Eucharistic Doctrine: An Elucidation

Status of agreed statements:
Agreed statements have been agreed by the dialogue members and submitted to the sponsoring churches for study. These texts express the careful considerations of the members of the dialogue but are not official statements of either of the churches.

In 1971, ARCIC released its Windsor statement on the subject of the Eucharist. Responses to the agreed statement identified a number of issues on which further clarification was desirable. Following the Salisbury meeting in 1979, the current document, entitled “Elucidations on Eucharist” was released along with another text “Elucidations on Ministry” (ARCIC-200). The two documents were published together in ARCIC-206 and The Final Report (1981).

Persistent link:
This permanent link may be used to link to this document.
Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission I. "Eucharistic Doctrine: An Elucidation" (Salisbury, 20 Jan. 1979).


Elucidations on Eucharist

1. When each of the Agreed Statements was published, the Commission invited and has received comment and criticism. This Elucidation is an attempt to expand and explain to those who have responded some points raised in connection with Eucharistic Doctrine (Windsor 1971).


2. The Commission was not asked to produce a comprehensive treatise on the eucharist, but only to examine differences which in the controversies of the past divided our two communions. The aim of the Commission has been to see whether we can today discover substantial agreement in faith on the eucharist. Questions have been asked about the meaning of substantial agreement. It means that the document represents not only the judgement of all its members – i.e. it is an agreement – but their unanimous agreement ‘on essential matters where it considers that doctrine admits no divergence’ (Ministry, para. 17) – i.e. it is a substantial agreement. Members of the Commission are united in their conviction ‘that if there are any remaining points of disagreement they can be resolved on the principles here established’ (Eucharist, para. 12).


3. The following comments and criticisms are representative of the many received and are considered by the Commission to be of particular importance.

In spite of the firm assertion made in the Agreed Statement of the ‘once for all’ nature of Christ’s sacrifice, some have still been anxious that the term anamnesis may conceal the reintroduction of the theory of a repeated immolation. Others have suspected that the word refers not only to the historical events of salvation but also to an eternal sacrifice in heaven. Others again have doubted whether anamnesis sufficiently implies the reality indicated by traditional sacrificial language concerning the eucharist. Moreover, the accuracy and adequacy of the Commission’s exegesis of anamnesis have been questioned.

Some critics have been unhappy about the realistic language used in this Agreed Statement, and have questioned such words as become and change. Others have wondered whether the permanence of Christ’s eucharistic presence has been sufficiently acknowledged, with a consequent request for a discussion of the reserved sacrament and devotions associated with it. Similarly there have been requests for clarification of the Commission’s attitude to receptionism.

4. Behind these criticisms there lies a profound but often unarticulated anxiety that the Commission has been using new theological language which evades unresolved differences. Related to this anxiety is the further question as to the nature of the agreement claimed by the Commission. Does the language of the Commission conceal an ambiguity (either intentional or unintentional) in language which enables members of the two churches to see their own faith in the Agreed Statement without having in fact reached a genuine consensus?


5. The Commission has been criticized for its use of the term anamnesis. It chose the word used in New Testament accounts of the institution of the eucharist at the last supper:

‘Do this as a memorial (anamnesis) of me’ (1 Cor 11:24-25; Luke 22:19; JB, NEB).

The word is also to be found in Justin Martyr in the second century. Recalling the last supper he writes:

‘Jesus, taking bread and having given thanks, said, “Do this for my memorial (anamnesin): This is my body”; and likewise, taking the cup, and giving thanks, he said, “This is my blood”‘ (First Apology 66; cf. Dialogue with Trypho 117).

From this time onwards the term is found at the very heart of the eucharistic prayers of both East and West, not only in the institution narrative but also in the prayer which follows and elsewhere: cf. e.g. The Liturgy of St John Chrysostom; Eucharistic Prayer I – The Roman Missal; The Order of the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion – The Book of Common Prayer (1962); and Rites A and B of the Church of England Alternative Service Book (1980).

