SASKATOON — Connections between liturgical renewal and the ecumenical movement were explored in a public lecture Jan. 20 at St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon.
The evening presentation during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was part of the third annual De Margerie Series on Christian Reconciliation and Unity, sponsored by STM, the Prairie Centre for Ecumenism and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, and named in honour of local ecumenical pioneer Rev. Bernard de Margerie. The 2014 series also included a public workshop about music and prayer (see related article) and a workshop for clergy and lay ministry leaders about baptism.
In the public lecture, speaker Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker described connections between liturgy and dialogue as an “ecumenism of life.”
A presbyter in the United Methodist Church and professor of worship at Boston University who serves on the international Methodist-Roman Catholic dialogue, Westerfield Tucker began with a look at the impact of the Second Vatican Council on ecumenism and liturgy, for both Catholics and non-Catholics.
“Many non-Catholic communities engaged in their own bold ventures of liturgical reform in the years following the council,” said Westerfield Tucker.
However, influences on liturgical and ecumenical movements began earlier than Vatican II, she noted. A 1927 report of the First World Conference of Faith and Order pointed to an increasing sense of the significance and value of sacraments underway across many churches. And after a second such ecumenical conference among non-Catholic Christians, the Edinburgh Report of 1937 conceded the need for additional study and conversation to provide better acquaintance with the worship practices and theologies of the various churches.
“To that end, a theological commission on ‘ways of worship’ was charged to prepare its work-which would be a first full statement on liturgy from the ecumenical movement,” said Westerfield Tucker.
“The commission’s report, published in 1951, was guided by the principle that ‘in worship we meet the problem, nay rather the sin, of the disunion of the church in its sharpest form.’ Yet the report acknowledged the development at the time of successful liturgical creations made by union churches, notably from the Church of South India and the United Church of Canada,” she said.
“In many respects, however, it was the promulgation of (Vatican II document) the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and the development and translations of the typical editions of liturgical texts, that gave many Protestant and Anglican denominations the push to move forward — or in a different direction — with their own liturgical work,” she said.
“Many of the Constitution’s teachings resonated with those appointed by their denominations to oversee liturgical matters, particularly as they desired to reclaim the centrality of worship for congregational life.”
Two formal organizations that aided this work were established in the years following the Second Vatican Council — the international and ecumenical Societas Liturgica (which was officially founded in 1967 through initiatives by Wiebe Vos, a Dutch Reformed pastor in the Netherlands), as well as the North American Academy of Liturgy which first met officially in 1976.
“Both organizations have a Catholic majority, but the diversity of Protestant members has increased tremendously over the years in both organizations, with representation now including Mennonites and Baptists, a few Pentecostals, and even a Seventh-day Adventist,” described Westerfield Tucker.
“The work in these organizations may not constitute a formal ecumenical dialogue, but it is dialogue nonetheless,” she asserted.
“Indeed, it is an ecumenism of life, as persons in these groups pray and work together for the liturgical betterment of their own worshipping communities and the worshiping communities of others.”
Westerfield Tucker then examined three instances “where liturgy and ecumenism embrace” — in the shape of Sunday worship across Christian traditions, in the 1996 Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture by the Lutheran World Federation, and in the experience of some 45 years of Methodist-Roman Catholic dialogue.
“One legacy of 20th-century liturgical renewal, the work of the (Second Vatican) Council, and the co-operation between Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant liturgists and others, has been a greater appreciation for Scripture and the tradition of the church, particularly the patristic period, in the development of liturgical resources,” she said, noting that this has led to common ground between Catholics and Protestants, despite differences of text or theological nuance.
“Thus, for many Protestants, the shape of Sunday morning worship — either in actual practice or according to officially approved denominational texts — accords with the structure of the parish mass,” finding its scriptural basis for “Word and Table” in the encounter on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.
“There is also a relatively close Sunday-by-Sunday sharing of scriptural readings when the Revised Common Lectionary is used,” Westerfield Tucker added, noting how the development of this 22-year-old common lectionary was influenced by the theological principles of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
“Among these principles are the Lord’s Day as the primary Christian festival of both creation and redemption; the scriptural basis of observances marked on a Christologically focused liturgical calendar; the use of three readings plus a Psalm over a three-year course that includes representation from all four Gospels and a wide selection from the Acts and the epistles; and a typological connection between the two testaments.”
