Index > Interconfessional Dialogues > M-RC > Dublin Rep. 1976 | CONT. > sec. 6
  section 1 (INTRODUCTION) - select
  section 3 (SPIRITUALITY) - select
  section 5 (MORAL QUESTIONS-EUTHANASIA) - select
The Eucharist - sec. 6
  section 7 (MINISTRY) - select
  section 8 (AUTHORITY) - select
  section 9 (CHURCH UNION NEGOTIATIONS) - select


   47. Although the subject of the Eucharist was treated somewhat briefly and schematically in the Denver Report, the section (v) did in fact summarize the results of a good deal of discussion both in our annual main meetings of the first series and in colloquia held in between. It was a few weeks after the Denver Conference that the Anglican/Roman Catholic Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine was completed at Windsor, and this was published at the end of the same year, 1971. This attracted much sympathetic attention from Methodists, and at our own first meeting in Rome in December 1972, we were quickly able to agree on inviting the English Roman Catholic/Methodist Commission19 to arrange for a study of the Windsor Statement together with section V of the Denver Report, with a view to producing a more complete Roman Catholic/Methodist statement for the present report. We are glad to record our deep gratitude to the English Commission for their acceptance and very thorough carrying out of this task. The first draft we received from them stimulated us to a long discussion at our Venice meeting, in the light of which the English Commission revised their draft. At Bristol we adopted this revision with some changes and it is here set out.

Roman Catholic/Methodist Statement on the Eucharist

   48. Roman Catholics and Methodists approach the eucharist without a history of explicit disagreement. Our traditions have indeed developed in separation from each other but not in direct historical conflict. Our churches did not engage in debate on this issue, as in the sixteenth century Catholic and Protestant theologians did both in Britain and in continental Europe.

   49. In our conversations we have discovered significant agreement on much that is central in our understanding of the eucharist. This was foreshadowed in the section on the eucharist in the Report of the Joint Commission between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Methodist Council, 1967-70 (the Denver Report). It is seen also in the large measure of assent that we, both Methodists and Catholics, can give to the Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine presented by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, 1971 (the Windsor Statement). There remain, of course, matters of varying importance where we do not agree or where we express ourselves differently.

   50. Our churches have used different language about the eucharist, even in their words for the service itself. A Roman Catholic naturally refers to the Mass, a Methodist to the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion. We use the word eucharist here as the one that has widest acceptance in the church as a whole, both in the past and in the present.

   51. One major difficulty in comparing the Roman Catholic and Methodist eucharistic teaching lies in the fact that in the Methodist Church there has not been any historical reason for issuing a comprehensive doctrinal statement on the eucharist. The nearest equivalent to such a statement lies in the hymns and sermons of the Wesleys. Methodist practice and theology often fall short of those of the Wesleys but that does not alter their unique importance for Methodists. In recent years moreover there has been a notable recovery of eucharistic faith and practice among Methodists, with a growing sense that the fullness of Christian worship includes both word and sacrament. Similarly among Roman Catholics there has been a renewal in the theology and practice of the ministry of the word. These developments have resulted in a remarkable convergence, so that at no other time has the worshiping life of Methodists and Roman Catholics had so much in common.

   52. In a full statement we should want to place the eucharist in a broad theological context, for it relates to the whole of Christian doctrine, and focuses Christian faith and life. The following affirmations, however, express our common mind:

a) The eucharist as a sacrament of the gospel is the fullest presentation of God's love in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit;

b) Through it God meets us here and now in his forgiving and self-giving love. It is the commemoration of the sacrificial death and resurrection in Christ, which is the climax of the whole action of God in creation and salvation;

c) It expresses our response - both personal and corporate - to God's initiative in a sacrifice not only of praise and thanksgiving, but also of the glad surrender of our lives to God and to his service. Thus we are united with Christ in his joyful and obedient self-offering to the Father and his victory over death;

d) It is our response of faith and love whereby We receive his gift of himself and are renewed as members of his body, that We may be the focus of his presence and the agents of his mission to the world;

e) It is the pointing to and the anticipation of his final triumph and it is our vision of that hope and our sharing in that victory.

   53. Eucharistic debate has often centered in the sacrifice of Christ and the presence of Christ. Both the Denver Report and the Windsor Statement give their attention chiefly to these two matters. We do the same.

   54. The Presence of Christ

We gladly re-affirm the points of agreement in the Denver Report about the real presence20 They may be summarized in this way: Christ, in the fullness of his being, human and divine, is present in the eucharist; this presence does not depend on the experience of the communicant, but it is only by faith that We become aware of it. This is a distinctive mode of the presence of Christ; it is mediated through the sacred elements of bread and wine, which within the eucharist are efficacious signs of the body and blood of Christ.

