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Women Deacons in the Catholic Church: Quick Facts and Thoughts
You have probably heard by now that, while addressing 900 women religious (i.e., sisters) in Rome for the meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, Pope Francis was asked to study the question of women in the diaconate. He responded in the affirmative: He said understanding about their role in the early Church remained unclear and agreed it would be useful to set up a commission to study the question.
You may know my doctoral research is on the diaconate, through the lens of receptive ecumenism. So, while others, like Phyllis Zagano, Gary Macy, Aime Georges Mortimort, and Cipriano Vagaggini, have explored the topic of women deacons more directly, I do have something more than gut instinct to offer. Some quick facts and reflections
- The diaconate is the oldest order of ministry in the church, especially if you count the Seven in Acts 6 as deacons. They preexist both bishops and presbyters.
- The Seven in Acts 6 are not deacons, however. At least, not according to the Scriptures themselves. It was not until Irenaeus (c.130-202) that they are identified as such, perhaps by this analogy. At most, we can see in the Seven a prefiguring of the diaconate inasmuch as we see in the Twelve a prefiguring of the episcopate.
- In the New Testament, while diakonia/diakonos are used several times, there are various meanings. Only three times is it clear that we are talking about an office of ministry in the Church: Romans 16.1, Philippians 1.1, and 1 Timothy 3.8-12.
- In two of those three, women are clearly included as deacons.
- In those cases the same word, diakonos (s.) or diakonoi (pl.), is used for both men and women. The use of deacon for men and deaconess for women comes later, in the early to mid third century. (see below)
- Phoebe in Romans 16.1 is the first person named as a deacon in Scripture.
(Stephen, protomartyr, is never called a deacon in the New Testament!)
- 1 Timothy 3 details the qualities of bishops and deacons (no reference to presbyters/priests). Male and female deacons are both addressed in vv.8-13.
- Diakonia is ministry. Not “service” – at least, not if you mean “serving at tables”. “Service” works only if you recall that service is leadership, according to Jesus at the Last Supper. Diakonia is a ministry of servant-leadership, which is why it is a quality of bishops and deacons both.
Select Patristic sources:
(By no means exhaustive)
- “The bishop is the image God the Father; the deacon stands in the place of Christ the Son; the presbyterate succeeds the role of the senate of God or the assembly of apostles.”(Ignatius, c.110)
- The first mention of “deaconess” – a gender-differentiated term rather than just including women as deacons – as noted in the International Theological Commission’s 2002 study on the Diaconate, is in the Didascalia Apostolorum (c.250):
- “The bishop sits for you in the place of God Almighty. But the deacon stands in the place of Christ; and do you love him. The deaconess shall be honored by you in the place of the Holy Spirit…”
- The Apostolic Constitutions apply the concept of cleros (clergy) to the following, in order: bishop, deacon, presbyter, deaconess, subdeacon, cantor, reader.
- Jerome is famous for his disdain of deacons, complaining that they should not see themselves as more important than the presbyterate, the council of elders who advise bishops. However, he acknowledges that the reason for this misconception lies in the fact that deacons are paid more than presbyters, and have more responsibility in assisting the bishop.
While we all know that the Anglicans, Lutherans, and other churches and ecclesial communities born from the Reformations ordain women, even to the diaconate, many Catholics would be sadly uninterested because of the fact that while we recognize the real and effective nature of their ministry, we do not recognize the sacramental validity vis a vis apostolic succession in a juridical sense. This is insufficient reason to dismiss the reality or ecumenical importance of this practice in itself, but, for the sake of brevity, I will look East to where there is an undisputed view of the validity of orders: The Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Assyrian Church of the East.
Surely they would laugh at us for even discussing the ordination of women?
- First, the Orthodox are clear on the distinction between ordination (cheirotonia) for “major orders” and consecration/blessing (cheirothesia) for “minor orders”.
- Ordination (cheirotonia) is conducted inside the sanctuary, while the blessing or consecration (cheirothesia) of minor orders (cantor, reader, subdeacon, etc.) was conducted outside the sanctuary.
- The deaconess is clearly ordained (cheirotonia), and conducted within the sanctuary. Not only is she ordained, properly speaking, but it is a major, not a minor order.
- The Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as the Orthodox Churches of Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Japan all currently have, or have recently had, ordained deaconesses.
- Due to early medieval development of the office, especially in the East, Deaconesses are now generally found in monastic communities (not unlike Orthodox bishops, who always come from monastic priests).
- In fact, even in the west, vestiges of this conflation of the offices of deaconess and abbess remain in that some orders of nuns are still invested with diaconal stole and other symbols of the office (e.g., Carthusians).