The word is also found in patristic and later theology. The Council of Trent in explaining the relation between the sacrifice of the cross and the eucharist uses the words commemoratio and memoria (Session 22, ch. 1); and in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) the Catechism states that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was ordained ‘for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of the death of Christ, and of the benefits which we receive thereby’. The frequent use of the term in contemporary theology is illustrated by One Baptism, One Eucharist and a Mutually Recognized Ministry (Faith and Order Commission Paper No. 73), as well as by the General Instruction on the Roman Missal (1970).

The Commission believes that the traditional understanding of sacramental reality, in which the once-for-all event of salvation becomes effective in the present through the action of the Holy Spirit, is well expressed by the word anamnesis. We accept this use of the word which seems to do full Justice to the semitic background. Furthermore it enables us to affirm a strong conviction of sacramental realism and to reject mere symbolism. However the selection of this word by the Commission does not mean that our common eucharistic faith may not be expressed in other terms.

In the exposition of the Christian doctrine of redemption the word sacrifice has been used in two intimately associated ways. In the New Testament, sacrificial language refers primarily to the historical events of Christ’s saving work for us. The tradition of the Church, as evidenced for example in its liturgies, used similar language to designate in the eucharistic celebration the anamnesis of this historical event. Therefore it is possible to say at the same time that there is only one unrepeatable sacrifice In the historical sense, but that the eucharist is a sacrifice in the sacramental sense, provided that it is clear that this is not a repetition of the historical sacrifice.

There is therefore one historical, unrepeatable sacrifice, offered once for all by Christ and accepted once for all by the Father. In the celebration of the memorial, Christ in the Holy Spirit unites his people with himself in a sacramental way so that the Church enters into the movement of his self-offering. In consequence, even though the Church is active in this celebration, this adds nothing to the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross, because the action is itself the fruit of this sacrifice. The Church in celebrating the eucharist gives thanks for the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and identifies itself with the will of Christ who has offered himself to the Father on behalf of all mankind.


6. Criticism has been evoked by the statement that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ in the eucharist (para. 10). The word become has been suspected of expressing a materialistic conception of Christ’s presence, and this has seemed to some to be confirmed in the footnote on the word transubstantiation which also speaks of change. It is feared that this suggests that Christ’s presence in the eucharist is confined to the elements, and that the Real Presence involves a physical change in them.

In order to respond to these comments the Commission recalls that the Statement affirmed that:

a. It is the glorified Lord himself whom the community of the faithful encounters in the eucharistic celebration through the preaching of the word, in the fellowship of the Lord’s supper, in the heart of the believer, and, in a sacramental way, through the gifts of his body and blood, already given on the cross for their salvation.

b. His body and blood are given through the action of the Holy Spirit, appropriating bread and wine so that they become the food of the new creation already inaugurated by the coming of Christ (cf. paras. 7, 10, 11).

Becoming does not here imply material change. Nor does the liturgical use of the word imply that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood in such a way that in the eucharistic celebration his presence is limited to the consecrated elements. It does not imply that Christ becomes present in the eucharist in the same manner that he was present in his earthly life. it does not imply that this becoming follows the physical laws of this world. What is here affirmed is a sacramental presence in which God uses realities of this world to convey the realities of the new creation: bread for this life becomes the bread of eternal life. Before the eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’, the believer answers: ‘It is bread.’ After the eucharistic prayer, to the same question he answers: ‘It is truly the body of Christ, the Bread of Life.’

In the sacramental order the realities of faith become present in visible and tangible signs, enabling Christians to avail themselves of the fruits of the once-for-all redemption. in the eucharist the human person encounters in faith the person of Christ in his sacramental body and blood. This is the sense in which the community, the body of Christ, by partaking of the sacramental body of the risen Lord, grows into the unity God intends for his Church. The ultimate change intended by God is the transformation of human beings into the likeness of Christ. The bread and wine become the sacramental body and blood of Christ in order that the Christian community may become more truly what it already is, the body of Christ.