At the same time, Westerfield Tucker raised the question of whether the same sets of scriptural texts are “approached, understood, or appropriated” in the same way in Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. “There are distinct differences in the descriptions of what Catholics and Protestants do — Catholics ‘proclaim’ the texts; Protestants ‘read the lessons,’ ” she noted.
“Here, perhaps, are two new paths that need to be explored in order to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ: first, an investigation of what the liturgical reading of Scripture means for Protestants and Catholics — a dialogue that could take place at the very local level — and, second, the reinvigoration of efforts to establish a truly ecumenical lectionary.”
Westerfield Tucker also examined eucharistic prayers among different denominations and the theology behind them. “The sharing of common sources — and even actual texts — shows how far the churches have come since Vatican II, but (are) also a reminder of how much additional work is needed particularly around thorny issues such as eucharistic sacrifice,” she said.
In the Nairobi Statement, the Lutheran World Federation examined interconnections of Gospel, culture and worship, offering insights that resonate for other Christian denominations. She noted that in speaking about the transcultural aspect of Christian worship, the document makes not only liturgical claims but also ecumenical ones, including the prospect of an ecumenically recognized pattern for Sunday worship.
“The resurrected Christ whom we worship, and through whom by the power of the Holy Spirit we know the grace of the Triune God, transcends and indeed is beyond all cultures,” she said, quoting the document. “The fundamental shape of the principal Sunday act of Christian worship, the eucharist or holy communion, is shared across cultures: the people gather, the Word of God is proclaimed, the people intercede for the needs of the Church and the world, the eucharistic meal is shared, and the people are sent out into the world for mission.”
The incarnation of Jesus is the model and mandate for the contextualization of Christian worship, according to the Nairobi Statement.
The statement affirms: “The sharing of hymns and art and other elements of worship across cultural barriers helps enrich the whole church and strengthen the sense of the communion of the church. This sharing can be ecumenical as well as cross-cultural, as a witness to the unity of the church and the oneness of baptism.”
Westerfield Tucker also spoke about the international bilateral conversations on the eucharist by the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church in the last round of their dialogue, which culminated in the 2011 publication, Encountering Christ the Saviour: Church and Sacraments.
One theological source for Methodist contributions to the dialogue has been the Hymns on the Lord’s Supper, a collection of 166 texts first published in 1745 by John and Charles Wesley. “In more recent years, the texts in the Hymns on the Lord’s Supper have inspired the construction of new Methodist and Wesleyan eucharistic prayers and theological statements on the sacrament,” she said.
“From my own brief experience with the dialogue, it is apparent that the Catholic members have found strong spiritual and theological resonances in the eucharistic hymns and with other hymns from the Wesleys’ repertoire.”
Regarding Christ’s presence, both Catholics and Methodists affirm that his presence is a gift that Christ gives to the church in various ways to be discerned by, though not dependent upon, the eyes of faith, she reported. “They are also said to agree ‘not only that Christ is present and active, in various ways, in the entire eucharistic celebration,’ but also that his presence is mediated through the elements of bread and wine, and these become the ‘sign par excellence of Christ’s redeeming presence to his people.’ ”
The document does not deny that differences remain on this subject, she added. “Catholics identify Christ’s presence in the eucharist as a ‘substantial’ presence while Methodist prefer to speak of Christ’s presence in a ‘spiritual sense’ — but it states that both together can affirm the ‘real presence of Christ’ in the sacrament.”
Both dialogue partners affirm that the “eucharist is the celebration of Christ’s full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, offered once and for all, for the whole world. It is a memorial which is not a mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the church’s effectual proclamation of God’s act in Christ.”
In her conclusion, Westerfield Tucker turned to the early Christian maxim “lex orandi, lex credenda” or “so we pray, so we believe.”
“If we believe that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, that should be reflected in our prayers. If our prayers and liturgies speak to unity in Christ, our mutual baptism into the Body of Christ, such should shape our theology in our denominations and in our conversations together,” she said. “How we live together shapes what we do together. What we do together shapes how we pray and what we believe.”