Academic journal article Theological Studies

Roman Catholic Theologies of Eucharistic Communion: A Contribution to Ecumenical Conversation

Academic journal article Theological Studies

Roman Catholic Theologies of Eucharistic Communion: A Contribution to Ecumenical Conversation

Article excerpt

IN ECUMENICAL DIALOGUE with representatives of other churches, Roman Catholic participants have generally been able to subscribe to mutually agreed statements on issues such as eucharistic memorial, eucharistic presence, and even eucharistic sacrifice. A fruitful approach has been to situate definitions and confessions in their historical context, both doctrinal and practical, so as to promote understanding of the real concern and horizon of the doctrine. The limitations of a particular doctrinal formulation, when related to foundations in Scripture and tradition and when interpreted relative to its own time and to these foundations, can then be superseded while doing justice at the same time to its truth and its concerns.(1)

Ecumenical conversations, however, have moved by and large beyond accounting for differences on controverted issues to a common renewal of eucharistic theology that may rest upon a different foundation. In many cases, what is suggested is a theology of koinonia, communion, which considers the Church's participation in the koinonia of the Trinity through Eucharist and looks at this in light of the missions of Word and Spirit in the economy of redemption.(2)

The most significant contribution to this development comes from the appropriation of elements from Eastern Christian practice and theology, with stress on the Eucharist in the local church, the action of the Holy Spirit, and the ground of all eucharistic theology in the rite of celebration taken as a whole unit.(3) Not surprisingly, the use of the image of koinonia has also influenced other dialogues in which the Roman Catholic Church participates.(4)

Among ecumenical conversations between Western churches, the international Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue is perhaps the most interesting in this regard, especially in the three phases of addressing agreement on the Eucharist. The first phase has pointed to common foundations that serve as a basic agreement and resolution of differences on such points as sacrifice and presence.(5 )The second phase, against the context of the disputes of the 16th century, has presented the theologies of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the Council of Trent as important differences in explanation that could however relate to the profession of the one, fundamental, eucharistic faith(.6) In the third phase, where reference to the Eucharist was introduced into doctrinal discussion on Church and justification, a theology of koinonia has been presented as the context for better understanding eucharistic doctrine and practice.(7)

The meaning given to koinonia in various ecumenical conversations is not without some ambivalence, but it does offer an avenue of research and reflection that may lead to greater unity. While an invisible factor of communion in faith and charity in common adherence to Christ and to the Spirit seems often taken for granted, attention is drawn to the external or visible elements of communion found within a given church or between churches. Individual churches, or churches in relation to one another, can be said to have communion in one professed faith, or in one commonly recognized baptism. Some communion in prayer, service, and mission can also exist.

The Orthodox contribution to eucharistic agreements does most to relate this visible communion and what it signifies to the koinonia of the divine Trinity as manifested in the history of salvation and in the eucharistic liturgy.(8) As the International Roman Catholic/Orthodox statement published at Munich in 1982 puts it, the Church is the "sacrament of the Trinitarian koinonia," and this identity is most fundamentally realized where the "eucharistic celebration makes present the Trinitarian mystery of the Church." Some statements of agreement add that the communion of the Church, precisely because rooted in that of the Trinity, is, in God's design, intimately related to the communion of all humankind. …

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