Eucharist and Anthropology: Seeking Convergence on Eucharistic Sacrifice Between Catholics and Methodists
Eucharistic sacrifice is both a doctrine of the church and a sacramental practice. Doctrinally, it explains in what manner the sacrament is a sacrifice, or at least its sacrificial dimension; liturgically, it refers to the offering that is made in the church's celebration of the eucharist, that is, who and what is offered and by whom. Since the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants have been divided over of eucharistic sacrifice, and for most of its history after the death of the Wesleys, Methodism somewhat uncritically followed in the Protestant tradition. Now, after four decades of productive ecumenical dialogue, Catholics and Methodists seek to discern the points of convergence and divergence between them on this controversial doctrine. In short, where do Catholics and Methodists agree and disagree on eucharistic sacrifice? This dissertation is a work of systematic theology that draws from the insights of several related fields: liturgical theology, historical theology, sacramental theology, ecclesiology, and ecumenism. An investigation into what Catholics and Methodists have shared with each other to date in ecumenical dialogue serves to elucidate the state of affairs between the two churches. The traditioning voices of Thomas Aquinas and John Wesley provide instances of detailed teaching on eucharistic sacrifice. Aquinas' theology has continued to inform Catholic teaching, while Wesley's was largely forgotten in nineteenth century Methodism. His theology of eucharistic sacrifice anticipates significantly the convergence that the liturgical and ecumenical movements have achieved on this topic through their attention to the theology of the early church, yet only a handful of contemporary Methodist theologians have explored Wesley's theology of eucharistic sacrifice in detail, and fewer still from an ecumenical perspective. In recent decades, Catholic and Methodist churches have circulated official teaching on eucharistic sacrifice and made significant revisions to their eucharistic liturgies. An analysis of these texts demonstrates how each church currently articulates its doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice and celebrates it sacramentally. The analysis also allows for an assessment of the current degree of convergence between the two churches on eucharistic sacrifice. The conclusion is that, first, Methodism has begun to recover a strong doctrine of eucharistic sacrifice, and greater attention to its Wesleyan heritage can only strengthen it further. Second, the two churches share more on eucharistic sacrifice than is frequently appreciated; indeed, Methodism should recognize in Catholicism a doctrine and a liturgy with which it can fully agree. Third, eucharistic sacrifice necessitates a clearly-formulated ecclesiology, which is a topic in the dialogues where Catholics can continue to prompt Methodists for deeper reflection. Convergence on eucharistic sacrifice, if recognized by both churches, would constitute a significant step forward on the path to full communion between them.