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The Church and the eucharist

10 July 2015

Christopher Hill reads important writings on koinonia and mission


Cardinal Kasper: giving an interview to the Associated Press last year

Cardinal Kasper: giving an interview to the Associated Press last year

The Catholic Church: Nature, reality and mission
Walter Kasper
T & T Clark £35
Church Times Bookshop £31.50


Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission: Gathering God’s people, going out in God’s name
Ruth A. Meyers
Eerdmans £17.99
Church Times Bookshop £16.20



CARDINAL KASPER is known to Anglicans mostly for his cautions on the ordination of women to the episcopate at the last Lambeth Conference and the House of Bishops. He is, therefore, categorised as a conservative. Kasper remains cautious in The Catholic Church, the third of a systematic trilogy: Jesus, God, and now the Church understood as communion.

His work in Rome as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity understandably delayed this last instalment. Though Kasper remains cautious on the ordination of women, he deserves to be better understood by Anglicans, not least because of his recent unofficial status as Pope Francis’s adviser for pastoral development in relation to family matters at the forthcoming second part of the Episcopal Synod on the Family this autumn. For most Roman Catholics, Kasper appears to be challenging conservative positions. This shows the traps of theological labelling.

The book is fascinating on any account, as Kasper gives much space to his theological autobiography. There is deference to Möhler, the 19th-century German Newman at Tübingen. Kasper’s ecclesiology will be familiar to ecumenists and ecclesiologists: an ecclesiology of koinonia, communion, which moves away from a static judicial conception of the Church and is the basis of almost all the great ecumenical agreements of the late 20th century, as well as Vatican II.

Anglican ecumenists will, however, miss a detailed understanding of the Anglican tradition. For Kasper, the Reformation is very much Luther. But they will welcome his extended discussion on the simultaneity of the local and universal Church — in which he reflects on a theological argument with the then Cardinal Ratzinger. This has direct relevance for the agenda of ARCIC III.

At almost 480 pages, Kasper’s systematic ecclesiology is no quick read. But it ought to be read by all serious students of ecclesiology as an important and — in spite of Kasper’s innate caution — open invitation to dialogue.

Ruth Meyers is less well known; she is Professor of Liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, and chairs the US Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. On this side of the Pond, people are usually interested in either liturgy or mission — but, again, here is the danger of theological labelling.

Missional Worship, Worshipful Mission is organised around the classical-shape liturgical worship and explores its missional significance: gathering as God’s people; proclaiming and responding to the Word of God; celebrating the sacrament; and being sent out into the world. Reconciliation and intercession are also duly explored.

Meyers carefully defines her terms and emphasises the meaning of liturgy as work for the common good. The references range from apt patristic quotation to intelligent interrogation of Fresh Expressions. The important lesson of her book is the danger of not holding mission and worship together, of dismissing the missional power of good liturgy, and of not offering Christians the nourishing diet of classical sacramental worship.

But Meyers’s powerful plea is neither antiquarian nor Prayer Book fundamentalist. Her final chapter ought to be recommended practice for all newly ordained priests and others longer in the tooth who prepare worship.

This is not going through a check-list. It is doing “word and sacrament in strength” (quoting Gordon Lathrop). Against the six-fold shape earlier outlined, she intersects in matrix form the consideration of people, places, space, time, objects, actions, texts, music, and, yes, silence. Good liturgy is powerful, enabling the eucharist to be, as Wesley called it, a “converting ordinance”.

She deserves to be read, because we need to hear this message in all parts of the Church of England today — not least those who kill the Word by words.


The Rt Revd Christopher Hill is President of the Conference of European Churches. He is a former Bishop of Guildford.

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