21 June 2018

Convivium 2018 Part 4: The Catholicity of Weekly Communion

Drawing from the riches of the most recent Convivium Irenicum on the theme of "Reformed Catholicity" (for Part 1 go herefor the three-parter on Part 2 go here, here, and here, and for Part 3 try here), we come to the final piece by Gregory Soderberg: Weekly Communion: A Criterion of Catholicity? 

Like another of the papers, Soderberg's was a work in progress. In fact, it's part of the dissertation on which he's currently working. Soderberg's topic was appropriate in light the Convivium's second paper by Andre Gazal who, summarizing 16th century Bishop of Salisbury John Jewell, identified "four criteria for orthodoxy [catholicity]: Scripture, the first four ecumenical councils, the writings of the church fathers, and the example of the primitive (i.e., first 600 years) of the church."

Could Soderberg meet these four criteria with respect to weekly communion? Was it "catholic"? And, even if he did, what had the reformers in the Reformed tradition said about the frequency of the Eucharist? In other words, was it part of Reformed Catholicity? Like the dissertation of which it will be a part, Soderberg's paper was very closely reasoned and made use of a wide variety of historical resources. Notwithstanding its technical nature, there were a variety of insights that should prove interesting to non-specialists. But for those you'll need to buy the book.

For me, anyway, the answer to the first question was almost-but-not-quite. So far as we can tell, weekly communion was the general practice of the early Church. And it was noted by a number of the Church Fathers. It was not clear, however, that it finds unambiguous backing in the acts of the first four ecumenical councils. Some support, mind you, but not unambiguous.

As for the second question, the reformed Reformers did not so much focus on the weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper but on increasing its frequency from the pre-Reformation practice of only annually, receiving both the elements by laity as well as clergy, and serious preparation for receiving the Eucharistic meal. Support for weekly communion can be found but it isn't like it was an across-the-board high priority.

But what about now.? Even if weekly communion is not part of the inheritance of Reformed Catholicism, is it nonetheless a goal toward which which churches should strive? To answer this question I will conclude with Soderberg's conclusion:
We can conclude that [the Reformational] writers of the past did not make frequent communion a "mark" of the church, or equate it with "catholicity." They did, however, point to the pattern of frequent communion in the apostolic and patristic eras a standard [goal?]. [They] also devoted many pages to warning people to prepare themselves thoroughly, and to approach the Lord's Supper with a serious and earnest sense of the magnitude of what they were doing. This aspect of preparation seems to be missing in current advocates of frequent communion.
That's it for this series from #ConviviumIrenicum2018. Until next year ... 

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