What Gives? Archbishop of Canterbury Celebrates Eucharist in Catholic Basilica

When Anglican Rowan Williams was visiting Rome last week, the Vatican Information Service announced that “On the afternoon of Sunday, November 26, prior to his departure, Archbishop Williams will preside at an Anglican liturgy in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill.” The event duly went ahead and was reported by Rocco Palmo on his website. Among other things, he reports that:

Representing the Holy See was Kasper’s #2, Bishop Brian Farrell, LC, vested in choir dress. Canadian Fr Donald Bolen, an official at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity with responsibility for the Reformed churches, proclaimed the Gospel at the Mass after having received the archbishop’s blessing.

Now comes the aftermath. One priest commented: “Of course, the Dominicans would have to be involved. I cannot imagine that the Pope would have allowed this. What is to stop any layman going in there and performing some ritual at the altar after this disgrace?!” A layman writes: “How can it be that an Anglican clergyman – with access to his own Anglican church building in Rome – can so publicly use a Catholic altar dressed in a chasuble and carrying a crosier? And what of the reportedly extraordinary participation of Catholic curial officials?”

What does it all mean? Has a sacrilegious crime been committed? or is this now the new policy of “eucharistic hospitality” in the Catholic Church?

There are two issues here. I won’t address the issue of the Archbishop of Canterbury, wearing vestments and carrying his crosier–what does one expect him to do in a liturgical celebration? Wear suit and tie? Nor will I address the accusation against the Dominicans–the letters “LC” after Bishop Farrell’s name stands for “Legionaries of Christ”, and when I last checked there was nothing liberal or unorthodox about them. Nor will I suggest the Holy Father didn’t know this was going to happen (is there anything in the Vatican, which he doesn’t know about?).

The first real issue is whether or not a Catholic Church should be used for a Protestant Eucharist. Here the “Directory for the Application of the Principles and Norms of Ecumenism” (PCPCU, 1993) is to be consulted:

137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship. However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services.

Note the highlighted section. There is an Anglican Church in Rome. Possibly not a very large one, and since this was a public occasion, maybe the number of worshippers was larger than could possibly have fitted into the Anglican Centre. Let us be charitable, and presume that the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity was not unaware of this paragraph in their own directory.

The second issue is the question of whether or not Catholic clergy should have been involved in the Anglican liturgy. The Directory on Ecumenism says this in regard to participating in the sacramental liturgies of the Eastern churches:

126. Catholics may read lessons at a sacramental liturgical celebration in the Eastern Churches if they are invited to do so. An Eastern Christian may be invited to read the lessons at similar services in Catholic churches.

The first edition of the ecumenical directory in 1967 expressly forbade both the involvement of Protestants in a Catholic eucharistic liturgy and the involvement of Catholics in a Protestant eucharistic liturgy. The 1993 directory on the other hand, says the following:

133. The reading of Scripture during a Eucharistic celebration in the Catholic Church is to be done by members of that Church. On exceptional occasions and for a just cause, the Bishop of the diocese may permit a member of another Church or ecclesial Community to take on the task of reader.

However, unlike the reciprocal ruling with regard to the Eastern churches, there is no ruling in the directory as to whether
Catholics can be involved in a similar way in Protestant eucharistic liturgies.

Our local ordinary here in Melbourne, takes the view that unless an earlier prohibition is expressly abrogated, it remains in force. For this reason, in 2004, when the Lutheran and Catholic students of Melbourne, met to mark the fifth anniversary of the Joint Declaration On the Doctrine of Justification, we marked the occasion with Lutheran vespers rather than holy Communion, so that the Catholic visitors could also participate in the readings and prayers.

However, it is quite clear that this is not the universal interpretation of this instance. Cardinal Kasper himself has often been involved in Protestant eucharistic liturgies by reading the Scriptures. There are many instances here in this country and in others, where bishops have authorised clergy to be involved in (or have themselves personally been involved in) Protestant Eucharists. Of course, whenever this happens, the Catholic clergy usually retire from the sanctuary for the eucharistic section of the liturgy.

So there it is. That’s the law of the Church in this regard. I think there are still questions to be asked, but it seems to me to be a matter of interpretation for episcopal authority.

The only other thing I might mention is that there has been some discussion on 1) whether the Protestant Eucharist, lacking the certainty of the real presence due to the lack of validity of holy orders, is not a form of idolatry or sacrilege, and 2) what it can possibly mean for a Catholic to receive a blessing from an invalidly ordained bishop, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In both cases, I would counsel charity. While Eucharistic liturgies celebrated and blessings given by Protestant clergy lack certainty and validity, they are not empty acts or acts of sacrilege. They are “not nothing”. Often a true and correct form and intention are present (they may even be celebrated with much more dignity than our own liturgies); all that is lacking is validity of orders.

