Real But Imperfect Communion

Sometimes Anglicans and Roman Catholics are described as experiencing a “real but imperfect communion” in their relationship because of the many things we share…and yet the many differences which have developed during the 400-plus years of our separation. That kind of communion is never more evident for me than when the Anglican – Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA) gathers for its twice a year meetings.

We just completed the final meeting of this round in the Washington DC area. We began on Thursday October 18 with a public lecture at Georgetown University in which two longtime participants shared their perspectives on the contributions of the dialogue over some four decades. Dr. Ellen Wondra, Professor of Theology at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and Fr. Frank Sullivan, SJ, former Professor at the Gregorian Institute in Rome and later Boston College brought fascinating perspectives and hopefully those remarks will be published in the not-too-distant future.

The evening continued with a poignant Liturgy of the Hours and Office of the Dead offered in memory of Fr. George H. Tavard, A.A. — another longtime member of ARC-USA who died unexpectedly this year in a Paris airport. Bishop Ted Gulick of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky preached the homily and co-officiated with Bishop Edward Clark, Auxiliary Bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We were all then hosted by Georgetown University with a lovely reception in the Hall of Cardinals (surrounded by — usually austere! — portraits of Jesuit cardinals staring down at us from the walls.)

Our meeting then shifted to the Virginia Theological Seminary where two days of hard work allowed us to complete a brief educational piece for Spanish-speaking Episcopal and Roman Catholic congregations, setting out the similarities and differences between our two churches and the fruits of our many years of ecumenical dialogue. Once translation is completed this brochure will receive wide distribution in both churches.

We were also able to complete a joint response to the relatively new text “Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ” crafted by the Anglican – Roman Catholic International Comission (ARCIC), our colleagues on the international level. Once again, this response along with MGHC itself and two fine commentaries (one Anglican, one Roman Catholic) will be available soon.

As always we participated morning and evening in the Daily Office of our two churches and celebrated the Eucharist together each day, alternating the Episcopal and Roman Catholic rites and respecting the disciplines of our two churches with respect to sharing the Sacrament. (We serve as lectors and intercessors at the other’s Mass and come forward for a blessing at the time of Communion; the Roman Catholics do the same for us). Painful…but honest as to where we are right now on the journey.

There were many tears this time as the new round of talks beginning in 2008 will bring on new participants and take on a fresh topic.  There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that we could each join in this prayer for each other — a prayer that was the primary reading at George Tavard’s service:

“We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in our prayers for you because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you bear toward all the saints — moved as you are by the hope held in store for you in heaven.  You heard of this hope through the message of truth, the gospel, which has come to your, has borne fruit, and has continued to grow in your midst, as it has everywhere in the world.” (Colossians 1:3-6a)      

One Response to “Real But Imperfect Communion”

  1. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    i’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to chat while you were here.
    it was very nice to worship together on friday, and i thought the seminary did a good job of hospitality. was that the feeling among the participants?

    i had a nice chat with Bishop Clark this afternoon after lunch; he talked about his hopes for both documents.

    and Robert Prichard is, of course, one of my professors.

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