   55. We rejoice also in the similar affirmations of the Windsor Statement, such as:

a) "Christ is present and active, in various ways, in the entire eucharistic celebration"21
b) "Communion with Christ in the eucharist presupposes his true presence, effectually signified by the bread and wine..."

   56. The Denver Report raises the question of the contrast often made between Christ's presence in the eucharist and his presence in other means of grace. This contrast, however, is somewhat misleading. We would not wish to set word and sacrament over against one another. While there are different emphases, We both affirm that wherever Christ is present he is present in his fullness.

   57. Methodists, like Roman Catholics, believe that when they receive the elements at the eucharist they do indeed partake by faith of Christ's body and blood, and in this sense Methodists affirm the real presence of Christ thus mediated to them: Roman Catholics, like Methodists, affirm the presence of Christ in the proclamation of the gospel and in the other sacraments.

   58. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II, says "...Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations". Then after speaking of his presence in the eucharist and in baptism, it continues, "He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy Scriptures are read in the church. He is present finally when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: ‘Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them' (Mt 18, 20)"23. This setting of the eucharistic presence in a wider context finds an echo in the Windsor Statement, which speaks of the Lord "who through the proclaimed word invites his people to his table..."24.

   59. The chief point of difference concerns the question of the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Roman Catholics affirm that the physical and chemical composition of the bread and wine remain unchanged, but that their inner reality is that of the body and blood of Christ. Methodists could use such expressions from the Windsor Statement as "mysterious and radical change... in the inner reality of the elements"25 or "become his body and blood"26 only in the sense that the bread and wine acquire an additional significance as effectual signs of the body and blood of Christ. They do not, however, consider this change to be of such a nature that the bread and wine cease to be bread and vine.

   60. Hence the question arises whether the Methodist way of understanding the change sufficiently resembles the Roman Catholic way of understanding it, and in particular whether the "significance" of the elements can be equated with their "inner reality".

   61. The Roman Catholic practice of reservation has the bringing of communion to the sick as its primary and original purpose. Adoration of Christ present in the elements is a secondary end. Both ends have their foundation in belief in the real presence. Methodists do not reserve the elements but reverently dispose of them.

   62. The Sacrifice of Christ

The Denver Report records four points of agreement on the eucharist as sacrifice and no points of disagreement. Our conversations have revealed certain differences in language and emphasis, although we have a clear measure of agreement.

   63. We are one in affirming that "The Eucharist is the celebration of Christ's full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, offered once and for all, for the whole world"27 It is a memorial (anamnesis). It is not a mere calling to mind of a past event or of its significance, but the Church's effectual proclamation of God's mighty acts28. Some would wish to link this dynamic view not with "a re-enactment of Christ's triumphant sacrifice"29, but with Christ's being present and bringing with him all the benefits of his once-for-all sacrifice for us.

   64. The term sacrifice is not used so readily by Methodists as by Roman Catholics when speaking of the eucharist. The language of sacrifice is more prominent in the hymns of Charles Wesley than in the prayers of the various Methodist communion services. This reflects in some measure the origins of the communion services: the traditional order which is dependent on the service in the Book of Common Prayer (written at a time when sacrifice was a term of controversy) and recent ones which have arisen in the context of the liturgical movement where sacrificial language has been less prominent because of the re-discovery of other related themes. In all this it is important to recognize that in both our churches our belief is not completely reflected in our traditional language or in our practice and piety.

   65. When Methodists use sacrificial language it refers first to the sacrifice of Christ once-for-all, second to our pleading of that sacrifice here and now, third to our offering of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and fourth to our sacrifice of ourselves in union with Christ who offered himself to the Father.

   66. Roman Catholics can happily accept all these senses of the term, but they are also accustomed to speak of the sacrifice of the Mass as something which the church offers in all ages of her history. They see the eucharist not as another sacrifice adding something to Christ's once-for-all sacrifice, nor as a repetition of it, but as making present in a sacramental way the same sacrifice. For some Methodists such language would imply that Christ is still being sacrificed. Methodists prefer to say that Christ has offered one sacrifice for sins and now lives to make intercession for us, so that we in union with him can offer ourselves to the Father, making his sacrificial death our only plea.

   67. We have here a larger measure of agreement than we had expected. The obstacle to further agreement is at least in part the difference of language in our separate traditions.

