Some thoughts on the major implications of Finnish Lutherans receiving communion at the Vatican last week.
2) The fact that it was communion for an ecumenical delegation working on full communion between the Orthodox, Catholics and Lutherans makes it even more momentous.
3) Lutherans of our "type," by which I mean Lutherans who subscribe to the confessions of the church but understand them as being open to ecumenical engagement and a move towards full communion with the pieces of a divided church, will celebrate this move, and probably initiate many local conversations inspired by the practice.
4) This will also give implicit permission to a regular practice I have experienced all over Roman Catholicism--openness to widening who can receive the meal at Christ's table.
5) What a lot of people don't know is that Roman Catholics and Lutherans are already in fundamental agreement about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Lutherans, unlike some other Protestants, do not believe in a symbolic presence. We believe Christ is truly present in, with, and under the bread and the wine.
6) Theologians, based on a faulty interpretation of 1 Corinthians, have sometimes taught that you have to believe the right things in order to receive communion. Churches that believe this practice "closed" communion available only to those who adhere to the correct doctrinal beliefs. Catholics do not believe this, exactly. Instead, more important to Catholics is that people not be living in sin, that they be in a "state of grace" when communing. In other words, true repentance is a prerequisite of reception.
7) More contemporary readings of 1 Corinthians 11 argue that when Paul says we eat and drink condemnation to ourselves when we do not discern the body in the meal, he wasn't speaking of right doctrinal belief, but rather injustices based on economic and other kinds of divisions in the church in Corinth.
8) In other words, it may be the case that the condemnation so many fear is most likely to happen by closing the table to others for the wrong reasons, and not recognizing the unity all Christians share in Christ, through baptism, in the Spirit.
9) All of which is to say it is baptism that centers the Eucharist and access to it, not doctrine, not sin, not sentiment. It is the Spirit that draws us into this unity. The pope is acting "in Christ" when he opens the table, because he is extending the table the way Christ extended it.
To read more about the move towards full communion of our faith communities: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html