I came across the passage that follows this morning:
For _______________, the Eucharist is a visible sign of unity; to receive the Eucharist in a community to which one does not belong is improper. If one does not accept all that the Church believes and teaches and worships, one cannot make a visible sign of unity with it. The Eucharist is the result of unity, not the means by which unity is achieved.
The statement comes from a particular Catholic Church (and not the Roman Catholic Church), but could be a statement of many expressions of the Catholic Church (including the Roman Catholic Church), and some expressions of Protestantism as well (i.e. Lutherans — at least those in my neighborhood).
I respect the right of every particular church and its denomination and/or jurisdiction to establish its own rules for who can do what within said church. I attend most churches as a guest and I try to be a good guest by following the rules of their home and not rocking the boat. I also do not find it appropriate to criticize how others do church, but simply do church the way I think is right as a Catholic in the Old Catholic tradition.
Yet, having said all that, I do have a couple of problems with the all too familiar statement above.
1) If “[T]he Eucharist is a visible sign of unity,” how is excluding Christians from receiving it anything other than an act of division? It comes down to, as I understand it (and I may be projecting here), as a declaration of who is “worthy” and who is not to receive the Eucharist in a particular church.
Well, I already know who is “worthy” to receive it: NO ONE! In fact, the Liturgy that the Old Catholic Church still uses in most places still says “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Before we take the Eucharist (at least in the Western Catholic tradition) we declare our own unworthiness to receive it, and then we receive it. To me, that is kind of the point! To express unworthiness to receive something, then receive it, and then turn to others and essentially say: “We are unworthy and yet we still receive, but you are so unworthy that you must NEVER receive” is the exact opposite of unity — or at least some strange usage of the word “unity” which I have yet to encounter.
2) “If one does not accept all that the Church believes and teaches and worships, one cannot make a visible sign of unity with it.” Really? I must be the only person in Christianity who is unable to “accept all that the Church believes and teaches and worships.” I could not do this as a Presbyterian. I could not do this during my search for a church in which I could accept everything that was taught and said. I cannot even do this as an Old Catholic.
I am a thinking person and I ask questions and I meditate on the answers. There is no expression of the Church in which I accept ALL of what it teaches and worships. As a Catholic, I believe I accept all the inherently “Catholic” things that the Church teaches and believes (Trinity, Apostolic Succession, Holy Tradition, Scripture, the importance of bishops, the three-part ministry of bishop, priest, and deacon, etc.) but I do not believe EVERYTHING that I have been taught in ANY church or traditions I have encountered and of which I have been apart. If accepting ALL that the particular church or the denomination, or the jurisdiction believes and teaches and worships is a deal breaker for receiving the Eucharist, then I am unable to receive the Eucharist anywhere. Based on conversations I have had with people in many traditions, I do not believe I am alone in this. I can probably say that I agree with and believe about 90% of what The Old Catholic Church historically teaches and believes, but I cannot claim that I believe 100% (I cannot claim to believe or accept 100% of anything!).
For me, it comes down to where I am most comfortable, accepting that I will not agree with everything, but I agree with most, and I am willing to agree to disagree with the rest, knowing that I may be wrong, or that I am just ahead of my time and the church has not caught up with me yet, but someday will. To me, THAT is a sign of unity! The bold statement that even though I am not 100% in agreement with what this church teaches and believes (not as a matter of stubborn rebellions, but being true to myself) and that I am will to stand with others who may not be where I am, and profess 100% of what I believe, but that we will still stand together, and pledge our faith together, and receive the Eucharist in faith together — THAT IS UNITY!
3) “The Eucharist is the result of unity, not the means by which unity is achieved.” How do you know unless you try? I am willing to accept ALL Christians as being in The Body of Christ, even those traditions that I do not personally like very much, or find little upon which to agree. The nose and the spleen have little in common, and both go about doing what they think they should be doing, and yet, the whole body benefits from their differences and adherence to their own way of doing things.
The Church as The Body of Christ is the same way! I see no problem having Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Baptists, or any other tradition. I am willing to accept even Evangelicals even though most of whom that I know are more a political party in the name of Jesus than they are a church. But who am I to say they are not a part of the Body of Christ? Would the eye understand and accept the index finger if it were self-aware? The one place where all Christians can come together (regardless of tradition, regardless of Doctrine, regardless of belief and differences, regardless even of historical resentments) is around the Table of Christ. People shall come from North and South, East and West and gather around the Table in the Kingdom of God (Luke 13:29). What if that is not simply a statement about people coming from around the globe, but a statement about opposites and enemies (North/South; East/West) coming together around the Table of God to receive the Eucharist?
I say unity DOES begin with the Eucharist because the Eucharist is the one element that most Christian traditions have in common even if we understand it differently. Most traditions assert that something special and central to Christianity is happening in the Eucharist, and somehow, in some way, Christ is present in the elements of the Eucharist; therefore, to deny people reception of the Eucharist is to decide that some people are unworthy to receive Christ.
The Old Catholic Church teaches that Christ is present in the Eucharist. We do not set out to define exactly how Christ is present. We make no claims about Transubstantiation, but neither do we set out to deny it. We believe it is more than simply a memorial celebration of Christ’s sacrifice for us, but we know that setting out to explain what exactly the Eucharist is and exactly how Christ is present only leads to disunion and attempts to keep others who do not understand as we do away from what we all admit are unworthy to receive.
4) The Old Catholic Church does not believe it is the role of clergy or even the Church itself to impose faith on others. The Church and the clergy are not to coerce belief, but simply express belief. The DECLARATIONS OF UTRECHT (or at least my understanding of them) makes clear the following points:
- We believe that the church cannot compel anyone to believe anything and that it is not the role of the church to impose “faith” on anyone, in and out of the church.
- We believe the role of the clergy is to guide morality and faith by being examples, not by being authoritarians–the clergy serves the church, they do not impose their will on it.
- We believe that the Catholic Church combats unbelief and religious indifference by faithfully professing the doctrine of Jesus Christ, by refusing to admit human error into the teaching of the Catholic Church, by weeding out any abuses of the church, and by the clergy living simple lives of faith that serve as examples to others.
By deciding who can and who cannot receive the Eucharist, the church is attempting to enforce belief on its members. The clergy are not serving as examples, but as authorities, imposing their will and beliefs onto others. This may be acceptable if it were only relegated to “Christian” and/or “Catholic” beliefs (i.e. belief in reincarnation is not Christian or a belief in the Trinity is required) but it is not limiting its enforcement to Christian or Catholic teachings, but it is using it to enforce social and political teachings. If you do not vote or support this candidate, or if you vote for that candidate, or if you want to use birth control, or if you believe this or that, you are not allowed to receive the Eucharist. So in addition to deciding who is worthy (or who is most unworthy), it is also an imposition of authoritarian rule in which personal conscience and beliefs must be sacrificed in order to receive the Sacraments.
So the Old Catholic Church offers the Eucharist to any baptized Christian who wants to receive it. You do not have to agree or accept ALL that we believe, teach, or worship. You do not even have to agree with us offering the Eucharist to everyone. If that offends you, do not receive it — but it is YOU keeping you from receiving, not us telling you that you are unable or unworthy to receive (and that is a huge difference).
I can accept ALL of this teaching! What greater symbol is there that we are ALL in fact the Body of Christ than feeding ALL the Body of Christ with the Eucharist regardless of our differences and even our disagreements. Perhaps one day we will see how all our differences and opposing views were necessary to the Body of Christ, just as we can appreciate that the mouth (which is made to make noise) and the ears (which are made to hear noise) seem to oppose each other, and yet work together for the benefit for the body.