This is the second part of George Ripon's commentary on Ecumenism. Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers and we must concede that we have not been very good at this. Even some 500 years on from the Reformation we are still only scratching the surface. As the biggest (numerical) Christian Tradition we should be doing much more than just talking about it. How about offering Communion to fellow Christians as they share at our Eucharist? Why not joint Confirmation Services with Anglicans? In country areas, short of ministers, why not encourage all local christians to attend the one Sunday Service of whatever tradition? We really have to start breaking the ice inspired by the Prayer of Jesus (John 17).
Article Navigation: Part I
Let's have a look at what a world-wide Christian Church might look like...
At my last count the Victorian Council of Churches represented some 19 different Christian traditions. With great respect to all, I cannot see that putting 19 churches around a round table however big would be a good starting point. As a Catholic I would start with the Anglicans with whom we already share a lot and between us we represent about two-thirds(?) of the world's Christian. This does not exclude others but we must start somewhere in a renewed lay effort to reinvigorate our ecumenical journey.
Before we get too pessimistic let's have a look at what a world-wide Christian Church might look like? Here, in the absence of of positive inspiration from our church leaders, I can only fly a kite. Headship will be critical with all committed traditions having input in the process of selecting the new leader. While I cannot see "Infallibility" in the mix the authority as agreed will need to be accepted and respected. I do however see a place for the model outlined by Cardinal Kasper in yesterday's introduction, allowing regional leaders (bishops?) to consider local traditions in liturgical practices and respond to other faiths and non-believers in other relevant matters. Collegiality would be an essential element in a federal styled united church, all in communion with each other and the head church. The Head however designated would be "Primus inter Pares" in a real sense not just on paper.
Some, on reading this may feel that I am looking at the end product instead of tackling the various difficult problems on the journey. I accept this but many non-Catholics highly suspicious of infallibility and how authority is at present exercised by Rome, will need reassuring that we mean business in our quest for unity. Our great put-down, subject closed mantra of "The Church is not a Democracy" will need to be reviewed . Change will need to apply to the way we elect the Leader, Bishops (or their equivalents) and parish clergy. The tight control now the norm in our church will not be acceptable to our fellow christians nor should it be. The People of God, the grass-roots of the churches will need to be heard and kept informed on developments. The need for leaders to report to the people could in itself be a great incentive to those involved in leadership roles to "Do Something!"
A brief history of ecumenical discussion...
Historically the modern ecumenical movement started one hundred years ago in Scotland with the 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference with over 1000 delegates — Anglican and Protestant, one Orthodox and sadly no Catholics. Our Church was however well represented at the recent Centenary Celebrations also in Edinburgh. More recently the early eighties saw the publication of the Lima and ARCIC (Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission) documents. In 1982, following the Lima Conference sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, the documents on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry — the Lima Documents — were published. In the following year the ARCIC published their documents on Eucharist, Ministry and Authority. This became a time of great hope as we came together in our parishes in ecumenical discussion groups on the various documents. However the consensus on many issues reflected in the documents did not signal instant hope of full reconciliation or unity. That we still await. For the moment, ecumenism is in the "too hard" basket.
So its a long road and a hard one, all the more reason to get going. We will need a Eucharistic Church. Catholics and Anglicans would accept nothing less. A central authority would be essential but not an autocratic dictatorship — All power corrupts — here again no apology for mentioning the disturbing word "collegiality". Ministry would be for service to the people, celebration of Sacraments, counselling and other spiritual needs. Lay people, women and men could be in charge of parishes or local communities with much of the work done on a voluntary basis. Unity in diversity would apply avoiding the concept of "one size fits all". Brainstorming outside the square we might have a variety of Rites all in communion. These could include a Latin Rite, a Vernacular Rite, a Pentecostal Rite and even a Contemplative Rite drawing on Buddhist and Hindu spirituality. Far fetched? Possibility but we as Catholics must get out of a centuries-old mindset imposed from above and now in my view, long past its "use by" date.
I have previously admitted that in my 42 years in our present parish I have interfered in various church matters. Likewise ecumenically with many years on the local Interchurch Council and two spells on the Ecumenism Commission of the Victorian Council of Churches. Locally we organised paraliturgies for interchurch Services for Good Friday, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and New Year's Eve. Local churches also supported the World Day of Prayer. We also had regular fraternal visitations to Sunday Services at our member churches. Our enlightened PP (Beatae Memoriae) would welcome the visitors. Some naughty Catholics would pass the word that Communion would not be refused to those wishing to receive. Others would suffer the pain of separation as a reminder that we were all still on a journey. Sadly with declining congregations local ministers had difficulty in getting volunteers to serve on the InterChurch Council so its now in recess, another casualty of declining attendances.
Document from the Australian Bishops...
As I work towards a conclusion I have just received the Pastoral Letter, "The Impulse of God's Grace", issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference [DOWNLOAD LINK (about half-way down page)]. In commemoration of the centenary of the Edinburgh Conference it includes a brief history of ecumenical activity in the last hundred years. I was happy to see that it drew much from the Vatican II document Unitatis Redintegratio [LINK]. Copies were distributed to all parishes so "ecumeniacs" may still be able to pick up a copy, otherwise it's available on the ACBC website [DOWNLOAD LINK (about half-way down page)]. The document is worthy of a critique in its own right, a challenge for another day.
Also a good read is the address by Paul Collins at the Australian Reforming Catholics AGM at the Rose Bay RSL Club on the 7th of April last. Entitled, "What Chance Reform?", Paul dealt with church history in the period immediately after the Reformation. The article is available on-line-in the June edition of Arcvoice [PDF copy]. A final ray of hope, having retired from the Pontifical Council on July 1 Cardinal Kasper later spoke as a guest at the July assembly of the Lutheran World Federation. In expressing appreciation of progress made between churches he nevertheless voiced his disappointment at the failure to agree on Intercommunion. Again I see him as the voice of one crying in the Vatican wilderness. As in other areas the people are following conscience. At a Catholic funeral friends of the deceased of many faiths or none will often receive communion. In our good old days at fraternal church visitations intercommunion was the rule rather than the exception. Perhaps Rome will catch up one day. Meanwhile we must continue to work and pray for the day when we will all be one.
Having given thought to the model of church we need to offer to our non-Catholic friends it is very similar to the church proposed by real reformers. Democratic process would apply to the selection of leaders, the People of God would be heard and consultation would be the norm rather than the exception. So there is still hope, maybe even joyful.
George Ripon 21/07/10
What are your thoughts on this commentary?