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Appendix II

Joint Worship at Ecumenical Gatherings

Report of two meetings held in Rome (October-November 1965)

    Two meetings were organized in Rome on October 16th and November 18th by the joint Working Group of the RCC and the WCC. The Roman Catholic representatives were: Mgrs. Joseph Baker and Henry Davis, Father Emmanuel Lanne, O. S. B., Father John Long, S. J., Father George Mejia and Father Thomas Stransky, C. S. P.

    The WCC was represented by: Bishop Thomas Mar Athanasios, Canon John Findlow, Professor Nikos Nissiotis, Pastor W. Norgren, Professor Albert Outler, Professor J.K.S. Reid, Bishop Karekin Sarkissian and Pastor Lukas Vischer.


    There is an increasing number of occasions on which Christians of different communions meet together and the need is felt by many that some guidelines should be worked out as to how worship on such ecumenical occasions may be arranged. The WCC has a certain experience in this respect and has adopted some recommendations regarding these types of services. The Roman Catholic Church has enunciated some principles in the decree on ecumenism and is elaborating further directives concerning this subject which in the near future will give more guidance to the members of the Roman Catholic Church. To what degree can a consensus be found on the basis of these texts? To help in answering this question a few general remarks must be made.

    1. When Christians meet together they experience a certain unity in a deep fellowship despite their separations which are still very real. The experience of this fellowship and an actual growth in it is particularly evident when they pray together and praise God, when they repent and ask for God's gift of forgiveness, when they listen to the Word of God together. What often cannot be grasped and formulated in thoughts and words proves to be a reality in the common movement to God. Therefore it is decisive for the ecumenical movement that Christians should meet for common prayer rooted in this common ground.

    2. Common prayer however should not give the impression that a fellowship exists where this is not so. Nothing, therefore, should be done which is against the conviction and the discipline of a church. Any fellowship in worship which is not confirmed by fellowship in life does not further the ecumenical cause.

    3. Taking into account both these aspects, one must still be aware of the fact that fellowship must be experienced if it is to grow. Therefore, rules which may be established should not be fixed in such a way that they exclude further common responsible steps in the direction of more extended fellowship.

    4. The question posed by common worship can differ according as to whether two particular churches meet each other or whether the meeting is one in which several various traditions participate at the same time. The guidelines worked out within the WCC refer only to the latter type of meeting. Many member churches have established particular rules for their relations with another church. The Roman Catholic Church has done likewise, as is indicated by several documents of the Second Vatican Council and by the Directory. Gatherings of a wider character, however, pose particular problems and should receive attention as such.

    5. Ecumenical gatherings differ widely in nature, and if the problem of worship does not change in principle, the practical aspects are not the same in each case. Ecumenical gatherings can be of an official and representative character; they can also be of a more informal nature. They can last for longer or shorter periods. They can be sponsored by several churches or by Christian Councils; the participants can also be the guests of a church or a church group which observes a specific form of religious life. The meetings can be arranged primarily for praying together, conversation, encounter or also for practical purposes. The whole variety of possibilities must be kept in mind and the nature of the meeting in each case will certainly influence the specific type of worship to be held in common. However, it is possible to develop some considerations which will be generally valid for all meetings.

    6. Any agreement on common worship must be based on theological and ecclesiological considerations. It must be worked out in the light of the ecumenical situation as it concretely presents itself. What is possible in principle may in some places prove difficult to put into practice. Particular circumstances must be respected. Though common prayer is generally to be encouraged, pastoral considerations are necessary where local churches are not yet prepared for ecumenical fellowship. Worship is for the glorification of God's name. Our attention cannot be directed to Him if there is no real inner freedom felt for worshiping together.

    7. Agreements made between the WCC and the RCC primarily look to relations between themselves. These agreements may serve as helps and guidelines for other organizations of a more local nature. But it must be recognized that local or regional Christian Councils may have found it possible to make arrangements among themselves or with local Roman Catholic authorities which may sometimes differ from what has been achieved on a more general level.

1. If there is to be a further development of the ecumenical movement, it is essential that at ecumenical gatherings the present situation can find a realistic expression. The participants must be able to experience both the existing oneness in Christ and the difficulties still to be overcome. Solutions which hide the differences must be avoided.

As far as possible the various traditions represented at a gathering should have the opportunity to participate actively in worship, even if practical considerations seem to make it difficult.

2. There are various forms of worship which must be distinguished:

a) Services in which representatives of several traditions participate. It is important that such services are prepared together and are carried out in a representative way. The celebration of the Eucharist is normally excluded at such occasions.

b) Services composed in a form which can be adopted by the members of any church tradition e.g. prayers of adoration, Bible readings, prayers of intercession, etc.

c) Services which are conducted for all those participants in the meeting by one or several members of one church according to the rules of this church. Of course, it is important that as many as possible of the traditions represented should have the opportunity of conducting such prayer. With meetings of short duration, this may prove difficult. However, if a short meeting is one of a projected series, it may be possible for each tradition represented to be responsible for the service in turn at subsequent meetings.

d) Eucharistic services which are held by one church within the context of a meeting. It should not become the rule that the problem of the Eucharist be bypassed at ecumenical meetings and if Eucharistic services are held solutions should not be sought which make visible only one aspect of the problem. Of course, everything must be arranged so that each participant is free to follow his own conscience and the discipline of his church. The following considerations may be important: (1) The meeting itself cannot be responsible for the celebration of a Eucharistic service. Only a church can issue an invitation for such a service. It is natural that one of the churches represented at the place where the meeting is held issues the invitation. If the ecumenical problem is to become visible in all its sharpness, it must be possible to come into contact with varying traditions in the celebration of the Eucharist. While some churches can invite representatives of other churches to participate in their Eucharist, others are not able to do so; and while some are free to accept the invitation, others - for theological and disciplinary reasons - cannot take communion at the altar of another church. Therefore if the gathering lasts long enough it is advisable that there should be at least two Eucharistic services - one arranged by a church which, according to its rules may invite other Christians to communicate, the other celebrated by a church which even at ecumenical gatherings is obliged to restrict communion to its own members. If possible, all participants at the gathering should be present at all these different Eucharistic services. (2) The use of the church building for Eucharistic services at ecumenical gatherings needs careful consideration, especially in the circumstances where only one church is available. (3) A preparatory service for all participants in the gathering has proved to be a significant common act on many occasions. It can contribute to a deeper awareness of the scandal of division. If such a service is held it should be related to all Eucharistic services which may be contemplated. (4) If necessary, the participants in a gathering should have the opportunity to celebrate outside the program the Eucharist according to the tradition of their church without violating their conscience or being unfaithful to their obligations.

3. It is obvious that when there is a gathering of a certain prolonged duration, all of these forms of worship may find their proper place during the gathering. Thus those under (a) may be most appropriate for the opening and closing services of the gathering; those under (b) and (c) for the regular morning and evening prayer, those under (d) at some time during the gathering according to the time and availability of all that is necessary. It is recognized, however, that particular emphasis on one form of worship may also be proper at prolonged gatherings, in accordance with the particular purposes for which the meetings are being held.

[Information Service 1 (1967) 18-24]

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