At last count, this is the seventh reflection on the Eucharist I am posting on this blog. That`s significantly higher than any other topic. In a way, this is not surprising; the Eucharist is the source and summit of my Christian faith. It is also my participation in the Eucharist which is affected the most by my transition to the Anglican Church.
Each time I attend a Catholic Eucharist with my RC spouse I engage in careful discernment on whether or not to partake in Holy Communion. While the Anglican communion table is open to all baptized Christians, I am quite aware that the Roman Catholic practice is more restrictive; I strive to honour this position as much as possible. There are times when I intentionally refrain so as not to draw attention or to risk “scandal.” While it is painful to receive a blessing instead of the Body and Blood of Christ, I nevertheless desire to grow open to the spiritual communion thus offered. Other times my hunger for the holy Bread from Heaven leads to me receive, filling my heart with profound gratitude and grace.
So it was when Jim and I recently attended the wedding of dear friends who are both committed Catholics. Caught up in the joy of the marital union they entered, and desiring to express through the sacrament of the Eucharist my joyful gratitude for the 36+ years of marriage to my dear Jim, I presented myself with hands outstretched to receive the Bread from Heaven. Moreover, I was presuming it would be more of a “scandal” to these newlyweds had I not received communion on their joyful occasion.
Imagine my shock when, during the wedding reception, several friends shared with me that the priest had made rather pointed, judgmental comments to them about my receiving communion (the priest was aware of my story). Not only was it a serious pastoral violation to speak of another Christian by name in such terms to a third party, his pastoral orientation seemed to lack a generosity of spirit that would simply leave judgment to God.
So I decided to write the following reply to the parish priest in question. I have not sent it — should I?
It has come to my attention that pastoral discretion and generosity of spirit were not granted regarding my reception of communion at our friends’ wedding Mass in your parish recently. Comments were shared with me about the discomfort and disapproval you explicitly expressed to third parties of my receiving communion as I am considered “no longer Catholic.” With all due respect, please allow me to share some thoughts in reply to this.
First of all, had I known of your discomfort and disapproval, I would have refrained from receiving and instead presented myself for your blessing. St. Paul’s words to the Romans (14:1-3) teach me to consider it more important to honour another’s particular stage of faith than to impose my own. On the other hand, had I inquired ahead of time I would have known of your preference, something which I have done on other occasions out of respect for the Roman Catholic regulations on who can receive Communion. For failing to consult you in advance, I ask forgiveness.
Second, since my husband remains Roman Catholic, this creates an interchurch reality in our marriage. As the spouse of a Roman Catholic, I am allowed a greater space of grace in the church’s own teaching when it comes to sharing in the Eucharist. This space of grace, however, varies according to the comfort level of the parish priest, as I have observed in my many years of pastoral ministry alongside Catholic clergy. In the RC diocese where I reside, a diocesan policy on sacramental sharing addresses the unique gifts and challenges that interchurch couples/families present in their claiming of a double ecclesial belonging. This does not open the communion table all the time, but greater trust is nevertheless placed in the couple’s unity and discernment ability. I was, however, in a different diocese and therefore remiss in assuming generous Eucharistic hospitality. Please forgive my carelessness in this regard.
Third, I am humbly asking for respect, patience and gracious compassion as I still strive to sort out this new Anglican reality for myself and my spouse. My faith and ministry journey have always been characterized by careful discernment, prayer and surrender to God`s Spirit and guidance. It is this discernment that has taken me into the Anglican tradition without in any way rejecting my Roman Catholic heritage. I refer here to the initial letter I wrote in October 2015 to share my decision publicly. Paradoxically, on the spiritual level I am experiencing my move into the Anglican tradition as an expansion and a deepening of the catholicity of my Christian discipleship rather than a disruption. I may no longer be Catholic with a large C, but to presume therefore that I am “no longer catholic” is inaccurate. Moreover, the Anglican Church identifies itself as an integral part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Fourth, my Catholic faith in the Eucharist has not changed and does not need to change now that I am a member of the Anglican Church. In fact, the first fruits of the Anglican – Roman Catholic Dialogue was an agreement on our shared doctrine of the Eucharist (ARCIC Agreement on Eucharistic Doctrine, 1971).
Fifth, do not judge lest you be judged, said Jesus (Mathew 7:1-3). When a person comes forward in the communion line, the pastoral response is to be generous with the presumption that the need for the Holy Eucharist is greater than any rules prohibiting such partaking, and that an Amen springs from the receiver’s heart to the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and the wine. Any judgmental comments about such a discerned reception, esp. to third parties, are unbecoming of Christ`s disciples.
Sixth, the Eucharist is both an instrument and sign of unity in Christ. When rules are ignored, we risk losing motivation and energy to keep working towards Christian unity. When rules are applied too strictly, however, we risk denying the unifying power of the Eucharist itself, and instead are tempted to make our human efforts towards Christian unity more important than the unifying power of Christ`s self-giving in the Eucharist and on the cross, a unifying power we already possess. An important question for ecumenical dialogue is therefore whether the different ecclesial expressions of Christian discipleship need to remain church-dividing obstacles to unity at the Lord’s Supper.
Lastly, I want to thank you, Father. No, seriously. If it had not been for your remarks to my friends who in turn shared these with me, I may have missed the opportunity to engage this deeper reflection. This experience is helping me grow ever more fully, not just in my faith in Jesus, but into becoming Jesus Christ in the world. Let us unite in prayer for the day when our churches will truly recognize the face of the Risen Lord in one another’s witness, a recognition that will allow us to fully share the Eucharistic table of the Lord.
Sincerely in Christ,
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