Q. 1 How do we define ecumenism?
A. 1 In simple words, ecumenism is the furthering of religious unity among the different Christian faiths. (Reference: Webster's New World Dictionary; Simon and Schuster.) The true meaning of "Christian unity" was echoed by Jesus when He prayed for His disciples. "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us..." [Jn. 17:21] In other words, that all Christian faith be of one mind in the Spirit of Truth.
Regarding the subject of unity, Saint Paul said, "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." [Rom. 15:5-6] Speaking to the Corinthians, he said, "Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose." [1 Cor. 1:10] "Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you." [2 Cor. 13:11]
As Jesus and His Father were and still are of "one mind," in perfect agreement with one another, members of the Christian community are called to be in perfect unity, of the same "one mind," by agreeing with one another.
Q. 2 How does the Catholic Church define ecumenism?
A. 2 That question is better answered by quoting paragraph # 820 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
C.C.C. # 820 "Christ bestowed unity on his Church from the beginning. This unity, we believe, subsists in the Catholic Church as something she can never lose, and we hope that it will continue to increase until the end of time." [UR 4 # 3.] Christ always gives his Church the gift of unity, but the Church must always pray and work to maintain, reinforce, and perfect the unity that Christ wills for her. This is why Jesus himself prayed at the hour of his Passion, and does not cease praying to his Father, for the unity of his disciples: "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be one in us,... so that the world may know that you have sent me." [Jn 17:21; cf. Heb 7:25.] The desire to recover the unity of all Christians is a gift of Christ and a call of the Holy Spirit. [Cf. UR 1.]"
Q. 3 How can we effectively help to bring about that Christian unity?
A. 3 According to # 821 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are called to personally commit ourselves to walk in harmony with the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church. We are called to live holier lives according to the teachings of the Gospel. We are called to have a change of heart through an openness of mind so we may pray in private and together for the unity of Christians as Jesus intended it to be. We are called to learn about each other so we may have an true understanding of each other, where we are coming from, what we believe, and what we hope for. We are called to ensure that our priests, our shepherds, have a full understanding of the ecumenical goal of the Church so they may lead the faithful accordingly. We are encouraged to meet the Christians of different Churches and communities for the purpose of knowing and understanding one another. Our theologians are encouraged to meet with the different Churches and communities to know and understand the teachings of one another in the hope of determining if we are saying the same time but in different ways. If we are not saying the same thing, in the hope of sharing with one another the Gospel so it may be understood in the unity of the Spirit of Christ. And finally, where services are provided to mankind, be it in teaching, nursing, helping the poor, we are called to work with one another.
In simple words, we are called to truly shine in the love of Jesus by acting civilized towards one another. The days of declaring war between Catholics and non-Catholics are finished. The days of refusing to talk to someone because he was a non-Catholic are finished. With such behaviours, there never was and never will be any hope of unity. By communicating with one another as true Christians and by educating ourselves regarding the beliefs of other Churches, we are opening the door for the Spirit of Christ to truly unite us in one mind according to His Divine Plan.
C.C.C. # 821 "Certain things are required in order to respond adequately to this call:
- a permanent renewal of the Church in greater fidelity to her vocation; such renewal is the driving-force of the movement toward unity; [Cf. UR 6.]
- conversion of heart as the faithful "try to live holier lives according to the Gospel"; [UR 7 # 3.] for it is the unfaithfulness of the members to Christ's gift which causes divisions;
- prayer in common, because "change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name 'spiritual ecumenism;"' [UR 8 # 1.]
-fraternal knowledge of each other; [Cf. UR 9.]
- ecumenical formation of the faithful and especially of priests; [Cf. UR 10.]
- dialogue among theologians and meetings among Christians of the different churches and communities; [Cf. UR 4; 9; 11.]
- collaboration among Christians in various areas of service to mankind. [Cf. UR 12.]"
Q. 4 Can we really become united one day when we consider that our understanding of the Gospel are so far apart?
A. 4 The Catholic Church realizes that the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ transcends all human powers and gifts. This can only be miraculously achieved by the grace of the heavenly Father through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Most Holy Name of Jesus. For the unity of the Churches to be fulfilled, as individuals and Churches, in the love of Jesus, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to allow Him to manifest His transforming power.