Contemporary Catholic Considerations:
- Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, made it clear the Church cannot possibly ordain women to the episcopate or the presbyterate, because women cannot be configured to act in persona Christi capitis. In this case, acting “as Christ the head [of the Church]” narrowly means “priesthood” – presiding at Eucharist – not the more broad understanding of a ministry of ecclesial governance or pastoral leadership. He deliberately excluded the diaconate from this prohibition.
- Pope Benedict XVI opened the door for the ordination of women by changing Canon Law in 2009, with his motu proprio Omnium in Mentem. Following the logic above, he changed canons §1008 and 1009 to exclude the diaconate from being one of those ministries “configured to the person of Christ the Head”. This eliminates, or appears to eliminate, the need to be configured to the maleness of Jesus, as well.
- As the current prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, wrote in his book Priesthood and Diaconate, it is the unity of the three orders of ministry that would prevent women from being ordained to any one if forbidden from the other two. A clear demarcation – say, by developing a theology of sacramental priesthood that includes two orders and excludes the third – opens the door to different theologies of who can be ordained.
- Since we know little of the duties of a deaconess beyond the liturgical, principally assisting the bishop at full-immersion baptism and initiation, Müller and others object to the pastoral need for that exact same ministry today. In part, this is an objection to the compromise proposals of theologians like Walter Kasper, who suggested re-instituting the order of deaconesses as a non-ordained ministry, along the lines of the revival of consecrated virgins.
- One significant discussion is whether “deaconess” and “woman deacon” are the same thing. A popular post on the topic notes that both pope and prefect know that “the deaconesses of history ‘were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.'” Though this is not necessarily helpful, as women are not “purely and simply equivalent” to men, either. That makes them no less equal.
- Resulting questions include, are women ordained to the same order of diaconate as men, or are they ordained to a distinct order? If distinct, does that mean we have four ordained offices in the Church, not three? Were there historically two different realities: ordained women deacons and merely consecrated deaconesses (essentially a society of apostolic life, in contemporary terminology)?
- A critique to the Müller objections, however, is that he seems to suggest that deaconesses would have to be identical to their patristic-era form. But of course, this is contrary to the reality of all other ministries. If we went back to the earliest forms, with all three orders together, without historical development, it might look like this:
- The bishop would be mega-parish pastor and the only minister allowed to preside at Christian Initiation and Eucharist;
- The deacons (and deaconesses?) would be the senior (possibly, only) paid staff assisting the bishop, most likely to succeed him, and the career-path of choice for the ecclesial-minded;
- The presbyterate would be a consultative council of mostly older, married men whose career was secular and whose only responsibility is advising the bishop and his deacons.
In any case, the restoration of the diaconate called for at Vatican II (LG, 29) “reestablished the principle of the permanent exercise of the diaconate and note one particular form which the diaconate had taken in the past.” (ITC, Diaconate Study, 73). Moreover, this restoration is a work in progress:
- We still have a transitional diaconate to be suppressed. (Historically understandable, it makes as much sense theologically as a transitional presbyterate for deacon candidates).
- We still have people who think the main difference between deacons and presbyters is marriage and celibacy, respectively. I have heard people complain because the deacon kissed his wife while still in vestments/clerical suit; others still refer to a “lay diaconate” because, clearly, celibacy is the mark of clergy, not ordination!
- We still have people who think that the nature of the diaconate is to be a volunteer ministry performed by retirees.
- We still have people who think diakonia means “menial service” and forbid deacons from exercising their vocation to leadership in the church, even participating in governance in the offices that were once (in other titles) theirs exclusively, i.e., vicars general, episcopal, and forane.
- We still have a wide variety of formation programs for deacons, from requiring an S.T.B. or M.Div. (equivalent to formation for presbyters) to little less than certification for Sunday school catechist.
- We still have dioceses where deacons are not allowed to preach, or where deacons are forbidden from wearing clerical clothing (while seminarians are allowed to do so?).
And so on. We have a lot of theology left to work out. More importantly, a lot of theology in hand has yet to be put into practice, codified into law, or supported by structures. If this conversation and study of women in the diaconate helps with that, so much the better!
Theology Jokes 2016
Q: What do you call a sleepwalking nun?
A: A Roamin’ Catholic!
A father and a son are seated at dinner having a steak on a Lenten Friday, when the boy makes a realization and says, “Some people don’t eat meat on Fridays because there is a separation of Church & Steak!”
Q: How does Moses make his coffee?
A: Hebrews it.
A man walks up to God ands says: “God, how long is a million years for you?”
God answers, “Oh… about a minute.”
