ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - A German ecumenical declaration on intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants has trashed the ancient doctrine of "apostolic succession" as unverifiable and concluded that the Protestant Lord's Supper is also "valid."
"The assumption of an unbroken chain of laying on of hands by the apostles until today ... cannot be proven historically," declares "Together at the Lord's Table: Ecumenical Perspectives in the Celebration of the Lord's Supper and Eucharist."
Authored by the Ecumenical Working Group of Protestant and Catholic Theologians, the document suggests that "the practice of mutual participation in the celebration of the Lord's Supper/Eucharist [is] theologically justified, respecting the liturgical traditions of the other."
The agreement recognizes "baptism as a sacramental bond of faith and a necessary condition for participation," making it possible for Protestants who have married Catholic spouses to receive Holy Communion.
But Cdl. Kurt Koch, president of of the Pontifical Unity Council, rejected the conclusions of the group last Monday, arguing that the Catholic Eucharist and Protestant Lord's Supper are not identical. "Many contested questions in the understanding of the Eucharist, for example, the concept of 'victim' or the question of office, do not even appear in the document."
Canon lawyer Bp. Markus Graulich SDB, under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legal Texts, has also slammed the document for "continuously masking out or questioning of the sacrificial character of the Holy Mass."
The former professor of canon law at the Pontifical Salesian University notes that "the vertical dimension of the celebration of the sacraments are completely ignored" while "the focus is on the community aspect," with the end result being that "the Holy Mass is reduced to a meal."
"Do we really mean the same thing when we speak of the Lord's Supper and the Eucharist?" asks Graulich. "The belief in the real change of the gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, which takes place in the Eucharist, is very different from the idea of the presence of the Lord in the Protestant Lord's Supper."
Church Militant examined the 57-page German document, voted on in September 2019, and identified its fundamental flaw as the devaluing of apostolic succession as indispensable for the priesthood.
Graulich concurs: "The understanding of ordination in the Catholic Church is fundamentally different from the understanding of ministry in the Reformed communities."
The declaration does its best not to offend Protestants by pointing to their lack of valid orders due to the absence of apostolic succession. Consequently, it downgrades the Catholic view of priesthood as contingent on apostolic succession.
It also affirms Protestant ministry as possessing "apostolicity" by "the pure proclamation of the gospel and the right administration of the sacraments" — citing conditions laid down by the Protestant reformers.
The document claims:
Tradition usually attributes the separation in the eucharistic meal to differences in the understanding of the official leadership. In this regard, the protection of participation in the apostolic mission is urged. In the meantime, a common, differentiated understanding of the apostolic succession has been achieved in numerous national and international ecumenical dialogues, which enables the ordained ministry in its various denominations to be considered apostolic: In the New Testament writings, the term "apostle" refers not only to the twelve disciples, but also to the witnesses to the risen Christ.
Debunking the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession as historically unproven, the document affirms the Protestant idea of "connection between the apostolic origin and the religious life of the churches today" as made possible "through the preaching of the gospel in word and sacrament by virtue of the Spirit of God."
Hence, "according to ecumenical conviction, the presence of Jesus Christ is promised for the meals" — an affirmation of Lutheran, Calvinist or Zwinglian ideas of "eucharistic presence" but a denial of the Catholic doctrine of "Real Presence" through transubstantiation.
The declaration claims that the "doctrine of transubstantiation formulated at the Fourth Lateran Council" actually "did not categorically preclude a conceptually different interpretation of the sacrament, by describing the term transubstantiation as aptissime (extremely appropriate) to describe this secret of faith, and thus kept this term open for future theological reflection."
The result is the theological reductionism of the Eucharist to a community meal: "The crucified, raised and exalted Jesus Christ invites us to a meal, we are his table companions. His invitation transcends and encompasses the denominational boundaries and boundaries that stand in the way of the visible unity of Christianity."
Graulich asks to "what extent is the belief that Christ invites you to a meal compatible with the practice that the Church draws boundaries when it comes to admission to Communion?" adding, "It is not primarily a church meal, but the deepest form of encounter with the crucified and risen Lord."
The canonist comments:
Personally, I can see little serious argument in the paper, apart from some interesting historical details in the first part. There are only many quotations from the writings of the reformers and documents from the Reformation. In addition, many terms are placed side by side on an equal footing, [but] theologically speaking they have very different meanings.
Catholics are concerned that the declaration will be used by the German "synodal path" to promote intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, archbishop of Munich and Freising, a leading progressive among the German bishops, has already asserted his claim on the validity of the Protestant Lord's Supper: "Do we really believe that Jesus is standing at the door of the Protestants, and then they sit down for the Lord's Supper and then Jesus says: 'No, I will not sit down with you.' We can't imagine it, right?"
In addition to Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and "high Church" Anglicans also hold to the doctrine of apostolic succession.
Apostolic succession is mentioned as early as 80 A.D. by Pope Clement I of Rome and St. Irenaeus of Lyons who writes of being "in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times."
Saint Jerome wrote in 396 A.D.: "Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians."