Many moons ago -- just under a quarter of a century -- I covered a major ecumenical event in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. I believe it was a festive Divine Eucharist marking the departure of Bishop William C. Frey, as he exited to serve as dean and president of the Trinity School for Ministry.
One of the honored participants in the service was Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, who was a national level figure in Catholic ecumenical efforts (and today is a cardinal serving at the Vatican). It was natural for Stafford to be there, in large part because he had a positive working relationship with the charismatic Frey, who was a traditionalist on key doctrinal issues that affected ecumenical work in public life.
Stafford took part in the first half of the service, but did not formally vest to take part in the Holy Eucharist itself. As the rite moved into the sacramental prayers of the Mass, the Catholic archbishop moved to the side of the auditorium -- where a prie dieu had been placed, allowing him to respectfully kneel in solitary prayer.
The symbolism was important: Stafford was there in prayer, but because the Catholic and Anglican churches are not in Communion, with a large "C," he could not take part in the celebration of the Mass (with female priests, for example) or receive Communion. Stafford was there as a show of unity, to the degree allowed by the doctrines of the two churches.
I thought of this scene in the past while reading the current Associated Press report about the Vatican announcement that Pope Francis would visit the Holy Land this coming May. Of course, AP interpreted this move in terms of politics, as well as in ecumenical terms:
(VATICAN CITY) -- Pope Francis says his upcoming trip to the Holy Land aims to boost relations with Orthodox Christians. But the three-day visit in May also underscores Francis' close ties to the Jewish community, his outreach to Muslims and the Vatican's longstanding call for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The announcement was made Sunday just as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up three days of talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a new U.S. bid for peace.
Frankly, I will be shocked if the pope does not use this trip as an opportunity to spotlight the waves of persecution affecting Christians, and the faithful in other religious minorities, throughout the wider region -- especially from Egypt to Pakistan.
But the mention of the Eastern Orthodox in the lede was significant. Then, later in the piece, there is this:
"We are hoping for a new glimmer of light from this visit in relations with the Orthodox, with Muslims and Jews," Monsignor William Shomali, auxiliary bishop in Jerusalem, told Vatican Radio on Sunday. ...
Francis said his prime aim was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and the then-spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Atengora. Catholics and Orthodox have been divided since the Great Schism of 1054, precipitated largely by disagreements over the primacy of the pope.
Francis will be joined in Jerusalem by the current ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew, who became the first ecumenical leader to attend a papal installation since the schism when he traveled to Rome for Francis' inaugural Mass in March. They will celebrate Mass together at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where the faithful believe Jesus was crucified and buried.
Stop the presses.
The pope and the ecumenical will "celebrate" a Mass (the Western term) or a Divine Liturgy (the Eastern term) "together"? There has been quite a bit of bridge building done between East and West in recent decades, but not that much.
Now I realize that the AP team did not use the formal term "concelebrate." I get that. But combining the liturgical term "celebrate" -- as opposed to something vague like "take part in" -- with the word "together" is really improper in this context. Two hierarchs do not "celebrate" a sacramental service "together" unless they are in Communion, again with a large "C."
So what did AP mean to say? It's hard to tell, but I would assume that the pope is going to celebrate Mass and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will be there to pray and to take part -- think that image of Archbishop Stafford on his kneeler -- to the degree allowed by the doctrines of these two ancient churches. But they will not "celebrate" a Mass "together" -- thus marking the end of the Great Schism of of 1054.
In other words: Correction, please.