You've got to admire their optimism: Ecumenism in Melbourne 1973

Our Archdiocesan archivist Rachel has dug up for me an old service order with this on the front cover:

Melbourne 1973

A Meeting of the People of God

sponsored by the Fortieth International Eucharistic Congress
and the Victorian Council of Churches

Thursday 22 February, 1973
Melbourne Cricket Ground

“Love One Another as I have loved you”

Today’s Theme: Unity in Christ

It’s all very sweet–and slightly unreal from today’s perspective. Imagine filling the MCG with an ecumenical worship service today. Nnnoooo… can’t quite do it…

But what is really touching is the introduction to the service on the front page. Here are a few snippets:

This is a meeting of God’s people
Watch the crowd assembling…think of another great crowd of people–five thousand of them–who gathered long ago around Jesus not far from Lake Galilee. Jesus is with us too in this gathering of his people…
Relax… we are here to enjoy being together, to enjoy the processions and the music, to enjoy singing God’s praise and hearing his Word and offering our prayers, to enjoy eating togheter in a kind of symbolic picnic…
Think about the service which is soon to begin… We couldn’t have gathered in this way ten years ago, could we? Not from our different denominations (as we call them)… meeting in one big crowd like this, and getting to know one antoher as persons…
What will it be like in another ten years… This expression of the Church’s visible unity?

You have to admire their optimism. A bit like “those magnificent men in their flying machines” back in 1913 who said to themselves, “We couldn’t have flown around like this in our bi-planes ten years ago–think of it, we might be on the moon in ten years time!”

Given this sense of hyper-optimism, one can sort of understand why a document like the Clarifications on the Doctrine on the Church might disappoint a few. Unfortunately, what the Council actually said and what many in their enthusiasm heard the Council saying were two different things.

The moon remains a long way off.

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3 Responses to You've got to admire their optimism: Ecumenism in Melbourne 1973

  1. Peregrinus says:

    “The moon remains a long way off”

    . . . And yet it may be closer than we think.

    One thought strikes me about the (non-Catholic) reaction to the recent declaration from the CDF. It breaks down fairly neatly into:

    (a) those who say “yes, this is clear, we knew this already, we’re not bothered by this”; and

    (b) those who seem really upset.

    And group (a) largely consists of nonconforming Protestants and low-church Anglicans who are, basically, not interested in organic or institutional unity with Rome, and of Orthodox Christians who are not concerned about what Rome has to say on this particular matter – the nature of the church – because their starting position is that Rome is in error on this matter.

    Group (b), by contrast, largely consists of Anglicans and some other Protestants who already stress the catholicity of their tradition and are very concerned to maintain and enhance catholicity.

    You may say that they’re upset because Rome is putting barriers in their way, or you may say they’re upset because of the barriers which are there, and to which Rome is now pointing. But, either way, they wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t care deeply what Rome has to say. Their commitment to catholicity requires them to care what Rome says, even – perhaps especially – when they don’t like it.

    I grew up in Ireland, where the dominant Protestant traditions were Presbyterianism and a fairly low-church Anglicanism (think Sydney, but without the self-confidence). Inter-church relationships were (mostly) cordial, but thin, and very distant. It would have been unthinkable for any statement from Rome to evoke such a passionate response. A statement would probably have been ignored, but if there had been a response, it would have been a straightforward counter-blast putting an opposing view.

    If non-Catholics are now upset its precisely because we are so much closer together than we were a generation or two ago. After all, they say family rows are the most painful ones.

  2. Christine says:

    After all, they say family rows are the most painful ones.

    So very, very true. I noticed this from a very early age in my family of Catholics and Lutherans.

    The nuances of it all came much later as I grew older and saw how each side worshipped and lived out their respective Christian lives.

    Almost inevitably whenever the Vatican issues a clarification of some kind the response in the letters to the editor (at least in my area) is from Lutheran pastors and laity.

    But — I was doubly blessed in that both my Catholic and Lutheran grandmothers made the most mouthwatering hot crossed buns at Lent and my Lutheran grandmother, of all things, made the very best Paczki (although she called them Faschingskrapften — my husband’s Polish American culture has changed some of my German nomenclature) for Lent.

    How ecumenical can you get ??

  3. Christine says:

    I’m further thinking about the implications of the comments that Cardinal Walter Kasper made a while back:

    While many of the doctrinal differences that divided Christians for centuries are close to being resolved, different approaches to modern ethical questions are making Christian unity appear as distant as ever, said Cardinal Walter Kasper.

    “I am very sad we are not able to speak with one voice on these issues to a world that needs to hear,” the cardinal said on Friday at an international ecumenical conference at Ushaw College, a Catholic seminary in Durham.

    The cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, received an honorary doctorate on Thursday from the University of Durham and delivered the keynote address the following day at the opening of an ecumenical conference organised by the university to discuss steps the Catholic Church and its dialogue partners should take at a time when full church unity seems distant.

    Cardinal Kasper told conference participants that believing Christians cannot give up hope for Christian unity because church division is “a sin before God and a scandal before the world.”

    However, he acknowledged a sense that, after 40 years of what appeared to be major progress toward unity, ecumenical dialogue has come up against serious, unforeseen obstacles.

    Differences among Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants over issues such as homosexual activity, abortion, euthanasia and other moral questions “are not on the top of the hierarchy of truths” – like the belief in Jesus as saviour is – “but they are very emotional and, therefore, very divisive,” the cardinal said.

    Just five or six years ago, he said, Catholic bishops and leaders of some other churches seemed ready to explore concrete steps their communities could take toward organizational unity.

    Since then, however, it has become clear that “both the ecumenical mood and the ecumenical situation worldwide have changed so radically as to virtually run counter to the ecumenical movement toward unity,” he said.

    Add to that the fact that some mainstream Protestants such as the ECLA and the Anglican/Episcopal communities are now ordaining women bishops, we seem to have some new challenges to work out.

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