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Communion Means Communion


A Communion of churches, at the very least surely, are churches that can celebrate communion together, churches where they accept the validity of each others ordinations, churches where someone ordained in one church can preside in the other.

What is called “The Anglican Communion” is not such a communion.

At the recent meeting of Anglican Primates, there was no shared Eucharist as part of their meeting timetable. The normal round of worship continued in Canterbury Cathedral, and the Primates attended, or didn’t, and the international-tea-leaf-reading community tried to work out what was happening from who attended Evensong, what they were wearing, whether they processed or not, and even what posture people had.

Some Primates went to communion services; others did not.

The Primates are the first-among-equals-bishops in each of the 38 Provinces/Churches of “The Anglican Communion”. Someone will know the last time the Anglican Primates celebrated communion together.

Internationally, Anglican Churches have been unable to accept the validity of each others ordinations since the ordination of women. But little fuss was made of this (women, after all, being the majority in Anglicanism). Only with the ordination of a publicly-non-celibate homosexual did the fuss begin (homosexuals, after all, being a very small minority). In contrast to what happened, traditional sacramental theology would debate the validity of of women’s ordination but would not question the validity of ordaining a practicing homosexual. Anglican church leaders appear to have missed their classes both on ecclesiology and on sacramental theology.

The Eucharist is the source and the summit of our Christian life – including our unity. It is the source before it is the summit. One might say, hence, that the Eucharist is more source. We will not reach the summit if we do not draw on Christ the source in the Eucharist.

But the Primates, and other Anglican leaders, have reversed this dynamic. They will not draw near and receive the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in order to grow together until they have humanly reached the summit of cobbling together a unity that, following traditional theology, hasn’t been broken. The very act that Christ gives us to draw us into unity is evaded.

There is a problem with a word when there is only one of something. This is essentially the situation with the word “Communion” in “Anglican Communion”. There are similar collections of churches (Eastern Orthodoxy; Old Catholic), but the word “Communion” is generally used not for those but for “The Anglican Communion”. In some sense, then, “The Anglican Communion” defines the word “Communion”. Nowadays “Communion” is increasingly used by church leaders as something more like “working together to serve the world in the name of Christ”. The fact that we do not receive communion together is left out of the picture. I continue to think communion means communion.

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23 thoughts on “Communion Means Communion”

  1. “They will not draw near and receive the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in order to grow together until they have humanly reached the summit of cobbling together a unity that, following traditional theology, hasn’t been broken. The very act that Christ gives us to draw us into unity is evaded.”

    Ouch. Very good point.

  2. Margot Fernandez

    I am an American Episcopalian. I am no longer welcome at the altar of the Anglican Communion no matter how Archbishop Welby wiggles and equivocates. Fine! As far as we are concerned, “all are alike in Christ Jesus,” and the Anglicans can grovel in front of African bishops who committed war crimes and we will STILL welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters to our altar FOR ALL THE SACRAMENTS.

    1. Thanks, Margot. I understand your anger; I do not think there is an “altar of the Anglican Communion”, or at least I do not understand what and where such an altar is. Nor do I see who has the authority to bar you from it. That you feel unwelcome exasperates me also. Blessings.

  3. I participate in receiving communion in any church I attend, whether Anglican or not. It is the Lord’s offering to his world. Those celebrating together, celebrate Christ and present him to all, first round the table, then on exit in work and service.

  4. “They will not draw near and receive the Body and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ in order to grow together until they have humanly reached the summit of cobbling together a unity that, following traditional theology, hasn’t been broken. The very act that Christ gives us to draw us into unity is evaded.”

    Yours is a very astute comment Bosco. But it also strikes me as fundamentally at odds with the gospel accounts of the Last Supper where one of those invited had already agreed to betray Jesus, anither was just about to deny even knowing him, and the rest run away, and at the supper they were arguing about who would be the next leader. But despite all their human failings and petty squables Jesus still invited them all.

    Perhaps there is a message in that for us all ?

    God Bless

  5. Well Bosco, you’ve certainly made it with this posting – as Poster-Boy on the “Episcopa Cafe’ (TEC) web-site, no less! I am more than impressed. As the person who first encouraged me to begin my own blog at ‘kiwianglo’, I salute your dedication to the www as a means of propagating the gospel of OLJC.

