Ecumenical and Eucharistic Spirituality

Introduction

Fifty years after the close of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, we do well to take a long look at where we are in its implementation and what difference it makes to us personally. We should try to focus on the spirituality which flows from the Eucharist as expressed in the theology of communion and the call for unity of all Christians.

At the end of the first session of Vatican II in December 1962, the first chapter of the document on the Liturgy, Sacra Concilium (SC) was approved. In paragraph ten of this document the Church stated that the celebration of the Eucharist is the source and summit of the very life of the Church and its apostolic mission (SC#10). This central teaching of Vatican II suggests that a spirituality centered on the Eucharist is at the heart of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the teaching of the Church and is the foundation of Christian living.

In the last year of the Council (1965) Vatican II approved Unitatis Redintegratio, the document on Christian unity, the Church indicates what the Church understands by Christian unity, and how it is to be promoted by the Catholic Church. Paragraph eight says that promoting Christian unity is a spirituality and takes precedence in the way unity will be achieved among Christians, especially in the Catholic Church.

“The faithful should remember that they promote union among Christians better, that indeed they live it better, when they try to live holier lives according to the Gospel. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love. (UR#7)This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name “spiritual ecumenism.”(UR#8)

Spirituality

Spirituality is a word that has a long history. It can be described as a way of living the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the particular emphasis or focal point which a person, particularly a saint or a religious community, organizes life in Christ. The New Catholic Encyclopedia defines Christian spirituality as:

“The spiritual life is the Christian life lived with some intensity.  It is the serious response of man to the revelation of God’s love in Christ and consists in loving knowledge and service of God and one’s fellow men in the Mystical Body of Christ. Christian spirituality begins when God’s word is accepted in faith. It manifests itself in the expression and the development of the love of God in prayer and action. It is the subjective assimilation and living in charity of the objective, theological realities of revelation.” (E.E.Larkin, “Spirituality, Christian”  New Catholic Encyclopedia v. 13, col. 599).

While the term spirituality has in recent years become many things to different people, even being differentiated from organized religion, the classic definition is a good place to start understanding that in theology, specifically in spiritual theology, it has a very clear and definite meaning with reference to God, scripture, revelation, faith, hope and charity and living in Christ. In this context it is an intense living of the spiritual life with God in Christ and enlightened by the gospel and the long tradition of the Church, involving prayer and action as well as living the objective realities of revelation in faith and charity.  In the history of spirituality a large number of ‘spiritualities’ have come to light, modeled by such saints as Basil, Benedict, Augustine, Francis, Ignatius Loyola, etc. including St. Peter Julian Eymard, Apostle of the Eucharist. (Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868) founder of the Congregation of the  Blessed Sacrament of the Sister Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, was canonized at the close of the first session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on December 9, 1962.)

St. Peter Julian Eymard

St. Peter Julian Eymard

St. Peter Julian Eymard summarizes Eucharistic spirituality as the Christian finding its beginning, center and end or goal of the Christian life in Jesus in the Eucharist. For Eymard the Eucharist is a divine person, not a thing to be venerated. It is someone we adore, praise, thank and ask forgiveness from and pray with “in the Spirit”.

Eucharistic Spirituality: An ecumenical Perspective

In recent years, Bread Broken and Shared has published a number of articles about various Christian churches, dialogues and documents, etc. This article we will reflect on how Eucharistic spirituality and ecumenical spirituality can enrich both the living of the Christian life with God in Christ and realize the prayer of Jesus that all Christians be one as the Father, Son and Spirit are one. Can Eucharistic spirituality and ecumenical spirituality enrich living the Christian life? The Second Vatican Council says yes. This year’s articles will try to show how.

The Church survives and continues its mission because it is Jesus Christ, head and members. Since Vatican II we have been trying to understand what the Church understands by this statement. What should the Church be, where it is going and how it will get there? The surest guide is the Church itself with all its members: lay and clergy, young and old, from every land, race and social station.  The Holy Spirit will teach us and guide us (Jn 14:25-26).

Jesus prayed that all Christians be one as the Father, Son and Spirit are one—with open mind and heart, loving God and loving one another in God with Christ.  This ideal has been lost to some extent in the dust of religious wars, persecutions, biases and sinfulness.  The Second Vatican Council calls us to a change of heart, mind and soul to realize the prayer of Jesus: “Father, may they be one as we are one” (Jn17:20). The Vatican Council describes this movement toward unity as an ecumenical spirituality. In other words, we must all begin to think as Jesus does. We must have “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all”(Eph 4:5-6).

For this movement to become real, a spirituality, it must become an attitude, a perspective, a point of view, a way of thinking, loving, and acting. It must become a way of seeing Christ in every person, especially those who are most removed from us through the passing of time, history and theologies. We must find a spirituality that makes us one in a communion with God in Jesus Christ.

Communion Theology

In 1985 a special Synod of Bishops looked over the twenty years after the close of the Second Vatican Council to evaluate the work done and the direction taken.  There were those who wanted to go back and those who wanted to go forward. The Synod found a middle ground.  The theology of communion (koinonia) was said to be the leitmotif characterizing the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.  This communion is not mere fellowship, “Hail fellow well met.” It is far more: it is the Father, Son and Spirit knowing, loving and wanting each other forever. It is one God, creator of heaven and earth, sending his Son to become a human being in the mystery of the Incarnation. He comes in poverty and humility to teach us how to be fully human – recognizing the eternal worth of every person.

Conclusion

We will continue this conversation about the relationship between Eucharistic spirituality and ecumenical spirituality in future articles. We will emphasize the insights of the Second Vatican Council and the theology that has developed in the last fifty years. It is deeply rooted in the Scriptures and the understanding of the Church as the body of Christ which we become through the Eucharist and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit continues to move us toward the unity, for which Jesus prayed and our sharing in the life of the Father, Son and Spirit which is everlasting life.