Man: “And how about a million dollars?”
God: “About a penny.”
Man: “In that case, Lord, may I borrow a penny?”
God: “Give me a minute.”
A Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit discover the real tomb of Jesus, only to find his mortal remains still inside. Horrified, they each react differently.
The Franciscan says, “This changes our whole ministry, we cannot tell anyone!”
The Dominican says, “This changes all of our doctrine, we should not tell anyone!”
The Jesuit says, “Well, I’ll be damned, He did exist!”
“Jesus, get your butt out of bed! Morning mass starts in 5 minutes!”
If Eve sacrificed the future of the whole human race for an apple… what would she do for a Klondike bar?
A new monk arrives at an ancient monastery and sees all the monks copying texts. He goes to the abbot, slightly confused and asked him why the copy the copies rather than the original, because they could be copying the same mistakes.
The abbot , recognizing he has a point, goes to the storage room to find the originals. A few hours later, he is still gone, and the new monk sets out to look for him. He finds the abbot in the basement, holding one of the most ancient manuscripts in his hands, sobbing.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” the young monk asks, worried.
The abbot replies, tearfully, “The word is celebrate. Celebrate!”
A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?!” (Insert laughter here)
Q: What made the priest giggle?
A: Mass Hysteria!
There are three things that even God does not know about the Church:
1) How many congregations of religious women are there?
2) How much money do the Franciscans have stashed away?
3) What do the Jesuits really think and what are they going to do next?
Three famous theologians have just arrived in Heaven, and they are all waiting outside of a room for a debriefing interview with St. Peter.
The first to go in is Walter Kasper, and he is called into the room. He is in there for about an hour, and when he comes out he has tears of joy and relief streaming down his face.
He is overheard saying to himself: “I was afraid I was wrong about so many things!”
The second is Hans Küng. After he is called into the room, he is in there for a few hours. When he comes out, he is shaking his head in disbelief, and he looks troubled.
He says to himself as he leaves: “I cannot believe I was wrong about so many things!”
The third is Joseph Ratzinger. He goes in with a portfolio of lecture notes penned while in retirement. He is in there for days. Finally, the doors open and St. Peter comes out, saying “I cannot believe I was wrong about everything!”
Very brief observation on Anglican-Catholic relations
The Holy See tends to see the Anglican Communion as the Church of England;
Anglicans tend to see the Catholic Church as the Church of Rome.
While Rome and Canterbury are sister churches in need of full communion, they represent communions broader that the local primatial sees!
Thank you, Dame Mary Tanner.
Seriously, Anglicans, referring to the Catholic Church as the “Roman Church” is equivalent to Catholics referring to the Anglican Communion as the “Church of Canterbury”, or “Canterburian Church”.
Moreover, “Roman Catholic” is better suited for the Latin Church – it excludes all the Eastern Catholics. It is entirely inaccurate to apply this name to the entire Catholic Communion. Even if you can find pre-Vatican II era Catholic texts that do so (the only post-conciliar texts which do so are ecumenical concessions…)
There are more Catholics in say, Brazil (130 million), than in Italy (50 million). More Catholics in the Church of Mexico City (7 million) than in the Church of Rome (2.5 million).
I have lived near, and even in, the same monastery from which St. Gregory the Great sent missionaries to England at the turn of the seventh century, so i understand the deep relationship between the Church of England and the local Church of Rome, but let us remember the bigger picture.
As for the Holy See, one could hear in recent years the lament that “there’s no point in ecumenism any more now that they ordain women bishops.” As if the 2015 ordination of Allison White in the Church of England was the first in the Communion, and not Barbara Harris in 1989 in the Episcopalian Church (U.S.).
Similarly, the Holy See tends to see all of Lutheranism as it if it is the German Evangelishkirche. How easily some forget the episcopal polity of the Nordic countries or that there are as many Lutherans in Ethiopia as in Sweden (about 6 million each).
This is, i think, a symptom of Euro-centrism. It is a parallel to the linguistic myopia wherein Europeans insist on learning, and seeing as normative, Portuguese of Portugal (10 million speakers) rather than Portuguese of Brazil (201 million speakers); Spanish of Spain (46 million) rather than Spanish of Mexico (120 million); British English (60 million) rather than American English (300 million).
Very brief thought on popes emeritii
[Found in the archives of half-written posts, from shortly after the election of Pope Francis, the third anniversary of which we have just celebrated]
When your pastor retires, he is not called Father Emeritus John Smith.
Rather, Father John, Pastor emeritus of St. Whatshisname Parish.
When your bishop retires, he is not called Bishop Emeritus Sean Patrick Murphy.
