Worship at Ecumenical Gatherings
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
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
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.
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.
Service 1 (1967) 18-24]