It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means that there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand. But I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? And you’re a witness of a likewise profound journey, a journey of marriage: itself a journey of family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism….
The question [Pope draws question mark with his finger]…. The supper? There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.
The Catholic and Orthodox thinkers who support the closing of Communion to all Christians outside their jurisdictions typically make two arguments in support of their position: first, that full unity is a precondition for sharing the great Meal of the Church; and second, that their exceptionally high regard for the Eucharist is what makes it so necessary that they be careful about who receives it. I don’t think either of these arguments works.
The key to these questions lies hidden in a word that Pope Francis uses: viaticum. In Catholic usage this often refers only to the Eucharist given in articulo mortis, but the Pope is quite rightly using it in a broader sense: the Eucharist is the meal that strengthens us on our way through life, we wayfarers. Each of us is a viator passing through this vale of tears towards our true home (which is not “Heaven” but this very world renewed and restored); we are in desperate need of the “spiritual food and drink of Christ’s body and blood” to sustain us on the way. If you remember the lembas (waybread) of the elves in The Lord of the Rings you will get the idea precisely.
If this is what the Eucharist is, then to argue that we Christians — those of us who share, as the Pope says, one baptism (“One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”) — should achieve unity first and only then share the sustaining meal is simply to devalue the Eucharist dramatically. For if we can achieve true and full unity among ourselves without sharing it, why would we ever need it at all? Those who would withhold the viaticum from other Christians — or forbid their own members from receiving it elsewhere — are treating it not as essential provision for our journey but as a kind of dessert, a special treat for those who have already become good boys and girls.
All of which suggests that, whatever these Catholic and Orthodox leaders think they value, what they really (if almost always unconsciously) value is not the Eucharist itself but administrative control over the Eucharist. This has been a problem since the (relatively) early Church started modeling its administrative practices on the organizational structures of the Roman Empire; we have all been afflicted, ever since, by the unfortunate consequences of that imitation. It is past time that bishops in all Christian communions realize this perversion of episcopacy and choose a better way. And there could be no better place to start than to recognize the viaticum of the Eucharist for what it is, and to see the sharing of it as essential for the restoration of the Oneness which the Lord Christ wants his people to have: “Be one, even as the Father and I are one.”