Rather, His Excellency, Bishop Sean, Bishop emeritus of Brigadoon.
Or, His Eminence, Cardinal Sean, Bishop emeritus of Brigadoon
(if also has a Roman suburbicarian see, titulus, or diaconiae).
When the pope retires, he ought not be called Pope Emeritus Benedict.
Rather, His Holiness, Pope Benedict, Bishop emeritus of Rome.
This seemed to be clear, we may recall, when suddenly it was not.
But then it was, at least to the new pope.
From such a good ecclesiologist as Ratzinger, the style Pope Emeritus always struck a discordant note. He knows better than most that there is no office of pope, and therefore no emeritus pope, only the office of bishop of Rome to which the style of “pope” adheres. (Like the priest who is styled “father”).
Roman Pontiff emeritus, also offered in the official statement, never really took off, either (can’t imagine why…).
Turns out, it apparently was not his idea, and he would have been happy with “Father Benedict” (or Pope Benedict, since “pope” just means “father” anyway), as a style. This also recalls and reminds us of the practice that all clergy – bishop, deacon, presbyter – can be addressed as “Father”, not only the presbyterate.
That would have made a lot more sense: Father Benedict, Bishop emeritus of Rome.
Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue: Pope Francis, the Eucharist, and Reception
In recent weeks, two significant events highlighted the significant progress made in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue over the last fifty years.
On 31 October, Reformation Day, the U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue published a consensus statement, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist. The Declaration draws on the fifty years of official dialogues to produce a litany of 32 consensus statements – a list of doctrinal agreements on the related topics of the Church, ministry, and the Eucharist – that are the direct results of dialogue, and which are no longer church-dividing issues.
The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has unanimously affirmed the document and has forwarded it to the 2016 Churchwide Assembly and the Lutheran World Federation for consideration. On the Catholic side, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also affirmed the consensus unanimously. They have sent it on to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for consideration.
Two key points from the conclusion of From Conflict to Communion guided the work. [Called to Communion is the 2013 document published by the international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformations, in 2017]:
1) Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
2) Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with each other and by mutual witness of faith.
Too frequently, we hear the complaint, “What has been achieved with all this dialogue?” as if to expect that the answer is nothing. It is easier for those of us too young to remember the time before the Council to think this way, growing up in an age when it was taken for granted that we should be ecumenically engaged, and little seems to have changed since the 1980s. The purpose of this document is to respond to the question, and to lay the groundwork for the next steps in the dialogue.
With the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) the days when one could simplistically summarize the disparity on Catholic and Lutheran teaching on justification as “Protestants believe you are saved by faith alone, and Catholics that you are saved by faith and works” are thankfully long gone. The Declaration on the Way offers a longer list of doctrines that we clearly share in common.
The summary form makes it easy for preachers to integrate into their preaching, and catechists to integrate into their teaching. While wading through volumes of dialogue statements and notes might make a daunting task for the typical parish pastoral minister or Sunday school teacher, this entire document is about 100 pages and easily navigated.
This concern is “Ecumenical Reception”. It is one thing for the Churches, through their official dialogues, to agree on an article of faith, but it is quite another for that to really sink in at the grassroots level. It has to be adopted, and adapted, at the local level – both in terms of local culture and pastoral practice, and at the level of individual faith and the understanding. What good is an agreement on justification or ecclesiology if the Sunday school teachers, the pulpit preachers, and the popular bloggers are still using outdated information and spreading stereotypes based on the misunderstandings and attitudes of the past, as if no dialogue had ever happened?
Catholics and Lutherans agree on the Church’s foundation in God’s saving work, in Scripture and the means of Grace, the Church as communion (koinonia) with visible and invisible elements, the communion of saints and the eschatological nature of the Church and its mission. We agree on ordained ministry as an essential element of the Church, the universal priesthood, the divine origin of ministry, the nature of ministerial authority, much of the nature of ordination, the unity of the orders of ministry, and the need for a ministry of worldwide unity. So too are there agreements on the Trinitarian and Christological dimension of the Eucharist, the Eucharist as a sacrificial memorial, the eschatological and ecclesiological dimensions of the Eucharist, and even on the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Where work remains to be done is on some aspects of the nature of ordination and who may be ordained, and the question of what intermediate sacramental steps might be taken to help lead to reconciliation an full communion among the separated Christian communities. Before offering ‘next steps on the way’ the document suggests that “The possibility of occasional admission of members of our churches to Eucharistic communion with the other side (communicatio in sacris) could be offered more clearly and regulated more compassionately.”