C.C.C. # 822 "Concern for achieving unity "involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike." [UR 5.] But we must realize "that this holy objective - the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ - transcends human powers and gifts." That is why we place all our hope "in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit." [UR 24 # 2.]"
Q. 5 Does that mean that we can now accept the beliefs of our separated brothers and sisters on equal terms as we accept the teachings of the Catholic Church?
A. 5 No. The Second Vatican Council decreed that the fullness of the means of salvation can only be obtained in the Holy Catholic Church.
C.C.C. 816 "The sole Church of Christ [is that] which our Saviour, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it.... This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in (subsistit in) the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him." [LG 8 # 2.]
The Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism explains: "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God." [UR 3 # 5.]
This truth was reaffirmed on September 5, 2000 when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released the document "Dominus Jesus."
Q. 6 In the spirit of ecumenism, can we now attend the breaking of the bread at the service of our separated brothers and sisters and can they now participate in our celebrations of the Holy Mass by receiving the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist?
A. 6 No. In the spirit of ecumenism, our Catholic faith cannot be compromised. If a non-Catholic was to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist without having been properly prepared through the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Confession, and if his belief rejects the continued and true Divine Presence of Jesus Christ in the Consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, then the reception of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist by a non-Catholic always has been and always will be a Sacrilege.
In similarity, if a Catholic partakes in the breaking of the bread at the service of a non-Catholic Church while knowing that his separated brothers and sisters do not believe in the continued and true Divine Presence of Jesus during the Consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, by embracing their belief, he is renouncing his Catholic belief.
The truth cannot be compromised! Either one's Catholic belief is the truth or the belief of the other Church is the truth. The faithful Catholic must accept one (their faith) and reject the other (non-Catholic beliefs). Many Catholics fail to perceive this limitation that exists in ecumenism. In seeking to bring about a man-made unity, they compromise their faith and permit all forms of liturgical scandals to take place. They personally take it upon themselves to change the face of sound Catholic doctrines to accommodate and please their separated brothers and sisters in Christ.
In the First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul states,
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examines yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves." [1 Cor. 11:27-9]
To receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we must be in a state of grace. To be in a state of grace, we must receive the Sacrament of Confession. If our separated brothers and sisters do not believe in the Sacrament of Confession, how can they receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in a state of grace? They cannot! Therefore, to approach the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in a state of sin, possibly even mortal sin, it is a sacrilege.
The spirit of ecumenism, as explained above, does not include, and the Catholic Church forbids, the abandoning of one's Catholic faith. The unity that is longed for shall never be achieved by man's control or influence! As previously said, Christian unity transcends human powers and gifts. It can only be achieved through the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. The obligation of the Christian community is to open the door for the Holy Spirit to move. This can only be achieved through a sincere commitment to peace towards one another, through an openness to communication, knowledge and understanding of each other, and through a willingness to work alongside one another in the love of Jesus Christ.
Q. 7 Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say anything else about ecumenism or Christian unity?
A. 7 Yes. Numbers 817 to 819 should be read to gain a greater understanding of how the Catholic Church views the status of our separated brothers and sisters. They are not to be blamed for the sin of their forefathers that led to divisions, schisms, heresies and disputes. Some of the separated Churches possess many elements of sanctification and truth (the Holy Bible, life of grace, gifts of the Holy Spirit.) that find their origin in the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit uses the elements of sanctification and truth to lead the believers towards the fullness of grace and salvation that are found in the Holy Catholic Church.
C.C.C. # 817 "In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame."[UR 3 # 1] The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism [Cf. CIC, can. 751.] - do not occur without human sin:"
"Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers. [Origen, Hom. in Ezech. 9, 1: PG 13, 732.]"
C.C.C. # 818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers... All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church." [UR 3 # 1.]
C.C.C. 819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" [LG 8 # 2.] are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." [UR 3 # 2; cf. LG 15.] Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, [Cf. UR 3.] and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity." [Cf. LG 8.]"