One Bread, One Body

​[1] Vatican-banned Roman Catholic theologian Charles Curran writes that, to be in-line with Second Vatican Council ideals, papal encyclicals should address the role of liturgy in connection with social justice and daily life. However, “these documents make little or no reference to liturgy” (Curran 121). Curran’s criticism cannot be leveled against Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, which makes a central argument for the Eucharist as means of encountering God’s love and inspiring neighbor-love.

[2] Benedict uses his discussion of the Eucharist as a transition and link between the two parts of the encyclical—the first a “speculative” (Benedict §1) section on the relationship between God’s love and human love, the second a more concrete treatment of the active expression of love through charity. He writes, “Love of God and love of neighbor are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself. We can thus understand how agape also became a term for the Eucharist: there God’s own agape comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us” (Benedict §14). In comparing Benedict’s writings on love, charity and Eucharist to Martin Luther’s, their common Augustinian theological heritage emerges. Both see the Eucharist in terms of Augustine’s remarkable commerce: Christ exchanges our wretchedness for his blessedness, so that we in turn might take our neighbor’s wretchedness and exchange it for blessedness. The direction of this exchange is from God, through communing community, to the neighbor. In this exchange, God is not passive, waiting for something from us. God gives first—and continues to give—so that we may continue to give. In popular Lutheran terms: “God comes down” (Fryer). Benedict writes, “The sacramental ‘mysticism,’ grounded in God’s condescension towards us, operates at a radically different level and lifts us to far greater heights than anything that any human mystical elevation could ever accomplish” (Benedict §13). It is God’s love for us, expressed tangibly in Holy Communion, which makes this level of neighbor-love possible—not any merit of our own.

[3] From Luther’s 1519 sermon in Isleben:

When you have partaken of this sacrament, therefore, or desire to partake of it, you must in turn share the misfortunes of the fellowship, as has been said … Here your heart must go out in love and learn that this is a sacrament of love. As love and support are given you, you in turn must render love and support to Christ in his needy ones. You must fight, work, pray, and—if you cannot do more—have heartfelt sympathy … Here the saying of Paul is fulfilled, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” [Gal. 6:2]. See, as you uphold all of them, so they all in turn uphold you; and all things are in common, both good and evil. Then all things become easy, and the evil spirit cannot stand up against this fellowship (Luther §9).

[4] Luther and Benedict emphasize that this love of a needy neighbor is love of Christ: Luther defines charity as “support to Christ in his needy ones” (Luther §9) and Benedict writes that “Jesus identifies himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Mt 25:40). Love of God and love of neighbor have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God” (Benedict §15).

[5] Both Benedict and Luther focus on the unity and community created by sharing the Eucharist. Luther imagines a community in which “you uphold all of them, so they all in turn uphold you; and all things are in common, both good and evil.” This fellowship makes difficult times “easy” (Luther §9). Benedict writes, “As Saint Paul says, ‘Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread’ (1 Cor 10:17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself … Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become ‘one body’, completely joined in a single existence” (Benedict §14).

[6] With the theological alignment of Luther and Benedict, it seems like Eucharistic unity between Lutherans and Catholics shouldn’t be an issue. Yet, we know it is. I am a woman, an ordination-track divinity school student, and a Lutheran who is about to marry a man from a devout Roman Catholic family. Benedict’s familiar theology seems to welcome me and my hope for shared communion; at the same time, events in my own life and current events alternately support and contradict that hope. Benedict writes: “Here, the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. ‘Worship’ itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented” (Benedict §14). These words ring so true, but I can’t read them and forget our “intrinsically fragmented” Eucharist, dividing families along denominational lines.

[7] When I consider the possibility that I may never be able to share communion with my new family by marriage—and that, by becoming Lutheran, my husband will no longer be able to commune with his family—I feel a tangible loss. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in this feeling. Bishop Stephen Blair, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, told the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly that “It is very painful to come to the moment of communion when we do not share … Not only is communion in our Catholic theology a sign of achieving of full communion, but it is also a means of arriving at communion, and we need to explore that” (“ELCA Assembly Receives Greetings from Roman Catholic Church” 1). Blair also said he would bring ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson’s recommendation of a joint declaration on the Eucharist to the U.S. Bishops.

[8] The pain of disunity and a deep yearning for shared communion are evident in Pope Benedict’s homily for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. At the traditional celebration, with Metropolitan John Zizioulas in attendance as representative of the Orthodox Church, Benedict said “We share the ardent desire expressed in the past by Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI: to drink together from the same chalice, and to eat together the bread that is the Lord himself. We newly implore, on this occasion, that this gift will be conceded to us soon” (Allen 1). Benedict uses strong language—ardent, implore—to communicate a desire for something other than gradual ecumenical progress: a prayer for the gift of unity in Christ … soon. Could ecumenical progress between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches positively impact Lutheran/Catholic dialog?

[9] Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, expresses optimism on the subject of Catholic/Orthodox ecumenism, and pessimism when it comes to dialog with mainline Protestant denominations. “They have developed a concept of unity that constantly draws farther away from Catholic ecclesiology,” Kasper said, decrying “the internal fragmentation of some ecclesial communities, in particular the Anglican communion, and their loss of substance above all in the field of ethics, especially on questions of life and the family” (Magister 1). In that area, Kasper finds more ecumenical potential in conservative evangelical Christian churches and the growing Pentecostal movement in Latin America.

[10] On the other hand, Cardinal Kasper presided at the funeral of Taizë community-founder Brother Roger Schutz—a Roman Catholic mass in which all were welcomed to communion regardless of denomination (Tagliabue 1). Still, though, the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church is a clear statement against communion sharing; issued under then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s authority as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it reads: “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders. It is for this reason that Eucharistic intercommunion is not possible for the Catholic Church” (Allen 2005 1).

[11] As our wedding day approaches, I worry about this seeming impossibility and still hope that all will feel welcome at worship. I imagine that as we sing “One Bread, One Body”—a hymn common to Catholics and Lutherans, with theology common to Paul, Augustine, Luther and Benedict—we will thank God for the unity we have and, as Benedict did, implore God that the gift of shared communion be conceded to us … soon.


Allen Jr., John L. “Benedict practices ‘communion ecclesiology.’ National Catholic Reporter. Vol. 5, No 42. 30 June 2006.

Allen Jr., John L. “Ecumenical and interfaith opportunities: protestant.” National Catholic Reporter. Vol. 4, No. 44. 12 August 2005. 4 July 2006.

Benedict XVI. Deus Caritas Est. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005.Curran, Charles E. Catholic Social Teaching, 1891-present: A historical, theological, and ethical analysis. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2002.

“ELCA Assembly Receives Greetings from Roman Catholic Church.” ELCA News Service. 13 August 2005. 4 July 2006.

Fryer, Kelly A. Reclaiming the “L” Word: Renewing the Church from its Lutheran Core.Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2003.

Luther, Martin. “Luther’s Works, vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I.” Luther’s Works. Eds.J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960.

Magister, Sandro. “Lajolo and Kasper, Two New Additions to Team Ratzinger.” www.chiesa. 7 June 2006. 4 July 2006.

Tagliabue, John. “At His Funeral, Brother Roger Has an Ecumenical Dream Fulfilled.” The New York Times. Late Edition – Final, Section A, Page 9, Column 3. 24 August 2005. 04 July 2006.