Almost as if in response to the document, Pope Francis visited Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church just a couple weeks later, on 15 November, and responded to a question about Eucharistic hospitality that suggested that Lutherans might receive communion as a matter of conscience. We take it as a given that this assumes the normal conditions being met and in appropriate circumstances.
At first blush, this seems little more than an affirmation of the long-standing practice of the Church articulated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which was virtually unchanged from the pre-Vatican II conditions.
According to the Code, for members of the churches and ecclesial communions born out of the Reformation (i.e., Anglicans and Protestants) to receive communion during a Catholic Eucharist, they must:
- Be baptized
- Be properly disposed
- Manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament (=Real Presence)
- Not have access to a minister of their own church or communion
- Approach the sacrament on their own accord
- Be motivated by “grave pastoral need”, such as danger of death; other situations to be determined (generally, not case-by-case) by the episcopal conference or diocesan bishop. (CIC §844.4)
[Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, and Old Catholic Christians are allowed to participate in Catholic sacramental life at any time, with respect to the rules of their own traditions, essentially only needing baptism, disposition, and belief in the Real Presence, which are all assumed in these cases as well. This is dealt with in CIC §844.3]
In application, Lutherans always fulfill condition 1: we have long recognized their baptism as valid. Whenever a communicant approaches during the communion procession, it is assumed they fulfill conditions 2 and 5, unless there is some grave public reason to know otherwise. This is, even for Catholics, generally a matter of conscience (guided by their spiritual advisor, confessor, etc.).
As the consensus statement above highlights, Catholics and Lutherans have long articulated agreement on the Real Presence, so being Lutheran is enough to fulfill condition 3.
This condition does not mean, as some have suggested, that only those in full communion with the Catholic Church can receive communion; it means you must agree with the Catholic theology of the Real Presence; most Christians do. Neither does it mean that you must use the word “transubstantiation” – even within the Catholic communion, many of the Eastern Churches do not. In Mysterium Fidei (1965), and Paul VI reminded us that it is helpful, even necessary, to find “fresh ways of expressing [the Real Presence], even by using new words” – it is the meaning of the doctrine, not its formulation, which is always imperfect and in need of reform, that is essential.
Where there is remains some discussion, and frequent confusion, are the following two questions:
- what does it mean not to have access to a minister of their own church?
- and what constitutes a grave pastoral need?
The 1993 Directory on the Application of Principals and Norms on Ecumenism offers an interpretive lens and some clarifications, noting that, “in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.” (§130)
Pope John Paul II similarly softened the language of condition 6 from “danger of death or other grave necessity” to simply “grave spiritual need”. He reduced the requirements to this spiritual need and baptism, proper disposition, and who freely approach the sacrament – eliminating the “lack of access to a minister of their own faith” as a condition. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia §34-46, esp. 45). Where bishops and bishops conferences have attended to their duty in this regard, ‘mixed’ marriage and family life is the most common example of a situation that meets these conditions.
Unfortunately, as with a great many of the Polish pope’s great achievements, he lead by example and larger-than-life theatrical symbols, and never changed the law itself to correspond with his actions or apparent intentions. One could hope that among the myriad reforms that the Church needs would be an updating of the Code to account for the developments in ecumenical dialogue over the last five decades.
Both John Paul II and the Directory take care to point out that this concerns individuals, not interim concelebration or general table fellowship, and that the purpose is always for the spiritual care of the individual and the motivation for full communion, with care that it not lead to indifferentism. Triumphalism about Catholic Eucharistic theology or practice – that is, to suggest erroneously that only Catholics celebrate the Eucharist or “have the Real Presence” – is not part of the equation. In fact, it could be argued that if that is your attitude, you are not properly disposed to receive, owing to a sin of pride!
In other words, it is not possible for any informed Catholic to say, “Non-Catholics may never receive communion at a Catholic Eucharist”. This truth has been encased in law since at least 1983. This is a “dumbing-down” of a complex discipline of the faith to the point of error.
Understanding of the conditions under which access to the sacrament is allowed has developed even in the thirty years since the Code was published. These legitimate developments have to be considered as well, not just the Code itself. It is already Church teaching and practice, explicitly in many jurisdictions and implicitly in others, that the Lutheran spouse of a Catholic could receive communion during the Catholic Eucharist, at least in some situations.
Pope Francis is merely reiterating this. What he does, and has every right to do, as supreme pontiff and universal pastor, in light of real progress made by the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the Eucharist, is to frame it in a more positive way. He could, in fact, change the Code itself to allow more frequent opportunities, or to spell out more clearly a longer list of situations, like an interchurch marriage, where the exceptions apply. He is, after all, the supreme legislator.
