On Friday, November 24, 2017, after twenty years of study and dialogue, Pope Francis received the Common Statement on the Sacramental Life from the theologians working for full communion between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. With this statement, the Assyrian/Catholic dialogue moves farther ahead than any other ecumenical dialogue in which the Catholic Church participates. Of special interest is the fact that four of the theologians are graduates of the University of Saint Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, therefore shares a small part of the success of this historic agreement.
On Friday, November 24, 2017, His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch and His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia, officially signed a Common Statement on Sacramental Life on behalf of the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The Statement notes: “As one and the same mystery is celebrated in these respective traditions, their different characteristics and features can be considered as a remarkable element of complementarity within the Church of Christ.” The Commission was able to affirm that “Sacraments being sacraments of faith, the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East are now able to declare themselves also united in celebrating the same faith ‘in the Son of God who became man so that we might become children of God by his grace,’ and in dispensing the same salvific mystery, through their respective sacramental and liturgical traditions.”
The Commission presented the Common Statement on Sacramental Life to His Holiness Pope Francis, when he received the Commission in audience at the Apostolic Palace on Friday, November 24, 2017. The Statement will be presented to His Holiness Mar Gewargis III, Catholicos-Patriarch, through the Assyrian delegation. Pope Francis welcomed the Statement saying “I join you in thanking the Lord for today’s signing of the Joint Declaration which brings to a happy conclusion the phase regarding sacramental life. We can now look to the future with even greater confidence and I ask the Lord that your continued work may help bring about that blessed and long-awaited day when we will have the joy of celebrating, at the same altar, our full communion in Christ’s Church.” The signing of the document brings to completion the second phase in the dialogue for restoring full communion.
Previously, the Commission had worked on the resolution of the dogmatic issues which had separated the Churches since A.D. 431 over Christology. In 1994, the Common Christological Declaration was signed by Pope John Paul II and Mar Dinkha IV, settling any dogmatic issues. In 1997, the next phase began which sought a common understanding of the sacraments. While the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East both recognize each other as true churches above all possessing the apostolic succession, the priesthood and the full reality of the Eucharist, there is diversity in how each describes the sacramental life. As our traditions developed in isolation from each over for the past 1500 years, it was necessary to clarify how the legitimate diversity in theology, liturgy, canon law and spirituality expresses one and the same apostolic faith. The Common Statement on Sacramental Life achieves this, and opens the way to a third phase of dialogue around issues of ecclesiology. The goal of the dialogue is full communion between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East.
Mundelein Seminary has graduates among both delegations. The Assyrian delegation includes Mar Afram Athneil, (S.T.B., 1999), Mar Awa (David) Royel (S.T.B., 1999), and Fr. William Toma (S.T.B., 1999). The Catholic delegation included Fr. Thomas A. Baima, (M.Div., 1980, S.T.L., 1988). Mundelein was also the site of two of the unofficial dialogues which provided resources for the official dialogues. Pro Oriente met at Mundelein in 1997. That meeting included participation by Cardinal George, Fr. Leo Lefebure (then Dean of the Pontifical Faculty) and Fr. Thomas Baima. In 2008 the Assyrian/Catholic Dialogue held an informal meeting to further the work on the sacramental phase of the full communion process. Fr. Baima, Fr. William Toma, Fr. David Royel participated in those sessions. Mundelein Seminary, therefore, has accompanied the Assyrian/Catholic dialogue through the years and can celebrate the advance made last week in Rome.
On this occasion, while experiencing joy at the progress of the dialogue, the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East both feel pain over the suffering of Christians in Iraq and Syria and throughout the Middle East. The Commission calls on all people of good will to pray for the end of the violence and strife which affects the lands which first received the revelation of Jesus Christ, and to work through the means at their disposal for the support and care of refugees and those displaced by violence, whatever their religious confession.
In welcoming the Joint Commission to the Apostolic Palace and after receiving the Common Statement on Sacramental Life, Pope Francis called on all to pray for the Christian communities of the Middle East. The Holy Father noted “In the Syriac Tradition, Christ on the cross is represented as the Good Physician and Medicine of life. I pray that he will completely heal our wounds of the past as well as the many wounds that continue to be caused by the havoc of violence and war.” Mar Afram Athneil, Bishop of Syria, was unable to attend the ceremonies in Rome because of his responsibilities for his people there. As we acknowledge Mundelein’s participation in this historic statement, we should also acknowledge the commitment of one of our graduates to serving those at the margins.
Documents can be found here: https://news.assyrianchurch.org/common-statement-on-sacramental-life/