CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Anglican-Catholic commission holds annual meeting in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (SE): The 20-member Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission III, which is charged with the task of working towards full communion in faith and sacramental life between the two communions, held its annual meeting at the Mariners Club in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, from May 3 to 11.

The commission was established as a result of a Common Declaration made by Pope Benedict XVI and Archbishop Rowan Williams, of Canterbury, in November 2006.

The declaration says, “It is a matter of urgency… that in renewing our commitment to pursue the path towards full visible communion in truth and love of Christ, we also commit ourselves in our continuing dialogue to address the important issues involved in the emerging ecclesiological and ethical factors making that journey more difficult and arduous.”

The meeting of the commission in Hong Kong is carrying on the difficult work of getting behind positions held by the two communions that have been described as opposite and entrenched, “to discover and develop our common inheritance.”

One of the two co-chairpersons for the gathering, Bishop David Moxon, from the Anglican diocese of Hamilton in New Zealand, told the Sunday Examiner that in concrete terms this means taking a critical look at what Catholics think Anglicans believe and what Anglicans think Catholics believe.

“We have discovered that these views are often quite different from the actual reality,” he commented.

Bishop Moxon took the example of the Eucharist, saying that in the Church of England it is described as remembering and often Catholics take the view that it is regarded as a simple memorial service.

In the same vein, he said that Anglicans know that Catholics talk about transubstantiation and tend to think that they believe there is some kind of molecular change in the symbols of bread and wine.

“In reality, neither is true,” Bishop Moxon noted. “Catholics actually do not believe that, nor to Anglicans believe what Catholics tend to think they believe.”

He explained that the commission approaches these difficulties by going back into original sources, beginning with the New Testament Greek to discover that the act of recalling implies an element of Christ calling me.

He said Christ is telling us, “I am really present and we respond by coming together with a fresh appreciation of this real presence. It is revered fully.”

However, he added that this is part of the way we understand the real presence and use it to teach, but by going back to original sources the commission is discovering a lot more commonality in the beliefs of the two communions than previously thought.

During the commission meetings, there is shared prayer and Eucharist each day. However, the other co-chairperson at the meeting, the Catholic Archbishop Bernard Longley, from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, said that because the two Christian faith expressions do not yet enjoy full communion, there is no intercommunion at the Eucharist.

He explained that the Catholics and the Anglicans host a common Eucharist on alternate days and that while there is still no authority for intercommunion, each member of the commission takes part in each other’s Eucharist and does participate fully.

Bishop Moxon explained that at a Catholic Mass, the Church of England members approach the Eucharistic minister and ask for a blessing, as do the Catholics at an Anglican-hosted celebration.

“It is a kind of spiritual communion,” he said. “We ask for a blessing as a manner of coming together while maintaining full respect for the law.”

He added that the experience of sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist itself is a unifying experience, explaining that even the fact of holding the meeting at the Mariners Club, which has an ecumenical chapel, is significant.

“The altar we gather around each day is used in the celebration of both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Eucharist on a weekly basis,” he said, sharing that he was profoundly moved to have been invited to give the final blessing at a Catholic Mass on the first day of the gathering.

“I blessed the people in Maori language,” he said, explaining that it is a 4,000-year-old tongue which has its origins in Taiwan, the South China Sea and Tahiti.

The commission also took up the study of how the two communions can arrive at quite different ethical interpretations on some issues. It studied the three issues, slavery, divorce and remarriage, and contraception, as well as the evolving issue of a theology of work and the economy.

Archbishop Longley explained that once again the process is to look at the path taken in arriving at what are sometimes opposing conclusions about the same issue in the two communions.

He said that it is also a way of listening to each other and learning, rather than trying to convince each other about who is right and who is wrong.

The commission is also looking at developing fresh ways of conceptualising ecumenism. Archbishop Longley said that a Catholic lay member of the body, Paul Murray, from the University of Durham, speaks of a receptive ecumenism.

This is described as a process which seeks to learn from our partner, instead of asking our dialogue partner to learn from us. It is more about inner conversion and self-examination than convincing others about what we believe. It is a belief that we can be transformed by God’s grace, which is mediated through each other.

He describes this as being receptive to words, dialogue and the invitation to assist each other in coming together. “It is also a way of getting strength and courage,” Bishop Moxon added.

Archbishop Longley said that this approach has helped the commission make real progress.

“The Eucharist is the usual method,” he commented, “as it carries the mandate from Christ for the Church to be a real communion, in both its local and universal manifestation.”

Both bishops added that maybe the most developed expression of ecumenism between the two communions is in social outreach, as a significant number of projects, especially in Africa, are currently being run jointly.

“I also believe it is time for Caritas and the Anglican Global Alliance to get together at a worldwide meeting,” Bishop Moxon said. “Even though Caritas has been around for a while and the global alliance is only a couple of years old, I believe it could really bear fruit.”

The commission also took up the study of how the two communions can arrive at quite different ethical interpretations on some issues

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