We already know that there are certain circumstances that a Lutheran can receive; Pope Francis is suggesting that it is a matter of conscience by the individual to determine when those conditions are fulfilled. This is, practically, just acknowledging the current practice of the Church: it is the conscience of the person that determines if they are properly disposed, whether there is spiritual need (and what constitutes ‘grave’), and motivates them to approach the sacrament.
The bishop of Rome also reminds us, as did Vatican II, that communion is not only the goal and sign of ecclesial communion achieved, but also a viaticum (food for the journey) for walking together on the way to that unity. If witness to the unity of the Church generally restricts Eucharistic sharing, the grace to be had from it sometimes commends the practice. (UR §8). Under the right, carefully proscribed circumstances, the Church has taught for fifty years, certain occasions of Eucharistic hospitality is good for the soul, and for the ultimate goal of full communion.
The real progress made by dialogue necessitates a real change in discipline and practice, and we can see this in the (rather conservative) shifts from the Code to the Directory to John Paul II to Francis.
Anyone “confused” by the pope’s comments has probably not kept up with the development of Church teaching in and since the Council, and is unaware of the even previously existing conditions (e.g., danger of death) that allowed a non-Catholic to receive communion from a Catholic minister.
What has changed with Pope Francis is that the ‘norm’ is now to take a more generous reading of the law – one in which the hermeneutic is mercy and the care of souls – rather than a rigorously constrained reading or a hermeneutic of triumphalism. This is possible without even offering a change in the law itself.
Little ways to be ecumenical: Saints
From PrayTell: Worship, Wit, and Wisdom:
The Pope has halted the canonization process for Aloysius Stepinac, the Croation Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb from 1937 until his death in 1960. Pope John Paul II had beatified the fiercely anti-communist archbishop, who spent many years in prison and under house arrest in Communist Yugoslavia, in 1998. The archbishop’s actions during World War II, however, especially his ties to the Nazi-aligned, murderous Ustaše regime, have raised criticism not only from the Serbian Orthodox Church but also from other victim groups.
Pope Francis has now halted the all-but-complete process of canonization for Stepinac and established a commission of Catholic and Serbian Orthodox experts instead, which will look more closely into the archbishop’s actions during World War II. The Pope’s decision was described as an “unexpected ecumenical step, without any historical precedent,” according to the German-language website Oekuemenisches Heiligenlexikon (https://www.heiligenlexikon.de/).
I wonder if it is really without historical precedent, though…
Pope Francis: Lutherans at Catholic Eucharist
During a visit to Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pope Francis was asked about conditions under which a Lutheran could receive communion at her husband’s Catholic church.
Question: My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I’m married to an Italian, who is a Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?
Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.
It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.
When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.
I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?
It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.
Translation from Edward Pentin at National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-tells-lutheran-to-talk-to-the-lord-about-receiving-eucharist/#ixzz3s1dc2mBP
Ecumenical “Crusaders” and the other, other Notre Dame
In the weeks following, I attended two ecumenical evenings, of quite different character.
The first was with an informal network that has been meeting for decades, the Jerusalem Ecumenical Friends Network (or some variation thereof). Moderated by a kindly White Father (Missionaries of Africa), about 25 of us gathered in the Austrian Hospice (founded 1863) including representatives of the Anglican, Armenian Apostolic, Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, and Catholics of Latin, Melkite, and Maronite churches. Focolare and Chemin Neuf were both present. Others are often represented, often including Churches with little or no official dialogue. A pleasant evening and a great way to connect with some of the local ecumenists. From Tantur, the rector, librarian, and myself were present. Simpler in nature, this was the real ecumenists’ meeting; the second was more grand, though a little less on-topic for Christian Unity. The opportunity no less appreciated for that, however.
A few days after returning from meetings in D.C. and at [the University of] Notre Dame, I was privileged again to join an ecumenical group for an evening affair. This time, we started with liturgy at the chapel of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, followed by a reception and dinner at Notre Dame Centre of Jerusalem, just north of the Damascus Gate. (No affiliation of the former with the latter, to my knowledge, but someone recently told me that the bar serves glasses with the monogram ND on it. Will have to go investigate.)
Having been to the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on my way to the University of Notre Dame, this makes the third Notre Dame I had been to in little more than a week’s time.
The installation liturgy was accompanied by an impressive Polish choir and included clergy representatives from the Latin and Melkite Catholics, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Greek Orthodox, the Coptic and Syriac Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and the United Protestant Church of France. Arab Catholic scouts were present as servers and standard bearers.