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7 Responses to What Gives? Archbishop of Canterbury Celebrates Eucharist in Catholic Basilica

  1. Peregrinus says:

    “. . . I think there are still questions to be asked, but it seems to me to be a matter of interpretation for episcopal authority.”

    Indeed. And those who rush to judgment about these matters would be wise to pause for a moment, and recall exactly where episcopal authority for the Diocese of Rome resides.

    . . . While Eucharistic liturgies celebrated and blessings given by Protestant clergy lack certainty and validity, they are not empty acts or acts of sacrilege. They are “not nothing”. Often a true and correct form and intention are present (they may even be celebrated with much more dignity than our own liturgies); all that is lacking is validity of orders.

    Couple of points:

    It may be customary for priests to give blessings, but is there anything in the nature of priesthood, or indeed of blessings, which makes it essential? Is a blessing anything more than a prayer invoking God’s particular favour? Surely any Christian can bless people or objects in this way?

    It’s a common practice for Eucharistic ministers to impart a blessing to those who approach the altar, indicating that they are not Catholics, or that they have not received their First Communion. Both priests and extraordinary ministers do this. In all the heated criticisms that I have seen in connection with extraordinary ministers, I don’t ever recall seeing the criticism that they couldn’t impart a ‘valid’ blessing.

    So I don’t know that questions over the validity of orders have anything are at all relevant to the matter of the blessing given by Archbishop Williams.

    They are relevant, obviously, to the Eucharistic nature of the service. But:

    While a service not involving a priest cannot be Eucharistic in the fullest sacramental sense, it can certainly have strong and worthy Eucharistic elements and aspects, which can be respected and honoured. An Anglican Holy Communion, as you point out, has a Catholic form and manifests a Catholic intention. Even a more Protestant service, celebrated by a minister and congregation who explicitly repudiate the Real Presence, is still an endeavour to “do this in memory of me” in obedience to the commandment of Christ, and that gives it a Eucharistic signficance.

    In any event, I think we can be too black-and-white on the issue of the validity of Anglican orders. History has moved on since Apostolicae Curae, and Archbishop Williams may not trace his apostolic succession exclusively through the Edwardian ordinations which were found wanting in that document. Most contemporary Anglican bishops can trace succession through ordinations involving Orthodox, Old Catholic and other episcopal lineages. Rome refrains from pronouncing on the validity of their orders, while in practice treating Anglican bishops in the way that other bishops are treated, e.g. by presenting them with episcopal rings and pectoral crosses. That probably hass implications for how we speak and think about Anglican eucharists.

  2. Marco Vervoorst says:

    As a so-so Anglican, I am afraid that liberal side of Anglicanism (read: all) will see this as Rome saying okay to Anglicanism, especially Rowan’s Affirming Catholicism. ++Rowan is no dunce and he will know the significance of it all.

    What I do not get is why he used a crozier? Over whom does he have authority within that jurisdiction? Anglican confused liturgical customs at its best!!!

  3. Schütz says:

    I would love to get you Marco and you Peregrinus in a room together for a conversation. I think you would talk glorious sense straight past one another!

    Marco’s fine liturgical point is a good one, a bishop doesn’t use his crosier outside his jurisdiction. Which raises wonderful questions in this case.

    Peregrinus is right in not trying to be too black and white about Eucharistic reality (I do not use the word “validity”, since we can be reasonably certain about this, but even then, it is worth seeing Fr McNamara’s latest column in Zenit on Abuses and Validity). For instance, one the one hand you have the Baptist grape juice and crackers at home in your family prayers (which lacks a fair bit of Eucharistic reality), and on the other hand you have the SSPX or Orthodox Eucharists which are regarded as having full validity, but lacking that vital element for a “real” Eucharist: communion with the whole Catholic Church.

    On Blessings.
    1) A blessing is more than a prayer. It is what is called in liturgical theology a “performative utterance”. Like absolution or consecration it actually does something, it imparts something. It is more than a prayer to God that something happen. Thus,
    2) you have to have some sort of “authority” to give a blessing. There are blessings that are not priestly–the most obvious is the blessing of a parent to child (eg. at a Wedding, when parents give their “blessing” to the marriage; or like Isaach giving Jacob a blessing in Genesis). Monarchs can also give blessings. I don’t know about Presidents.
    The issue of eucharistic ministers giving blessings is a good example. The fact is that it is an abuse for them to attempt such a thing, because they have no authority to impart or perform a blessing. There is nothing in Church law about eucharistic ministers giving blessings, because it is not a canonically recognised practice to give blessings to non-communicants in the communion procession in the liturgy. Of course, a priest may decide to do this, because he can give a blessing whenever asked, but the laity assisting with communion cannot by extension take this perogative onto themselves. Note how common the practice is for family and friends to ask a newly ordained priest to “give us your blessing”. This is because the priest has only just received this faculty.
    Nb. As far as I know, deacons can bless (eg. they give the blessing at the end of Morning Prayer or the nuptial blessing in a marriage).

