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.