In a bit of interesting trivia, I only just discovered that the Centre is actually a Territorial Prelature, giving it quasi-diocesan status, distinct from the Latin Patriarchate, with the Apostolic Delegate as Ordinary. Originally built as a pilgrim house for the French by the Assumptionists in 1904, the Yom Kippur War left it in a state of disrepair. It was given over the Holy See in 1972, and Pope John Paul II established it as a territorial prelature barely two months into his papacy. In late November 2004, just four months before his death, a motu proprio was issued giving control of the Centre to the scandalously problematic Legion of Christ. Given the pope’s known health issues at the time as well as the already well known problems in the Legion, this move was, shall we say, controversial.
The occasion this time was an elaborate ceremony and dinner celebrating the installation of a new Grand Master of the Order of St. Lazarus* and the initiation of several new members from around Europe and the Mediterranean, including an Orthodox colleague I have met here.
Prior to this event, all I knew of the Order was that they had some connection to, or inspiration from, the crusader-Hospitaller order of the same name, and their intentional ecumenical inclusion of members, and their support of a keynote at the National Workshop in Christian Unity in the U.S. It is this ecumenical inclusion – if not explicit goal of Christian Unity – that makes this Order more appealing to some ecumenists than some of the more widely known charitable Orders – such as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, or the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre. (I am coming to think of all of these organizations as elaborate donor recognition societies, or as the Knights of Columbus on steroids. Which is no bad thing, in itself).
I was impressed with the conversations I had, with both officers and guests, including delightful dinner conversation with the local Finnish Lutheran pastor and her daughter, though we shared the experience as sort of outsiders – coming from cultures where the medieval concepts of royalty and nobility have been excised. Many of those present were from European countries where these ideas are still very much alive, if in a different form than was the case when monarchs were heads of government as much as heads of state. That lead me into further investigation of the Order and of the crusader orders in general which are, or claim to be, extant today.
* Five major military-monastic orders were formed in the Holy Land during the era of the first crusades:
- Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (c.1099)
- Order of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta (Knights Hospitaller) (c. 1099)
- Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (Knights Templar) (c.1118)
- Order of the Brothers of the German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem (Teutonic Knights) (1190)
- Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem (1123).
Some, like the Templars, were disbanded (giving us Friday the Thirteenth as an unlucky day). Others morphed into elaborate charitable organizations, continuing the work of hospitals or support of the Christians in the Holy Land, but abandoning the militaristic aspects after the conquest of Acre in the late thirteenth century. The Order of St. Lazarus survived in this transformed mode, and various attempts were made by popes to merge it with other Orders (Order of Our Lady of Bethlehem, the Order of Malta, the Order of St Maurice) throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth century. At the beginning of the seventeenth, the Order was effectively transferred from papal oversight to the royal house of France. It effectively ceased following the French Revolution, Royal Protection being withdrawn from the Order in 1830.
Whether it continued then or in what form is apparently a matter of some dispute among historians of chivalrous orders, nobility, and the like.
In 1910, though, the Melkite patriarch and some veterans of the papal army revived the Order as a non-profit charitable association under French law. Its efforts at ecumenical inclusion began in the 1960s, in fidelity to the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and in the interest of expanding into the anglophone world.
Ironically, just as the Order embraced these ecumenical values, tensions between anglophone and francophone leadership lead to a schism in 1969 between what became known as the Malta and Paris obediences, respectively. Attempts at reunion only partially succeeded in 1986, when a significant portion of the anglophone members in the Malta obedience joined the Parisian sector, including the U.S. In 2004, a schism within the Paris obedience resulted in an Orleans obedience, under the spiritual patronage of the Archbishop of Prague. Further confusion is caused when, in 2010, some of the original leadership of the Orleans obedience broke away and formed St. Lazare International, based in Jerusalem. Happily, in 2008, the majority memberships present in the Paris and Malta obediences reunited, leaving three main branches of the Order (indicated with their respective spiritual protectors):
- Order of St. Lazarus – Malta-Paris – Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham
- Order of St. Lazarus – Orleans – Archbishop Dominik Duka, OP, of Prague
- Order of St. Lazarus – Jerusalem – Bishop Richard Gerard, emeritus Representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Holy See.
There is also an Italian ‘branch’ that seems to have little to do with the rest:
- Ordine San Lazzaro – “Bishop” Giovanni Ferrando (who appears nowhere in the Italian hierarchy list and whose supposed address is the local renaissance castle…)
If you are interested, more extensive history of the order is provided here by the order itself, and here by a skeptical researcher.
Nevertheless, the charitable work of the Order – mostly hospital and ambulance work – and its ecumenical inclusion are worthy of admiration. All such orders could, perhaps, divest themselves a bit of concerns over nobility and dynastic ties and promote based on merit alone. That being said in principle, my impression of Prince Sixte-Henri and his officers was positive, setting the standard for what one supposes nobility is supposed to represent in the first place.
