Unity Faith and Order - Dialogues - Anglican Roman Catholic
Elucidation Eucharist (1979)
Anglican - Roman Catholic Joint Preparatory Commission
- When each of the Agreed Statements was published, the Commission invited
and has received comment and criticism. This Elucidation is an attempt
to expand and explain to those who have responded some points raised in
connection with Eucharistic Doctrine (Windsor 1971).
- The Commission was not asked to produce a comprehensive treatise on
the eucharist, but only to examine differences which in the controversies
of the past divided our two communions. The aim of the Commission has been
to see whether we can today discover substantial agreement in faith on
the eucharist. Questions have been asked about the meaning of substantial
agreement. It means that the document represents not only the judgement
of all its members ‘ i.e. it is an agreement ‘ but their unanimous
agreement ‘on essential matters where it considers that doctrine
admits no divergence' (Ministry, para. 17) ‘ i.e. it is a substantial
agreement. Members of the Commission are united in their conviction 'that
if there are any remaining points of disagreement they can be resolved
on the principles here established' (Eucharist, para. 12).
Comments and Criticisms
- The following comments and criticisms are representative of the many
received and are considered by the Commission to be of particular importance.
In spite of the firm assertion made in the Agreed Statement of the ‘once
for all' nature of Christ's sacrifice, some have still been anxious that
the term anamnesis may conceal the reintroduction of the theory of a repeated
immolation. Others have suspected that the word refers not only to the
historical events of salvation but also to an eternal sacrifice in heaven.
Others again have doubted whether anamnesis sufficiently implies the reality
indicated by traditional sacrifical language concerning the eucharist.
Moreover, the accuracy and adequacy of the Commission's exegesis of anamnesis
have been questioned.
Some critics have been unhappy about the realistic language used in this
Agreed Statement, and have questioned such words as become and change.
Others have wondered whether the permanence of Christ's eucharistic presence
has been sufficiently acknowledged, with a consequent request for a discussion
of the reserved sacrament and devotions associated with it. Similarly there
have been requests for clarification of the Commission's attitude to receptionism.
- Behind these criticisms there lies a profound but often unarticulated
anxiety that the Cornmission has been using new theological language which
evades unresolved differences. Related to this anxiety is the further question
as to the nature of the agreement claimed by the Commission. Does the language
of the Commission conceal an ambiguity (either intentional or unintentional)
in language which enables members of the two churches to see their own
faith in the Agreed Statement without having in fact reached a genuine
Anamnesis and Sacrifice
- The Commission has been criticized for its use of the term anamnesis.
It chose the word used in New Testament accounts of the institution of
the eucharist at the last supper:
‘Do this as a memorial (anamnesin) of me' (1 Cor 11:24-25; Luke 22:19;
The word is also to be found in Justin Martyr in the second century. Recalling
the last supper he writes:
‘Jesus, taking bread and having given thanks, said, "Do this
for my memorial (anamnesin): This is my body"; and likewise, taking
the cup, and giving thanks, he said, "This is my blood"' (First
Apology 66; cf. Dialogue with Trypho 117).
From this time onwards the term is found at the very heart of the eucharistic
prayers of both East and West, not only in the institution narrative but
also in the prayer which follows and elsewhere: cf. e.g. The Liturgy of
St John Chrysostom; Eucharistic Prayer I The Roman Missal; The Order
of the Administration of the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion ? The Book
of Common Prayer (1962); and Rites A and B of the Church of England Alternative
Service Book (1980).
The word is also found in patristic and later theology. The Council of
Trent in explaining the relation between the sacrifice of the cross and
the eucharist uses the words commemoratio and memoria (Session 22, ch.
1); and in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) the Catechism states that the
sacrament of the Lord's Supper was ordained ‘for the continual remembrance
of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive
thereby'. The frequent use of the term in contemporary theology is illustrated
by One Baptism One Eucharist and a Mutually Recognized Ministry (Faith
and Order Commission Paper No. 73), as well as by the General Instruction
on the Roman Missal (1970).
The Commission believes that the traditional understanding of sacramental
reality, in which the once-for-all event of salvation becomes effective
in the present through the action of the Holy Spirit, is well expressed
by the word anamnesis. We accept this use of the word which seems to do
full Justice to the semitic background. Furthermore it enables us to affirm
a strong conviction of sacramental realism and to reject mere symbolism.
However the selection of this word by the Commission does not mean that
our common eucharistic faith may not be expressed in other terms.
In the exposition of the Christian doctrine of redemption the word sacrifice
has been used in two intimately associated ways. In the New Testament,
sacrificial language refers primarily to the historical events of Christ's
saving work for us. The tradition of the Church, as evidenced for example
in its liturgies, used similar language to designate in the eucharistic
celebration the anamnesis of this historical event. Therefore it is possible
to say at the same time that there is only one unrepeatable sacrifice In
the historical sense, but that the eucharist is a sacrifice in the sacramental
sense, provided that it is clear that this is not a repetition of the historical
There is therefore one historical, unrepeatable sacrifice, offered once
for all by Christ and accepted once for all by the Father. In the celebration
of the memorial, Christ in the Holy Spirit unites his people with himself
in a sacramental way so that the Church enters into the movement of his
self-offering. In consequence, even though the Church is active in this
celebration, this adds nothing to the efficacy of Christ's sacrifice upon
the cross, because the action is itself the fruit of this sacrifice. The
Church in celebrating the eucharist gives thanks for the gift of Christ's
sacrifice and identifies itself with the will of Christ who has offered
himself to the Father on behalf of all mankind.