7. This transformation into the likeness of Christ requires that the eucharistic gifts be received in faith. In the mystery of the eucharist we discern not one but two complementary movements within an indissoluble unity: Christ giving his body and blood, and the communicants feeding upon them in their hearts by faith. Some traditions have placed a special emphasis on the association of Christ’s presence with the consecrated elements; others have emphasized Christ’s presence n the heart of the believer through reception by faith. In the past, acute difficulties have arisen when one or other of these emphases has become most exclusive. In the opinion of the Commission neither emphasis is incompatible with eucharistic faith, provided that the complementary movement emphasized by the other position is not denied. Eucharistic doctrine must hold together these two movements since in the eucharist, the sacrament of the New Covenant, Christ gives himself to his people so that they may receive him through faith.


8. The practice of reserving the sacrament for reception after the congregation has dispersed is known to date, back to the second century (cf. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 65 and 67). In so far as it maintains the complementary movements already referred to (as for example, when communion is taken to the sick) this practice clearly accords with the purpose of the institution of the eucharist. But later there developed a tendency to stress the veneration of Christ’s presence in the consecrated elements. In some places this tendency became so pronounced that the original purpose of reservation was in danger of becoming totally obscured. If veneration is wholly dissociated from the eucharistic celebration of the community it contradicts the true doctrine of the eucharist.

Consideration of this question requires clarification of the understanding of the eucharist. Adoration in the celebration of the eucharist is first and foremost offered to the Father. It is to lead us to the Father that Christ unites us to himself through our receiving of his body and blood. The Christ whom we adore in the eucharist is Christ glorifying his Father. The movement of all our adoration is to the Father, through, with, and in Christ, in the power of the Spirit.

The whole eucharistic action is a continuous movement in which Christ offers himself in his sacramental body and blood to his people and in which they receive him in faith and thanksgiving. Consequently communion administered from the reserved sacrament to those unable to attend the eucharistic celebration is rightly understood as an extension of that celebration. Differences arise between those who would practice reservation for this reason only, and those who would also regard it as a. means of eucharistic devotion, For the latter, adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament should be regarded as an extension of eucharistic worship, even though it does not include immediate sacramental reception, which remains the primary purpose of reservation (cf. the Instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium, para. 49, of the Sacred Congregation of Rites (AAS 59, 1967).) Any dissociation of such devotion from this primary purpose, which is communion in Christ of all his members, is a distortion in eucharistic practice.

9. In spite of this clarification, others still find any, kind of adoration of Christ in the reserved sacrament unacceptable. They believe that it is in fact impossible in such a practice truly to hold together the two movements of which we have spoken: and that this devotion can hardly fall to produce such an emphasis upon the association of Christ’s sacramental presence with the consecrated bread and wine as to suggest too static and localized a presence that disrupts the movement as well as the balance of the whole eucharistic action (cf. Article 28 of the Articles of Religion).

That there can be a divergence in matters of practice and in theological judgements relating to them, without destroying a common eucharistic faith, illustrates what we mean by substantial agreement. Differences of theology and practice may well coexist with a real consensus on the essentials of eucharistic faith – as in fact they do within each of our communions.


10. Concern has been expressed that we have said nothing about intercommunion, though claiming to have attained a substantial agreement on eucharistic faith. The reason is that we are agreed that a responsible judgement on this matter cannot be made on the basis of this Statement alone, because intercommunion also involves issues relating to authority and to the mutual recognition of ministry. There are other important issues, such as the eschatological dimension of the eucharist and its relation to contemporary questions of human liberation and social justice, which we have either not fully developed or not explicitly treated. These are matters which call for the common attention of our churches, but they are not a source of division between us and are therefore outside our mandate.