Thursday, July 27, 2006

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry

In 1982, the World Council of Church's Faith and Order Commission produced a document, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM), which was heralded as a breakthrough in Christian communion. It was the result of over 50 years of discussions, beginning in 1927, and received its final revision at Lima in 1982. The committee requested responses to the document, which many of the major denominations provided, and which have largely been published in the "Responses to BEM" series.

The reviews of this document have been mixed, with some seeing it as opening interdenominational dialogue, and others seeing it as having little effect, perceiving in its effort to be inclusive of all Christians a lack of doctrinal stances. It is, however, a major document in regards to both the ecumenical and liturgical movements, and many of the books which I am studying for my upcoming comp refer to it. Here is a brief summary of the Eucharist section:

The Church receives the Eucharist as a gift from the Lord. Jesus is recorded as sharing many meals during his earthly ministry, which proclaim and enact the nearness of the Kingdom of God. The eucharist continues these meals of Jesus after his resurrection as a sign of the Kingdom. It is a sacramental meal which by visible signs communicate to us God's love in Jesus Christ, by which Jesus loved his own "to the end."

The eucharist is one complete act, but is considered in five main aspects:
  1. As Thanksgiving to the Father
    It is the great thanksgiving to the Father for everything accomplished in creation, redemption and sanctification, for everything accomplished by God now in the Church and in the world in spite of human sin, and for everything that God will accomplish in bringing the Kingdom of God to fulfillment. It is thus the benediction (berakah, a Jewish thanksgiving prayer) by which the Church expresses thankfulness for all God's benefits. It is also the great sacrifice of praise by which the Church speaks on behalf of the whole creation. It signifies what the world is to become: an offering and hymn of praise to the Creator, a universal communion in the body of Christ, a kingdom of justice, love and peace in the Holy Spirit.
  2. As Anamnesis or Memorial of Christ
    It is the memorial of the crucified and risen Christ, i.e. the living and effective sign of his sacrifice, accomplished once and for all on the cross and still operative on behalf of all humankind. Christ is present in the anamnesis, granting us communion with himself. It is a foretaste of his parousia and the final kingdom. It is thus both representation and anticipation, which are expressed in thanksgiving and intercession. It is the sacrament of the unique sacrifice of Christ, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and we make intercession for others with Christ, the Great High Priest. This anamnesis of Christ is the basis and source of all Christian prayer. Further, in Christ we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice in our daily lives, which activity is strengthened by the eucharist. We are renewed in our unity with Christ and communion with all saints and martyrs by his blood. The anamnesis is as much present in the preached Word as in the eucharistic meal, therefore, each is codependent on the other. The words and acts of Christ in the institution are the heart of the celebration. The Church confesses his real, living and active presence in the eucharist. This presence does not, however, depend on the faith of the individual—but, to discern the body and blood of Christ, faith is required.
  3. As Invocation of the Spirit
    The Spirit makes the crucified and risen Christ really present in the eucharistic meal, fulfilling the promise in the words of institution. There is an intrinsic relationship between the words of institution, Christ's promise, and the epiklesis (the invocation of the Spirit) in the liturgy. The whole action of the eucharist has an "epikletic" character because it depends on the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the virtue of the living word of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit the bread and wine become the sacramental signs of Christ's body and blood. The Church, as the community of the New Covenant, invokes the Spirit in order that it may be sanctified and renewed, led into all justice, truth and unity, and empowered to fulfil its mission in the world. It is through the Holy Spirit that the eucharist gives a fortaste of the Kingdom of God—the life of new creation and assurance of the Lord's return.
  4. As Communion of the Faithful
    The communion with Christ who nourishes the life of the Church is at the same time communion within the body of Christ, the Church. The sharing in one bread and the common cup in a given place demonstrates and effects the oneness of the sharers with Christ and with their fellow sharers in all times and places. It is a representative act of thanksgiving and offering on behalf of the whole world. As participants in the eucharist, we are inconsistent if we are not actively participating in the ongoing restoration of the world's situation and the human condition. Solidarity of the body of Christ and care for one another and the world find specific expression in the liturgies, whose manifestations of love are directly related to Christ's own testimony as a servant, and in whose servanthood Christians participate. The place of ministry between the table and the needy properly testifies to the redeeming presence of Christ in the world.
  5. As Meal of the Kingdom
    The eucharist opens up the vision of the divine rule which has been promised as the final renewal of creation, and is a foretaste of it. Signs of this renewal are present wherever the grace of God is manifest and human beings work for justice, love and peace. The world, to which renewal is promised, is present at the whole eucharistic celebration. Reconciled in the eucharist, the members of the body of Christ are called to be servants of reconciliation among men and women and witnesses of the joy of resurrection. It is an instance of the Church's participation in God's mission to the world. Finally, it brings into the present age a new reality which transforms Christians into the image of Christ and therefore makes them his effective witnesses. However, when they cannot unite in full fellowship around the same table to eat the same loaf and drink from the same cup, their missionary witness is weakened at both the individual and the corporate levels.
In reference to the celebration of the eucharist, BEM notes that the best way towards unity in eucharistic celebration and communion is the renewal of the eucharist itself in the different churches in regard to teaching and liturgy. At the celebration, Christ gathers, teaches and nourishes the Church—it is He who invites to the meal and who presides at it. Since the eucharist celebrates the resurrection of Christ, it is appropriate that it should occur at least every Sunday. It further helps to deepen Christian faith.

The final statement is a call for Christian unity, looking for the day when the Church will again be united around one common table.

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