Will we ever be able to break bread together at the Eucharist?

Will we ever be able to break bread together at the Eucharist?

Taiwanese Christian leaders discuss the difficulties of sharing the Eucharist across denominational boundaries.

Taiwanese Christian leaders discuss the difficulties of sharing the Eucharist across denominational boundaries.

(The following has been excerpted from Taiwan Church News, 2847, 18-24 September 2006. Reported by Chioou Kuo-rong and Gu Hao-jan. Written by David Alexander)

The Taiwan Church News interviewed leaders of 4 mainline churches in Taiwan to ask them about the question of joint celebration of the Eucharist.

Rev. Kuei Chien-hwa, district superintendent of the Chinese United Methodist Church said that his own communion had no problem with common sharing of the Eucharist. So long as it was celebrated in the name of the Trinity and open to baptized believers, all could come to the altar and receive the bread and wine. He asserts that this is in continuance with the views of John Wesley, who asserted that the sacraments should be revered, and called on all to come to the table, as they have come to Christ, step by step to a holy place to receive the elements.

“No matter whether Protestant or Roman Catholic, persons must recognize their sin, and repent of it before approaching the sacrament. So we all must spend time in reflection, preparing our hearts. This is important.”

Bishop Lai Rong-hsin, who leads Taiwan’s Episcopal Church, points out that his own church’s eucharistic liturgy is very similar to that of the Roman Catholic church, but that its understanding of the sacrament is more akin to that of Protestants, which centers on memorial. But, he says, with the Roman Catholics we agree on the real presence of Christ in the elements. This is indeed the very flesh and blood of Christ. He noted that the clergy of his church receive their Eucharistic theology training under the direction of the faculty of theology at the Roman Catholic Fu-Jen University, and reasserted the similarity of the liturgy used in the two churches.

The Rev. Chang Te-chien, General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, said that his church was more concerned with care for the understanding of the Eucharist than with the particular form of the liturgy through which it is celebrated. For that reason, Taiwan’s Presbyterians do not allow children to receive the sacrament. He said, “When receiving the Lord’s supper, a person must be clear about life and the meaning of life, and must reflect on how to respond to God’s salvation and love. Therefore, Taiwan’s Presbyterians strongly assert that the meaning must be clearly stated. It may be possible to have a joint liturgy with other Protestants and with Roman Catholics, but what prevents this happening comes from the Roman Catholics, because of their belief in the true presence of Christ in the elements.

Recently appointed President of the Theological Faculty at Fu-Jen Catholic University, Fr. Augustine Tsang, says that Eucharistic reunion is not a simple thing, like having a meal with a group of friends. It is a place where people divide on the basis of faith. Unless Roman Catholics and Protestants can face their divisions over questions about the meaning of the sacrament, there can be no reunion. He fears that this will not be accomplished simply.

In terms of the liturgy itself, Fr. Tsang says that the Roman Catholics believe that God is glorified in it, that it is an act of fellowship between believers and God. In the liturgy, the holy and the human are simultaneously present in the bread. “we believe in the real presence of Christ therein.” This is not the same as the Protestant view of “representation”.

Fr. Tsang asserts that the Eucharist cannot be reduced to a snack with friends or some kind of a party, because its meaning is extremely high, and its celebration is solemn. Faith and glory are first. At the time when the church in the West split and the Protestant churches came to formation, one of the things that emerged was different understandings of the Eucharist. Insofar as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, there was no hope for a split, because this is a very unfortunate thing, but the division is still not easy to overcome. Unity will not come by a simple discussion, because the depths of faith involved must be understood first.

Hoping for unity one day, Fr. Tsang says that Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians have much in common as people of faith. But he says that it’s not a matter of a morning and evening conversation that can transform us. Dialogue is not simple, differences are not easy to overcome, but we must trust in the possibility of transformation as we close the gaps between us.