A Common Date for Easter?
Re-posted from Rev. Ron Roberson, CSP at the USCCB Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs:
Last month, in his address to a group of priests in Rome from around the world, Pope Francis again raised the question of the date of Easter, which Orthodox and western Christians have usually celebrated on different dates for centuries. In fact, he said that the Catholic Church was “ready to renounce” its method of calculation of the date of Easter in order to reach an agreement with the Orthodox Church, so that all Christian churches can celebrate Easter on the same day. What’s going on here?
In the early church there was considerable confusion regarding the date of Easter and different areas were observing it on different days. Eventually a consensus developed that harkened back to discussions at the First Council of Nicaea in the year 325, that Easter should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. This is the classical formulation that has remained in place until the present day.
But as the centuries went by, things grew more complicated. Most importantly, the calculation of the date of Easter on the traditional “Julian” calendar became more and more inaccurate. Eventually there was a reform of the calendar in the West that was promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. The reform included skipping ten days in October (October 4 was followed by October 15 that year) and the introduction of leap years. In the West this new and much more accurate “Gregorian” calendar was subsequently used to calculate the date of Easter, but the Eastern Churches continued to use the Julian calendar. Another difference in calculation is that in the East, Easter may never coincide with Jewish Passover but must come after it; in the West the two can coincide.
As a result, for several centuries now the western and eastern churches have had different ways of calculating the date of Easter. Sometimes they still coincide, as they did in 2010, 2011, and 2014, and will again in 2017, but not after that until 2025. Often the two are just a week apart but can be much farther apart, as they were in 2013 (March 31 and May 5), and will be in 2016 (March 27 and May 1), and 2024 (March 31 and May 5). It should be noted, however, that the eastern and western calculations of the date of Easter are not absolutely identified with the western and eastern churches. Catholics in Greece, for example, celebrate Easter on the Orthodox calendar, and the Orthodox in Finland celebrate on the western calendar used by the majority of Christians in that country. Some Eastern Catholics also celebrate Easter on the Julian calendar.
It has often been observed that the inability of Christians to celebrate together the central mystery of their faith is nothing short of a scandal, and it diminishes the credibility of Christian witness to the Gospel in today’s world. With this in mind, the Vatican and the World Council of Churches sponsored a conference in Aleppo, Syria, in March 1997 to examine this question. At the end of the meeting, the conference issued an agreed statement entitled, “Towards a Common Date for Easter.”
The Aleppo document recommended that all the churches reaffirm their acceptance of the formula of the Council of Nicaea, but that the astronomical data (the vernal equinox and the full moon) be re-calculated by the most accurate possible scientific means, using the meridian of Jerusalem, the place of Christ’s death and resurrection, as the basis for reckoning. The result of this re-calculation would produce a calendar different from both the eastern and western calendars as they exist today, although it would be closer to the western one. It would allow all Christians to celebrate the Resurrection together, while also being more faithful to the Council of Nicaea than any of the churches are today. The obvious advantages of this solution were spelled out in an agreed statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation in October 1998.
Nevertheless, it has become clear that the Orthodox are not able to support the proposals in the Aleppo document. The reasons for this are not primarily theological but pastoral. After World War I most of the Orthodox Churches (except Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia, and Mount Athos) adopted the Gregorian calendar for fixed feasts, but not for Easter and the movable feasts dependent on it. There was a strong reaction to this among the faithful with a more traditionalist outlook, which led to schisms and the foundation of several “Old Calendar” churches in Greece, Romania and Bulgaria that still exist today. Also, in Russia in the early years of communism the Soviet government supported a “Living Church” movement within the Orthodox Church that advocated the use of the Gregorian calendar. That group was eventually suppressed in 1946, but in the minds of many faithful there was now a connection between the Gregorian calendar and communism. These fairly recent schisms within Orthodoxy explain why the Orthodox are extremely reluctant to tamper with their traditional reckoning of the date of Easter.
In view of this history, it is not easy to imagine an agreement on the date of Easter that all Christians would find acceptable. The Aleppo document proposed an eminently reasonable solution that the Orthodox have been unable to accept. A fixed date for Easter such as the third Sunday of April would be a departure from the tradition that few would find acceptable. It has often been observed that the only way that all Christians could agree on a date for Easter would be a universal adherence to the Orthodox calendar. This solution would have obvious disadvantages, but in the real world it may be the only one possible.
Father Ronald Roberson, CSP is associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is also a consultor to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Oriental Churches.