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How Catholics, Anglicans differ on Eucharist

Daniel Stollenwerk reviews a book that reads Eucharistic theology in the international Anglican - Roman Catholic dialogues from an Evangelical perspective.

Dan Stollenwerk  |  22 Feb 2019  |  1 Comment  



Did the Anglicans and Catholics agree on the Eucharist: 
A Re-visit of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International
Commission’s Agreed Statements of 1971 and Related Documents


By Colin Buchanan


Eugene, or Pickwick Publications, 2018.



Did the Anglicans and Catholics agree on the Eucharist ? The short answer in this book is No. They didn’t.

The Anglicans and Roman Catholics did not agree on the Eucharist – on eucharistic sacrifice, memorial, ontological change, transubstantiation, real presence, reservation, adoration – or inter-communion.

Anglican bishop and theologian Colin Buchanan’s longer answer, however, takes the reader on an historical and theological journey from the 16th century break in relations, through Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI’s momentous 1966 encounter, to the now three phases of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC).

His book is thematic. Buchanan does not investigate ministry or authority; he sticks to the Eucharist.

His investigation is based on documents. Before commenting on them, Buchanan conveniently reproduces for the reader the relevant eucharistic texts from the ARCIC documents, preparatory statements, and Vatican and Anglican clarifications.

His book is liturgical. Buchanan continually references the Church of England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer and subsequent changes, as well as the 16th century Tridentine and post-Vatican II Pauline Masses.

As Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for Defence of the Faith, wrote of ARCIC I’s final report, the ancient church liturgies are the original interpretations of the biblical heritage. Theology may drift into opinion; liturgy, however, is the living faith of history.

Buchanan agrees: ultimately, ecumenical unity can only come about via liturgy and today the liturgies do not agree.

 Never is this more apparent than in his assessment of Eucharist as sacrifice where he notes that “No Anglican liturgy today… could ever say ‘May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands’” (p. 170) which was deleted from the Anglican liturgy as early as 1549.

 Such an assessment marks a good example of another of Buchanan’s important contributions to the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue: his representation of the evangelical wing of Anglicanism. Politically, he points out, ARICIC and ARCIC-related documents often lacked adequate evangelical representation.

 But more importantly, theologically, he frequently takes the reader back to the Reformation ideal of scriptural interpretation and the cleansing of the tradition. (He could not disagree more with the much-articulated assessment that the Anglican Church separated for political reasons, not over fundamental points of the faith.)

 Thus, Buchanan concludes, perhaps because it was an era of enthusiasm and good will, ARCIC I and II overlooked the hardest of questions on the Eucharist, preferring instead “substantial agreement”. Moreover, he continues, it is doubtful whether the authors even knew they had not come to agreement on the Eucharist! (p 152).

 In a postscript on the first document produced by ARCIC III, Buchanan opines that Walking Together on the Way: Learning to Be the Church – Local, Regional and Universal, again appears to “deliberately side-line the controversies of the past” including the Eucharist (161).

 Buchanan’s view may be too harsh. This erudite and meticulous author has well demonstrated that theologically we’re not there on the Eucharist – nor on ordination or authority. Nevertheless, ARCIC I and II did get the dialogue going, they made admirable progress in the Vatican II call for ecumenism, and using a new vocabulary in a new age they did bring substantial agreement on many aspects of Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy.

 Having said that, the perhaps naively longed-for complete Anglican-Roman Catholic reunion has remained far more elusive than may have first been anticipated. ARCIC III – co-chaired by New Zealand Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Sir David Moxon – appears to recognize that former naivete but insists it is time to move on to perhaps an even more trying phase, what Archbishop Ramsey and Pope Paul VI called in 1966 “matters of practical difficulty felt on either side”.

 ARCIC III’s first published work starts with the premise that each tradition must attend to its own structures and instruments of communion, but should accompany one another like pilgrim companions on a very rough journey. Having accepted this unity in diversity, it then asks how each can help the other. Through assessment of one another’s church structures, through repentance, and courage, it enquires how Anglicans and Roman Catholics might bring about a new ecumenism of “transformative receptive learning”.

On this new approach to ecumenism Buchanan does not appear to disagree. Though he concludes that ARCIC I and II have not brought about agreement on the Eucharist, he does hold out that the future might. Moreover, he hopes that ARCIC III will show us that “no amount of unease arising from our past” should daunt us from looking “for better eucharistic worship in our lives, to be worked out under the good hand of our God in the years to come” (156).

 The Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue continues.

 Daniel J. Stollenwerk, STD, Head of the Faculty of Theology and Philosophy at St. Peter’s College, Auckland, is a long-time member of the Anglican Roman Catholic Conference of Aotearoa New Zealand (ARCCANZ).


Bosco Peters

My response to whether Anglicans can say "May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands" is found here:


Rev. Bosco Peters