    This article on the Eucharist – as source of all that we might seek to do for Christ – in both the Church and the World, is basic to my own under standing of what the Church is all about. Without the intimacy of sharing the Holy Communion, what on earth have we in common that can overcome our natural human tendency to pull apart?

    Congratulations on your recognition by TEC.

  6. It is sad that not all Anglicans are prepared to break bread together because of theological issues. If you say the Anglican Church is not a Communion, would you say its a loose federation of churches that are united by a shared history?

    1. Thanks, Rob. I’m sure you will agree that the way one asks a question affects the direction that it can be answered. I would not refer to the international body, “The Anglican Communion”, as “The Anglican Church”. I would only use “The Anglican Church” language of each province. I would also wonder about how strongly we can use the word “united” currently. On the other hand, I do not like the understanding of churches “federating”. I guess we are, in the words of Spock to Jim – “it’s a Communion, Jim, but not as we know it.” Sorry to be so little help. Blessings.

  7. Thanks for your words, Fr. Bosco – eloquently and thoughtfully put!

    A question, though: this week’s Church of England podcast includes a section from Abp. Welby where the Archbishop describes (actually quite movingly) the closing Eucharist at the Primates’ Meeting in the Crypt at Canterbury Cathedral, at which Jean Vanier spoke and the Primates washed each others’ feet. Was this Eucharist not attended by all the Primates? Or was it not part of the meeting timetable, or was it rather part of the regular round of worship at Canterbury Cathedral? I do not think the answer affects the broader point you raise very much, but I am curious.

    1. Thanks, Ben. Our NZ Primate wrote about this also. I attempt to find a link to where this is clarified and if/when I do, I will update this comment. Blessings.

    2. We know from other sources that the GAFCON primates had left the meeting on Thursday.

      I don’t recall from all the post-commentary anyone stating that primates who were at Canterbury refused to attend.

  8. Fr Jim Rosenthal

    The Primates Mass at Zanzibar Cathedral during the TANZANIA Meeting was a planned service and certainly most were there and communicated The Primate of Tanzania was the celebrant, Bishop Katherine was there and the Mass was old school Anglican Catholic, 100 voice choir, it was communion

    1. Thanks, Fr Jim. So you are saying that it was “mostly” a communion in 2007? I think that is drawing a very long bow. Who were not there? And why? Would there have been any difference, at that meeting, if Bishop Katherine had presided? If so [and I think it would – Tanzanian Anglicans do not recognise women presiding at the Eucharist], you are reinforcing my point. Blessings.

  9. It does seem, from all the reports, that though there were daily Celebrations of the Eucharist in Canterbury Cathedral during the time of the Primates’ Meeting, they were not seen as part of the Meeting programme.

    However, it seems also that the final Meeting of the Primates did include a Eucharist and Foot Washing, but some of the Primates had already left. So what does that say about intentional Eucharistic Community?

    Surely, having come from so far away to attend this important meeting, each of the Primates would have sheduled themeselves to attend the whole advertised programme. Unless, of course they felt they needed other options!

  10. Thank you, Bosco, for both the clarity and wit of your post. In the absence of shared communion, how can we become what we are? We might learn from the contemporary explorations of “public art” – art defined not simply as an object to be looked at but as a situation which creates interactions and relationships which would not otherwise happen among strangers in public spaces. Eucharist creates a situation of communion in which the fine distinctions of separate minds may be set aside or even transcended. You are right to say we must begin there, and not defer the representation of communion to a perhaps unreachable horizon.

  11. The Archbishop of Canterbury, in the press conference immediately following the Primates Gathering, referenced their celebrating the Eucharist and foot washing. It happened on Thursday, I believe. From what I can gather, all were there except the Archbishop of Uganda, who had already departed.

  12. OH WAIT one second here. I didn’t know that all the Primates didn’t go to the Eucharist with each other at the last meeting. And on top of everything they have said about TEC and all, I find this very disturbing. Nothing, above all NOTHING, should keep us from Our Lord present in His Body and Blood. Not only do i say SHAME on all the Primates who wish to continue this fussing and fighting and tearing apart God’s Church, but I say a bigger SHAME because they refused to receive the Lord in Holy Communion alongside their brothers they disagree with. What will Jesus think?

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