  4. Tony Bartel says:

    The crosier I can j come at. As an Anglican the Archbishop of Canterbury was in the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Gibralter. In the modern rites, a diocesan bishop may give another bishop permission to carry a crosier in his diocese during a solemn Mass.

    “The bishop carries the pastoral staff in his own territory as a sign of his pastoral office, but any bishop, who with the consent of the diocesan bishop, solemnly celebrates may use the pastoral staff.” Ceremonial of Bishops 59.

    (I know it is slightly silly to talk about an Anglican bishop having jurisdiction in Rome, but the dear old Church of England is even preposterous enough to have an Archdeacon of Italy – in fact a former Anglican Archdeacon of Italy is now a priest in the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne).

    The major difficulty that I have as an Anglican is the one expressed by Father Marco. Many Anglicans will not hear of the cautions that the Holy Father expressed, or the indications that the possibility of Roman Catholic-Anglican unity is now next to impossible. They will not even know, as has been indicated elsewhere, that the Anglicans had originally requested to use Saint Paul’s outside the walls, a major basilica, and were knocked back. Instead, they will see the Archbishop of Canterbury presiding at a major Roman church, and they will think all is right with the world. It did not send a clear message to the Anglican world of the depth of disagreement that exists. For those of us who struggle to witness to catholic faith and order in the Anglican Church it is most unhelpful. I can just see a picture of this appearing in our diocesan magazine!

  5. Peregrinus says:

    Croziers: According to Wikipedia, in the eastern Churches bishops use their croziers when participating in liturgies outside their own dioceses. I suppose it is possible that Anglicans also have their own practice in this regard. Or they may follow the Latin practice, but have an exception for primates who are exercising a ‘representative’ jurisdication, as Dr Williams undoubtedly was in Rome. Or, since the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe (which covers Italy) is part of the Province of Canterbury, the Archbishop as Metropolitan may habitally use his crosier in that Diocese. Or something.

    Blessings: I take the point that in a liturgical or ritual context, blessing are (a) normally administered by ordained ministers, who (b) have express or implicit authority to do so. On the other hand, a blessing in the wider sense clearly is not an exclusively priestly function.

    Dr Williams’s blessing obviously arose in a liturgical and ritual context. But it was an Anglican liturgy. It would seem wildly irrational to allow an Anglican liturgy to be celebrated in a Catholic basilica and to have Catholic ministers participating in at least aspects of the Anglican liturgy, but then to cavil over whether Dr Williams is duly authorised in a Catholic understanding to administer a blessing in the course of that liturgy. If we can deal with the imprecision over the Eucharistic reality of the liturgy – thank you for that phrase, David – I don’t think we need worry unduly about the blessing of the Lector.

  6. Schütz says:

    Thanks for that bit of information about them being knocked back from St Paul’s Outside the Walls, Tony. That’s an important bit of info. And I am told that in fact the Anglican Centre’s Church is not small at all.

    Well, yes, re blessings, Peregrinus, you are right. I often receive a “blessing” from a Lutheran Pastor, whenever I go with my family to the Lutheran Service. But I regard this in quite a different light to a blessing from a Catholic priest. I would regard it as no different than the “blessing” prayer of a Catholic layman. I regard the blessing of an ordained Catholic to be quite a different sort of thing.

    Also, I didn’t deal with your comment about Anglican Orders. If anything, now that women bishops are being admitted into the Anglican communion, the possibility of Apostolicae Curae ever being revised is receding at a scary rate.

  7. Marco Vervoorst says:

    Dear Father Tony (and Herr Schütz),

    Without a doubt the CB allows a Roman Bishop to grant the crozier to another bishop within his diocese. However the assumption is that that bishop has jurisdiction somewhere in communion. So, one could speculate, could a return trip be on the cards: B16 at Canterbury Cathedral?

    Maybe Apostolicare Curae needs to be revisited by the Anglican side? A basic course in Sacramental Theology would not go astray either.

    This is a most interesting discussion. Why is it not happening on my blog? :ROTFLOL (Herr Schütz!!)

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