   68. Eucharistic Sharing

The Denver Report calls for further study of the relation between eucharistic union and ecclesiastical fellowship30 About inter-communion it says, "In Methodism any Christian who can conscientiously accept the invitation is welcomed to the Lord's table"31 Certainly Methodists welcome to the Lord's table baptised communicant members of other communions who desire to come to it. But this does not mean that Methodism historically accepted or now universally accepts the method whereby an open invitation is given to all who love the Lord Jesus Christ (irrespective of church membership), although such an invitation is often given. To receive the communion is the duty and privilege of full members of the Methodist Church. The question how far this should be extended to children who have not yet been received into full membership or confirmed is at present being considered. Nor would Methodists think it fitting for Christians to receive communion in churches of any denomination at random, for communion with Christ is linked with membership of a local church.

   69. The present Roman Catholic discipline permits the access to the sacraments when in danger of death or in serious spiritual need of the eucharist, if "the separated brother has no access to a minister of his own Communion and spontaneously asks a Catholic priest for the sacraments so long as he declares a faith in these sacraments in harmony with (consentaneam) that of the Church and is rightly disposed"32 In these cases the judge of this need must be the diocesan bishop or the Episcopal Conference.

   70. The phrase "a faith in harmony with that of the Church" has been officially explained by this sentence: "This faith is not limited to a mere affirmation of the ‘real presence' in the Eucharist, but implies the doctrine of the Eucharist as taught in the Catholic Church"33 Whatever is required in exceptional cases would also be required for more general eucharistic sharing. A Roman Catholic in similar need may not ask for those sacraments except from a minister who has been validly ordained in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church34.

   71. It is because of the central place which the eucharist has in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice that Roman Catholics require a comparison of the eucharistic doctrines held in the two churches. We are aware of some difficulty here. Roman Catholic doctrines have been expressed in detailed formulations; but it is not always easy to discern the essential doctrines in the historically conditioned and sometimes replaceable formulations in which they have been handed down. Methodist doctrine has received little official formulation and exists rather as an undefined tradition. Methodists do not celebrate the eucharist as frequently as Roman Catholics, although in many places the service is now regaining a central place.

   72. In this sacrament Roman Catholics and Methodists alike intend to do what Christ institutes and what the church does. Moreover we have in common our acceptance of the Christian faith as expressed in the Bible and in the historic creeds, and in particular a large measure of agreement about the meaning of the eucharist. We both acknowledge that our words cannot adequately express the joy and wonder that we experience in our celebration of the eucharist.

   73. Conclusion

In the eucharist we proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. We bring closer the day when God will be "all in all" (1 Cor 15, 28). The eucharist makes God's kingdom to come in the world, in our churches, in ourselves. It builds up the church as the community of reconciliation dedicated to the service and salvation of mankind.

   74. The considerable degree of consensus reached in this statement does not conceal differences of approach. We hope that further developments in eucharistic worship and doctrine in both churches in the next few years will reveal an even greater resemblance and thus bring closer the union for which we all pray.



  1. This Commission, described for convenience here and elsewhere as "English", was set up on the Roman Catholic side by the Ecumenical Commission of England and Wales and on the Methodist side by the Methodist Conference of Great Britain.

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  2. Proceedings, § 83, pp. 56-7.

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  3. Windsor, September 1971 Agreed Statement on Eucharistic Doctrine (London: SPCK, 1972), § 7. Hereafter cited as Windsor.

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  4. Ibid., § 6.

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  5. Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Section 7.

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  6. Ibid., § 7.

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  7. The Windsor Statement has as its footnote to § 6: "The word transubstantiation is commonly used in the Roman Catholic Church to indicate that God acting in the eucharist effects a change in the inner reality of the elements. The term should be seen as affirming the fact of Christ's presents and of the mysterious and radical change which takes place. In contemporary Roman Catholic theology it is not understood as explaining how the change takes place".

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  8. Windsor, § 6.

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  9. Proceedings, § 83, pp. 56-7.

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  10. Windsor, § 5.

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  11. Proceedings, § 83, pp. 56-?.

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  12. Ibid., § 85, p. 58.

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  13. Ibid., § 84, p. 58.

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  14. The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity: The Ecumenical Directory I, 55; cf. Instruction Concerning Cases When Other Christians May Be Admitted to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church, 1972, 4b.

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  15. The Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity: "A Note about Certain Interpretations of the
    Instruction Concerning Particular Cases when other Christians may be Admitted to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church", October 17, 1973, 7.

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  16. Cf. Ecumenical Directory I 55.

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