Christ's Presence in the Eucharist
- Criticism has been evoked by the statement that the bread and wine
become the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist (para. 10). The word
become has been suspected of expressing a materialistic conception of Christ's
presence, and this has seemed to some to be confirmed in the footnote on
the word transubstantiation which also speaks of change. It is feared that
this suggests that Christ's presence in the eucharist is confined to the
elements, and that the Real Presence involves a physical change in them.
In order to respond to these comments the Commission recalls that the Statement
does not here imply material change. Nor does the liturgical use of the
word imply that the bread and wine become Christ's body and blood in such
a way that in the eucharistic celebration his presence is limited to the
consecrated elements. It does not imply that Christ becomes present in
the eucharist in the same manner that he was present in his earthly life.
it does not imply that this becoming follows the physical laws of this
world. What is here affirmed is a sacramental presence in which God uses
realities of this world to convey the realities of the new creation: bread
for this life becomes the bread of eternal life. Before the eucharistic
prayer, to the question: ?What is that?', the believer answers: ?It is
bread.' After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers:
?It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.'
- It is the glorified Lord himself whom the community of the faithful
encounters in the eucharistic celebration through the preaching of the
word, in the fellowship of the Lord's supper, in the heart of the believer,
and, in a sacramental way, through the gifts of his body and blood, already
given on the cross for their salvation.
- His body and blood are given through the action of the Holy Spirit,
appropriating bread and wine so that they become the food of the new creation
already inaugurated by the coming of Christ (cf. paras. 7, 10, 11).
In the sacramental order the realities of faith become present in visible
and tangible signs, enabling Christians to avail themselves of the fruits
of the once-for-all redemption. in the eucharist the human person encounters
in faith the person of Christ in his sacramental body and blood. This is
the sense in which the community, the body of Christ, by partaking of the
sacramental body of the risen Lord, grows into the unity God intends for
his Church. The ultimate change intended by God is the transformation of
human beings into the likeness of Christ. The bread and wine become the
sacramental body and blood of Christ in order that the Christian community
may become more truly what it already is, the body of Christ.
Gift and Reception
- This transformation into the likeness of Christ requires that the eucharistic
gifts be received in faith. In the mystery of the eucharist we discern
not one but two complementary movements within an indissoluble unity: Christ
giving his body and blood, and the communicants feeding upon them in their
hearts by faith. Some traditions have placed a special emphasis on the
association of Christ's presence with the consecrated elements; others
have emphasized Christ's presence n the heart of the believer through reception
by faith. In the past, acute difficulties have arisen when one or other
of these emphases has become most exclusive. In the opinion of the Commission
neither emphasis is incompatible with eucharistic faith, provided that
the complementary movement emphasized by the other position is not denied.
Eucharistic doctrine must hold together these two movements since in the
eucharist, the sacrament of the New Covenant, Christ gives himself to his
people so that they may receive him through faith.
- The practice of reserving the sacrament for reception after the congregation
has dispersed is known to date, back to the second century (cf. Justin
Martyr, First Apology, 65 and 67). In so far as it maintains the complementary
movements already referred to (as for example, when communion is taken
to the sick) this practice clearly accords with the purpose of the institution
of the eucharist. But later there developed a tendency to stress the veneration
of Christ's presence in the consecrated elements. In some places this tendency
became so pronounced that the original purpose of reservation was in danger
of becoming totally obscured. If veneration is wholly dissociated from
the eucharistic celebration of the community it contradicts the true doctrine
of the eucharist.
Consideration of this question requires clarification of the understanding
of the eucharist. Adoration in the celebration of the eucharist is first
and foremost offered to the Father. It is to lead us to the Father that
Christ unites us to himself through our receiving of his body and blood.
The Christ whom we adore in the eucharist is Christ glorifying his Father.
The movement of all our adoration is to the Father, through, with, and
in Christ, in the power of the Spirit.
The whole eucharistic action is a continuous movement in which Christ offers
himself in his sacramental body and blood to his people and in which they
receive him in faith and thanksgiving. Consequently communion administered
from the reserved sacrament to those unable to attend the eucharistic celebration
is rightly understood as an extension of that celebration. Differences
arise between those who would practice reservation for this reason only,
and those who would also regard it as a. means of eucharistic devotion,
For the latter, adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament should be
regarded as an extension of eucharistic worship, even though it does not
include immediate sacramental reception, which remains the primary purpose
of reservation (cf. the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, para. 49,
of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (AAS 59, 1967).) Any dissociation of
such devotion from this primary purpose, which is communion in Christ of
all his members, is a distortion in eucharistic practice.
- In spite of this clarification, others still find any, kind of adoration
of Christ in the reserved sacrament unacceptable. They believe that it
is in fact impossible in such a practice truly to hold together the two
movements of which we have spoken: and that this devotion can hardly fall
to produce such an emphasis upon the association of Christ's sacramental
presence with the consecrated bread and wine as to suggest too static and
localized a presence that disrupts the movement as well as the balance
of the whole eucharistic action (cf. Article 28 of the Articles of Religion).
That there can be a divergence in matters of practice and in theological
judgements relating to them, without destroying a common eucharistic faith,
illustrates what we mean by substantial agreement. Differences of theology
and practice may well coexist with a real consensus on the essentials of
eucharistic faith ? as in fact they do within each of our communions.
- Concern has been expressed that we have said nothing about intercommunion,
though claiming to have attained a substantial agreement on eucharistic
faith. The reason is that we are agreed that a responsible judgement on
this matter cannot be made on the basis of this Statement alone, because
intercommunion also involves issues relating to authority and to the mutual
recognition of ministry. There are other important issues, such as the
eschatological dimension of the eucharist and its relation to contemporary
questions of human liberation and social justice, which we have either
not fully developed or not explicitly treated. These are matters which
call for the common attention of our churches, but they are not a source
of division between us and are therefore outside our mandate.