Saturday, 12 May 2007

On Being Ecumenical

Here's a good topic for things new and old; ecumenism.
For a fairly traditional priest (I love saying the old Mass and wish I could do it all the time) I have this uneasy feeling that I am being inconsistent when I say that I am also quite ecumenical. Now don't jump down my throat: I believe in everything that the Church teaches, and I think that those in other communions should be helped to believe it too. I just think that friendliness might actually be a better tool to achieve the end than icy indifference or heated hostility.
Here in our little town of Blogbury there has long been a custom to have an ecumenical evening service every time there is a fifth Sunday in the month. It rotates around the various communions in the town, and I was reminded by my opposite numbers that it was very definitely our turn to host it. Well, I was very reluctant indeed, because we have an evening Mass, and I didn't want (a) to abolish it in favour of a hymn sandwich which some Catholics would regard as fulfilling their Sunday obligation, or (b), more urgently, sacreligous communions from Protestants who see it as their right to take Communion in all churches whatever. One Protestant laywoman suggested that she would actually like to see (in all its superstitious horror) what we actually got up to when we claimed to be worshipping God. (No, those weren't her words).
So I offered to do a 'slow-motion Mass' where at all the permitted points I would pause and explain what was going on. I thought it might be a good way to get rid of some prejudices and perhaps even persuade some of the beauty of the Holy Sacrifice.
Well, when the evening came, there were as many Protestants as Catholics in the church. We started with exposition and Benediction, and then had the slow-motion Mass. No music, just solid Catholic doctrine. Twice I reminded them that only Catholics could receive Communion, and only two tried to do so. I gather afterwards that they were deaf and genuinely thought I was inviting them to Communion!
But it was the reaction that most interested me. Some Catholics were pretty opposed to the idea of the Mass, on ecumenical grounds. But in fact, the feedback from the non-Catholics was unanimously positive. What they said was that it explained the eucharist for them.
How things have changed! I didn't hold back on any Catholic doctrine; they got bloody sacrifice re-presented in an unbloody manner; body, blood soul, divinity—the works. It should have sent at least some of them shrieking from the church. But they smiled gently and said how interesting they found it; how much they enjoyed it, and went home as much Anglicans, Methodists and Baptists as they arrived. They just think that their ministers do the same thing, only with fewer vestments.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can't make up my mind.


Mac McLernon said...

Hey, I'm all for ecumenism...

(absolutely anybody can become Catholic...)


Anonymous said...

I think it is a good thing. We are all human beings after all, we should hold up our similarities not our differences.

Differences lead to sectarianism and the believe that some are more equal than others and that must be a bad thing.

Henry Bloggins said...

In the RCIA those not yet initiated into the Catholic Church are asked, in accord with ancient practice, to leave after the Liturgy of the Word. I am not sure the Mass should be used for every occassion, and certainly an ecumenical service were a large part of the congregation is excluded from participating in the mysteries celebrated seems inappropriate, especially in these days when Catholics rarely refrain from communion.

Anonymous said...

It delights me to know that Christ carries the lambs in his arms even when they/we do not know it.

Anonymous said...

When faced with the Truth, we can never see things any other way again and we become quite convinced that our understanding was also so. You lose nothing and gain all.

Parishioner said...


Yes, I am familiar with the service - I think it went quite well really.

Anonymous said...

Well done Fr............Mass most definitely and your commentary and catchisis excellent. A reminder to our non-practicing Catholics that they should not receive Holy Communion is also necessary.