Speaking of ecumenism, I was reading an article in a recent L’Osservatore Romano by Bishop Brian Farrell, the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (unfortunately not available online). In the article Bishop Farrell gives a report on ecumenical progress in recent decades. One thing he wrote near the end of the article struck me (emphasis added):
The dialogues are not capable, by themselves, of guaranteeing, the fulfilment of the final goal of the ecumenical movement, that is, unity in the Eucharist as the sign of full visible communion.
This sentence sums up the reason for my own dual sense of optimism/pessimism regarding ecumenism. On the one hand, I am optimistic about the possibility of corporate reunion with the Churches of the East: the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox. I recognize that it might take centuries, but discussions with these Churches can be fruitful because we share the same “final goal” of Eucharistic communion.
However, I am more pessimistic about ecumenical dialogue with the “Eccesial Communities of the West” (as the Church often calls Protestant bodies), as they are hamstrung from the beginning since Eucharistic Communion is not the final goal for most of them. How can two people reach a destination of which they disagree on its location? As Protestants do not believe in the sacramental nature of the Church (and thus do not view the Church as an essentially visible structure), their “final goal” is more pointed towards a common confession on the “essentials” of the faith (the details of which vary from body to body).
The Church, however, believes that “the Eucharist makes the Church” (CCC 1396). Without the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, we would not have the Body of Christ, the Church. Thus, Eucharistic communion is a necessary component of a unified body.
I do not mean to disparage those Catholics who are working valiantly in the field of ecumenism with Protestants; there can be much fruitfulness that can come from those discussions. However, until we share the same “final goal” I do not see how such discussions can reach their destination.