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Address by Mgr Giuseppe Chiaretti, Archbishop of Perugia,
President of the Episcopal Commission of the 
Italian Bishops’ Conference for Ecumenism and Dialogue

Greetings to you all

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ

I am here among you as the episcopal delegate of the Italian Bishops’ Conference: a position which will shortly be coming to an end for me, but which has allowed me to conclude positively the Agreement with the Waldensians and Methodists on mixed interconfessional marriages. My being here is an indication of my interest in the particular religious problems which concern you, and testimony to a special empathy for your ‘domestic church’, called to live your experience of faith and marital holiness in a difficult context. You have entered the one Church of Christ through two different entrances, and you have committed yourselves to marriage as a real area of grace, as a ‘sacrament’ or ‘covenant’ with God; but you find yourselves divided because of the eucharist, which should instead signify and, through grace, make real your full unity. It seems more of a contradiction than a paradox; but it is also in some way the sign of the contradictions among which we are called to live out today our common identity as Christians.

You are carrying a kind of cross for us all: the cross which reflects the sin of divisions which are not yet healed, but which becomes for us all a warning and a reminder. ‘Explorers’, therefore, of new ways to unity in diversity, but also ‘prophets’ who urge us out of any possible indifference.

The message I can bring is that these problems are being taken seriously, so that you do not continue to suffer needlessly.

You well know how much the Catholic Church has developed its theological reflection about the sacrament of the eucharist. Let me say a little about this to try to clarify the meaning of the Church’s position.

If the sacraments are holy signs, the eucharist is for us ‘the most holy sacrament’, ‘culmen et fons totius vitae christianae’, as the Council said (that is, summit and source of the whole Christian life.) Through the eucharist, in fact, the unique and unrepeatable Paschal event of the Lord is made real for us today, that is, the gift of his life in the signs of bread and wine, and it was this gift which was offered in full on the Cross in the sign of his blood, shed as a sacrificial seal of a new covenant with God. The apostle Paul, who was the first to speak to us about the institution of the eucharist, also speaks of it as the ‘form’ of the Church, which is a diverse community, but a unity made up – like the bread and the wine – of many crushed grains. The eucharist, therefore, is also presented, (through the action of the Holy Spirit, in the twofold epiclesis), as the ‘ecclesial body’ of the Lord, through which he continues to be ‘bodily’ present among us across time and space as ‘the whole Christ’, as it is expressed by St Augustine. That bread of Jesus, therefore, is very precious to us, and the ‘twelve’ are called to renew the ‘memorial’ to him and to the Paschal event, especially – as the first Christian community did – on the ‘day of the Lord’. So when Christians take from the hand of the apostle the bread which is offered and eat it, they also take and eat the mystery that these elements are representing, as Augustine also says. So the eucharist is an internal link not only with Christ, but also a communion with his Church which is celebrating this event.

Forgive me for briefly reminding you of the Catholic understanding of the eucharist, but I have done this to clarify the reasons for the particular significance which Catholics give to this understanding.

As for the possibility of so-called ‘eucharistic hospitality’, I can say straightaway that in the Catholic Church there is no problem for the other Christian partner: indeed, in cases of ‘serious spiritual need’ (the fairly comprehensive expression is that of Ecclesia de Eucharistia), he or she may receive under certain conditions (particularly with a belief in the ‘real’ and not symbolic presence of the Lord) the Catholic eucharist. The problem comes rather for the Catholic who participates in the Protestant Lord’s Supper: and let us be clear that this is not because of a lack of salvific value in that eucharistic sign (‘The Spirit of Christ does not refuse to use such good gifts as instruments of salvation’, says the Council (Unitatis Redintegratio, 22), but because of ‘a certain deficiency’ in the sacrament of Holy Orders, which has been so much talked about.

What can be done, then? In my opinion, we must calmly go back to the root of the problem, making sure the eucharistic action has an apostolic foundation.

Is this possible? Everything is possible. There is the very recent example of the controversial subject of Justification, which was resolved for the most part by the agreement of four years ago. So the experts are called to work in great depth on the subject of the apostolic ministry within a Church-Communion. I will leave aside any other observations on this subject, which I am not qualified to speak about: the work might be long and tiring, but the Holy Spirit will guide the Church towards the horizons of a unity perhaps unthinkable today. On the other hand, we cannot be satisfied with a unity which does not take these difficulties into account.

The interchurch family is in the vanguard of this undertaking. Perhaps this is its vocation, a difficult, but sufficiently clear calling. So I would say to you “courage! In your sufferings you will be ‘completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church’ “. (Col:1,24 RSV) In fact, you carry very visibly in your story a sort of ‘sign of contradiction’ which can be a warning to all Christians, a bit like Jacob’s ‘limp’ or Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’. You are in effect a continuous living and painful memorial of the torn robe of Christ … But even suffering is also a way of ecumenism, perhaps the most precious one!

And in any case much more is offered to you as a gift: the faith to live together in joy and to communicate that together to your children, as the most precious treasure. I am also thinking of that ‘spiritual worship‘ or as others translate it – of that ‘living sacrifice acceptable to him …, the true worship which is due to him. (Rom:12,1). And this is the ‘sacrifice’ which you can celebrate through your baptismal ministry, together and in the name of your ‘domestic church’, every day and on the ‘day of the Lord’, through listening to the word of God, through prayer, mutual encouragement, forgiveness, reconciliation, through your undertaking to love and care for each other. When we look closely, this is a sort of ‘eucharist’ of the domestic church, the Pauline sacrifice of your own ‘bodies’, even if it obviously cannot be a substitute for the public and communal memorial of the Lord’s Passover, entrusted not to individuals on their own but to the Church in all the wholeness of its meaning.

May the Lord bless your waiting, your labours, your hopes. And may He make your love beautiful.

Giuseppe Chiaretti
26-08-2003