This week, still with Eucharistic questions, but much longer standing ones.
Thomas O’Loughlin is professor of historical theology at the University of Nottingham, UK and (relevant knowledge here) a Catholic.
Recently he wrote Eating Together Becoming One: Taking Up Pope Francis’s Call to Theologians (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press Academic, 2019. I can't remember who brought it to my attention first, but it may have been Bosco Peters here.
His thesis is this: the Catholic church should stop excluding baptised (non-Catholic) Christians from sharing in the Mass.
The provocation for writing was something Pope Francis said in November 2015 when a woman, Anke de Bernardinis, in a Lutheran Church he was visiting in Germany - as part of the 500 years anniversary of Luther's publication of the 95 theses - asked him about inter-communion in the context of a marriage of a Catholic (her husband) and a non-Catholic (herself). (Somewhat cleverly) Pope Francis said that this was something for the theologians to deal with.
A critical part of what he said was this (cited by O'Loughlin, p. 16):
"Instead on the journey, I wonder - and I don't know how to answer, but I make your question my own - I wonder: Is the sharing of the Lord's Supper the end of a journey or the viaticum [food for the journey] to journey together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand."
Note that Francis is not attending to what the theologians have generally said about the rules of the Mass, the reasons why Catholics can communicate and non-Catholics cannot, and so forth. He is posing a new challenge to Catholic theologians - yes to other theologians but the nature of this question is that Catholic theologians' answers are the ones that will shift the weight of Catholic opinion. That new challenge is whether the Lord's Supper or Mass is being correctly understood in respect of discipleship - in other words,
"an invitation to Catholics to imagine the eucharist in a rather unfamiliar way. The key question is now: How would intercommunion help all of us as we live our lives?" (p.17)
So what O'Loughlin sets out to do is to answer the Pope's question and he doesn't see many other writings yet on the matter.
The edge to his discussion is that Anke de Bernardinis question is a real question of practical import in many families lives (to say nothing of, e.g., ecumenical relationships between churches so we can always sing Evensong together but never break bread together). It would be really good to have a change on this matter which normally - on the basis of what established practice governed by rules permits/prohibits - is shut down pretty quickly whenever intercommunion is raised.
The essential argument O'Loughlin mounts - each chapter taking up a different angle on the argument - is that it is against one of the most widely shared rules of humanity to have people in one's house when a meal is being served and denying some from sharing it. (And, conversely, for a Catholic in a non-Catholic church to refuse to partake in the meal offered there is also an infringement of this rule.) That is, "The Grammar of Meals" (Chapter 2) means,
"If I am the presider, and so acting as the host at the table, then I must make everyone present welcome and ensure that those who might see themselves as strangers or visitors know that this is a place of human sharing. Good human manners means that I must assume everyone present will want to eat and drink at the table. I have not spotted them coming into the meal, so now, by virtue of the grammar of meals, I cannot refuse to let them eat. If I am one of those at the meal and see it as a meal of my church, then I should be watchful for the guests and help them feel welcome." (29)
Of course, attractive though the core argument is, and challenging too (effectively he is saying Catholics should be embarrassed by this exclusionary approach), O'Loughlin really needs to deal with some standard reasoning for exclusion of non-Catholics at the Lord's Table. This he does. But does he do it effectively?
In my experience the main "standard" re reasons for exclusion is that a non-Catholic going forward to receive might not believe what Catholics believe about the eucharist. O'Loughlin makes a great case for pointing out that (i) Catholic priests do not actually quiz every Catholic communicant as to what they believe about the eucharist (and if they did they might get a surprise at the diversity of belief) and (ii) even Catholics do not keep up with the ever changing subtleties of Catholic theology through the centuries. Nevertheless I think this is a weak point in the series of arguments because the reality (it seems to me) is that if perchance there were doctrinal examination at the door of the church before Mass, then pretty quickly doctrinal uniformity would be achieved: it is not as though Catholics are averse to following a prescribed line, witness following recent changes to the creed. (That Catholics might not follow a prescribed line on, say, contraception is not - in my experience of Catholicism - any kind of evidence that doctrinal lines on creedal and liturgical matters would not be uniformly followed).
Much stronger is O'Loughlin's finish to this particular chapter where he makes the necessary point that doctrinal differences (say, between presiding priest and visiting non-Catholic) should not constrain eucharistic hospitality:
"Paul studied the activity in Corinth and then drew out the significance of what they were actually doing, compared it with their vision of who they were as disciples, and then instructed them to do it properly. Paul reformed not their doctrine but their practice. The core of the paradosis is the bodily memory of what we do together, not what we declare to be what we deem to be the best explication of what we do (doctrine). It is always worth recalling that the words we so venerate liturgically from the gospels regarding the eucharist are a command, in the plural, to do something: touto poeite (Luke 22:19); and it is followed by a second command to action: phagete (Matt 26:26). It is not a command to believe this oo have this or hold this or look upon this." It is sobering to notice that Paul does not see the proclamation of the mystery of faith as a matter of words, as often in contemporary Catholic liturgy, but in the activity of eating and drinking together: "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes (1 Cor 11:26)."
On this count, it is the eating and drinking together, rather than the doctrine to which any of the participants subscribe, that constitutes the reality of the mystery. This experience can then be examined for its meaning for the individuals and the group, and its implicit theology explored. Therefore, assuming that someone is willing to eat and drink at a Catholic celebration of the eucharist, is there any basis for excluding them because of difference in doctrine?" (pp. 138-139)
There is much, much more to the book than these few observations and citations. For example, and "of course," he reflects on the meaning of being baptised Christians willing to meet together. And, it is not a long book, 157 pages plus bibliography and indices.
In the end - and I know I am biased towards O'Loughlin's thesis - I like his argument and supporting arguments very much. I am convinced by them but I don't need much convincing and, to coin a phrase (not), it is not me he needs to convince!
Postscript: I could not help but do some reflecting while reading this book on the question of "Zoom eucharists." On the one hand, O'Loughlin implicitly mounts a strong case for my principal affirmation of meeting together physically for eucharist: it is a meal! On the other hand, to specify that the eucharist is a meal (with a grammar re hospitality and a case that the "doing" of the meal is more important than the "believing" about the meaning of the meal) is a form of doctrine. This is borne out by those of us who do not think "Zoom eucharists" can be an endorsed eucharist of the church: we could not teach that this can be so. In other words, there are doctrinal minima for even the most open of eucharists to occur and these minima, ironically at this time in history, preclude some forms of eucharist.