THE RC Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Revd Malcolm McMahon, told an audience at Liverpool Parish Church on Saturday of his longing to share the eucharist with them.
It was “difficult” to explain to Christians of other Churches that they could not receive holy communion in a Catholic church, he said. “On a personal note, my prayer is that of the Lord: that we may all be one. I have longed to share this passover with you.”
He was speaking during an ecumenical conversation about the place of the eucharist in the life of the Church, held during the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage and Congress in Liverpool, the first such congress held in Britain since 1908. More than 10,000 people are estimated to have gathered in the city for the largest Catholic procession in the UK since Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1982.
After a series of events throughout the weekend, many of them held at the Echo arena, Cardinal Vincent Nichols celebrated mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, on Sunday, before thousands braved the rain to process through the city with the Blessed Sacrament.
In his remarks during the ecumenical conversation, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said that, while he could not share in the sacrament, “I know and I hope that in attending the solemn mass, and in venerating what my friends venerate, I am gathering with them around the table of the poor carpenter, where, in the end, we will all sit and be filled.”
MAZUR/CATHOLICNEWS.ORG.UKThousands joined the procession of the Blessed Sacrament in Liverpool, in the rain, on Sunday
Reflecting on the spectrum of views in the C of E about the nature of the real presence of Christ in the eucharist (whether corporeal or pneumatic), he suggested that “philosophical clarity is not important for us”.
There were, however, two “extreme views”: at one end, “full and glad embracing of the doctrine of transubstantiation”, and, at the other, the eucharist as “a reminder, like a photograph, and nothing more”.
He went on: “The problem is that in Anglicanism these two extreme views — neither of which is held by many — is presented as a bare choice. . . This crude opposition is not a helpful frame for our theology, or our devotion.”
He quoted from remarks he had made during his installation, in which he drew on the image of a table: “If you sit at his table he will feed you, and he will ask you to feed others; he will serve you, and he will ask you to serve others; he will love you, and he will ask you to love others.”
Archbishop McMahon explained that “the Church has never taught that the reserved eucharist should be honoured in isolation from the liturgical life of the Church”.
He explained: “The Holy Eucharist was initially reserved for the sick. So that if they could not attend mass to receive Holy Communion they could have the sacrament brought to them. It followed because it was reserved it became an object of devotion. But the church has never taught that reserved eucharist should be honoured in isolation of the liturgical life of the church. When the faithful honour Christ present in the sacrament they should remember that this presence is derived from and directed towards sacramental and spiritual communion.”
He feared that eucharistic processions had, regrettably, “become triumphalist in some places”.
On Saturday, Cardinal Vincent Nichols spoke of the need for penitence.
“There is not one iota of triumphalism or pride in our steps,” he said. “In many ways, ours is a penitential procession; for we are focused on Jesus, whom we have crucified. Yet we walk with a humble joy; for he takes our failure, cruelty, and deceit, and overcomes it all with his love and mercy. He is our salvation, and it is our humble joy to let his face be seen: his face of tender compassion and hope for our broken world.”
The Liverpool Methodist District Chair, the Revd Dr Sheryl Anderson, described how Methodism inherited from the Wesleys “a devout appreciation of holy communion as a divinely appointed means of grace”, but suggested that, today, Methodists “vary hugely in their attachment to holy communion. For some, it is at the very heart of their discipleship; for some, it is one treasured means of grace among others; and, for a small minority of Methodists, communion is not perceived as either desirable or necessary.”
MAZUR/CATHOLICNEWS.ORG.UKCardinal Vincent Nichols (centre)
She went on: “To most Methodists, Christ’s presence in the consecrated elements is not an issue with which they are greatly concerned, and they do not emphasise any particular moment or words in the liturgy as effecting an act of consecration.”
For Methodists, “theology often arises from reflection on practice rather than beginning with ‘abstract’ theories. . . They are truest to themselves when they express, transmit, and modify their beliefs in the context of the worshipping, learning, serving, and witnessing life of the faith community — in the Church and in the wider world.”
The Rector of Liverpool, the Revd Dr Crispin Pailing, said that hosting the discussion was important, “because it showed that our dialogue and friendship must be more than platitudes. We heard some of the pain that we cannot share the eucharist, but also heard with great humility how the eucharist continues to feed us in our different church traditions.”
The ecumenical conversation took place against a backdrop of long-running ecumenical discussions between the C of E and the two Churches: the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission (News, 4 July), and Mission and Ministry in Covenant, which proposes interchangeability of ministers with the Methodist Church (Synod, 16 February).