CDW puts the Kibbosh on Ecumenical Service - But is there more to this than meets the eye?
Okay, so it is making a bit of news around the traps today.
According to a story in the Sydney Herald, "the Vatican" has "put a stop to a joint Pentecostal service planned by the Newcastle and Maitland Catholic and Anglican bishops."
The source of this information is said to be "a joint statement" issued by the Right Reverend Brian Farran, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, and the Most Reverend Michael Malone, Catholic Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle.
I cannot find this joint statement anywhere on the web. Not even on the "media release" page of the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.
One does like to have the facts before offering comment or analysis. "I read it in the Herald" is not sufficient to say that "it" is true, and still less a basis for explaining or understanding "it".
However, I think we are able to make some comment.
For a start, I think they mean "Pentecost service", ie. a service for the feast of Pentecost, rather than a "Pentecostal service", ie. a service for charismatic Catholics and Anglicans. Can't quite see the two bishops being into the hand-waving...
Still, according to the Herald's report, what was planned wasn't just a run-of-the-mill ecumenical service for Pentecost. Those things happen all the time. Ecumenical services have been the go ever since the Second Vatican Council, and it seems very unlikely that the Congregation is trying to put the kibbosh on these as such. (I recall a very happy event here in Melbourne in 1999 when a joint Catholic-Lutheran Vespers took place in the Cathedral to celebrate the signing of the Joint Declaration).
I think the missing key to the CDW's request to ditch the service is the fact that what was actually being planned was a joint "confirmation service". That would certainly explain why the CDW "expressed concern about a simultaneous celebration and the possibility of confusing messages being given to the people".
Confirmation is a tricky sacrament to pin down. I mean, there are so many variables about the way in which different ecclesial communities celebrate this rite - not to mention the fact that plenty of protestant folks would challenge that it is even a sacrament.
But I think you can say one definite thing about the way "confirmation" is celebrated by everyone and anyone: it is a rite that expresses a baptised person's committment to a particular bishop, local church, confession, rite or community. In other words, while baptism may be universally agreed to be a "rite of initiation" into the Universal Church, confirmation is almost just as universally designed as a "rite of denominational demarcation".
Thus, while one could imagine a situation in which the joint celebration of or rememberance of baptism would be very appropriate for an ecumenical service, the celebration of a joint ecumenical "confirmation service" would indeed by "confusing" (as the Herald suggests that the Bishops suggest that the CDW suggests).
It would be as hard to imagine as an ecumenical ordination service...
I hope that the Anglicans and Catholics in Newcastle go ahead with a joint service at Pentecost. I don't think anyone would have objected to that. But it is very wise of the Congregation for Divine Worship to close down any plans for a joint "confirmation service".