than symbol (yea, life itself!) both when it originally occurred and every time we partake.

Fatherstephen said...


Your post was indeed moving and the fact of broken communion should bring tears - it does to me as well.

A communion that existed without a true, concrete union in the faith, which would necessarily mean in the One Church, would be a false communion, one which had abstracted our unity into something less than it should be.

We are out of communion, but not without remedy - though the remedy is indeed quite serious.

I remember a conversation with a friend, a Presbyterian, who was visiting our Church. This person had been going through a tough year and had not received communion anywhere during that time.

With tears this person said, "Today is the first day I've wanted communion in a year."

I told them, "There is a way to the Cup." But of course that way would be through the catechumenate and reception into the Orthodox Church.

But if the Eucharist is what Christ said of it, then anything less would be to either make the Church something less than it is, or the Eucharist something less than it is.

I have, in private teaching, compared the Eucharist to the intimate relations of a husband and wife, meaning no blasphemy. But such intimacy can only be had in the context of a true marriage, not outside it.

There exists a real divorce between Christians, and as painful as it is, we must recognize such truth and either heal it through proper reconciliation, or not heal it at all.

I pray for the day when we can share a common cup - but to pray for such a day is also to pray for true union in the One Church. Nothing less.

May God make it so.

Scott Lyons said...

Thank you, Father, for your response. There are excellent thoughts here.

I agree with the seriousness of the remedy. There are days when I see our patriarchs and bishops discussing ecumenism and I want to, impatiently, tell them to Git R Done. But I know that there are important differences that must be addressed. And they are not little differences. But I long for that true and real communion.

My parents visited this weekend and my dad said he didn't understand why he couldn't receive Holy Communion when he visited my parish (it had come up during a previous conversation and visit). After the fact I wished that I had told him that he could receive the Eucharist - for him, having been raised Catholic, he would simply need to talk to a priest and go to confession. But it's not so simple as well, I imagine.

I appreciate our differences, yours and mine, Father. And I thank you for your faithfulness. I am ready for a proper reconciliation - at least I think I am. Perhaps it will come in our lifetimes. And I pray with you, May God make it so.