Onthe dialogue between bishops of the

PolishNational Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches:

 

Journeyingtogether in Christ.

 

OurDialogue Thus Far.

 

Aswe look back on the path of our dialogue has taken since its beginning in 1984,we

findthat we have thus far discovered no doctrinal obstacles that would impede the

furthergrowth of our Churches toward that unity which we believe is Christ's will (Jn.

17:21).Though we still have more to discuss, we already have much for which to be

grateful.We appreciate the words which Cardinal Bernardin addressed to us in 1988:

 

             The existence and progress of the dialogue between bishops of the

             Polish National Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches is a real sign of

             hope and source of joy for all of us. What we witness in your work is a

             sincere and dedicated effort to heal a division that occurred right

             within the American Catholic family. Therefore it touches us deeply as

             Catholics living in America. We know how deeply any family can be

             hurt by separation among its members. Many painful memories still

             remain among us, for the sad events which brought us to go separate

             ways are not long buried in the past. They are within the living memory

             of many, and truthfully we must admit they still hurt. To this your

             dialogue is an important healing force. By rekindling our hopes it helps

             to free us from our sad memories and to be renewed in the promise of

             Our Lord that through the power of His Spirit He can build up anew our

             unity with one another. Through the dialogue we grow in the keen

             realization of how much we share together in faith and in sacramental

             life. We recognize that together we belong to the great Catholic

             family. I wholeheartedly agree with what Prime Bishop Swantek said in

             welcoming you to your session in Buffalo two years ago: "The

             conversations between the Polish National Catholic Church and Roman

             Catholic Church are a very important step in ecumenism because they

             bring together two Churches which have been separated by events of

             history, but they have so many common characteristics and essentials

             in faith and liturgical expression. . ."

 

             In 1986 the General Synod of the Polish National Catholic Church

             welcomed Cardinal John Krol as the representative of our National

             Conference of Catholic Bishops. On that occasion His Eminence

             stressed that our efforts toward unity must be undertaken in a way

             that is "radically new" and in keeping with the vision of PopeJohn

             XXIII which seeks "unity in essentials -- not uniformity." Inpursuit of

             "unity with diversity" His Eminence pointed out that the IIVatican

             Council called upon us to go beyond a mentality seeking"return" or

             "absorption." He rightly stressed that "The concept ofthe restoration

             of unity does not imply inertia and expectancy on the part of the

             Catholic Church and a denial of their past on the part of other

             Christians."

 

             "Rather," he said, "it means a dynamic movement towardunity in which

             each moves toward the other by living more faithfully the valid

             Christian elements in each's tradition measured against and constantly

             renewed according to the will of Christ."

 

Itis precisely this "dynamic movement toward unity" to which we believethe people

ofour Churches are called by Christ.

 

Inbehalf of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of State forthe

HolySee, wrote to Prime Bishop Swanteck on January 16, 1988. Speaking for His

Holiness,the Cardinal said:

 

             "The Holy father has deep interest in the dialogue between thePolish

             National Catholic Church and the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical

             and Inter Religious Affairs of the U.S. National Conference of Catholic

             Bishops and prays for its success, so that the communion between us

             can be deepened. He was happy therefore to hear of your positive

             assessment of that dialogue, and the progress toward understanding

             and unity that is being made."

 

             Many steps must be taken for the goal of unity to be reached and

             these must be properly discerned as we move forward. But the

             conviction of His Holiness is that our ecumenical goal must be nothing

             less that the achievement of full ecclesiastical communion; it is toward

             this that the Spirit is leading us. For divisions among Christians arean

             obstacle to the mission of preaching the Gospel and Bringing to

             others the saving mysteries of Christ.

 

             We cannot go back to those fateful days, decades ago, and change the

             difficult events which led to separation between our people. But

             today's new ecumenical atmosphere allows us both to see those

             tragic events in a new perspective, and above all to be open to the

             promptings of the Spirit who alone can lead us into all truth (cf. Jn.

             15:26).

 

             The new millennium that is approaching is a special Christian moment, a

             special time of grace. With God's help we can make use of this

             opportunity to focus together on Christ, and the unity of his followers

             for which he prayed (cf. Jn. 17:21).

 

Itremains our hope that this dialogue, which from the beginning we have entrustedto

thecare and protection of the Holy Mother of God, may contribute to the progressof

allour people toward the great goal of unity. We commend this report to theirstudy

andreflection and ask their prayers that God may open before us the path Heintends

usto follow.

 

ASurvey of the Findings of the Dialogue Thus Far.

 

Whenhe addressed the dialogue in 1986, Prime Bishop John F. Swantek stated

succinctlya conviction which we have held from the start of our sessions and one

whichhas grown still stronger as we have worked together. He said, "The

conversationsbetween the Polish National Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic

Churchare a very important step in ecumenism because they bring two Churches to

getherwhich have been separated by the events of history, but they have so many

commoncharacteristics in faith and liturgical expression." In our dialogue wehave

carefullystudied these common characteristics which forge deep, underlying bonds

ofcommunion between our Churches, noting both major areas of identity or close

similaritybetween us and, at the same time, areas of difference or distinctiveness

whichare also significant. We began with an extended discussion over a number of

sessionsfocused on the sacramental life of the Church.

 

TheSacraments.

 

Boththe PNCC and the RCC faithfully regard the sacraments as special gifts of

Christto His Church, outward signs instituted by Him as means of grace, wherein He

actsin the power of the Spirit to nourish and strengthen the Church and be present

amongHis faithful. Along with Orthodox Churches and all the Churches of the Union of

Utrecht,the PNCC and the RCC hold seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation,

penance,Eucharist, anointing of the sick, holy orders and matrimony (cf. Nasz a Wiara

__our Faith, by Bishop F. Hodur, Scranton, 1913, page 32).

 

Sacramentsof Initiation: Baptism and Confirmation

TheEucharist

TheSacrament of Penance

TheAnointing of the Sick

HolyMatrimony

HolyOrders

TheWord of God

 

Sacramentsof Initiation: Baptism and Confirmation.

 

Itis the common faith shared by the RCC and the PNCC that "by Baptismpersons

aregrafted into the mystery of Christ; they die with him, are buried with Him, andrise

withHim. They receive the spirit of adoption as children ๋in which we cry, Abba,

Father'(Rom. 8:15) and thus become true adorers such as the Father seeks."(Vatican

IIConstitution on the Divine Liturgy, n. 6). Together we hold that throughbaptism,

celebratedin our Churches according to the faith handed down to us from the

Apostles,we are each made members of the one Mystical Body of Christ. In both our

Churchesnot only adults but also infants are baptized. In both Churches baptism is

administeredby a bishop, priest or deacon.

 

Inthe PNCC, and the RCC, baptism and confirmation are counted as two closely

inter-relatedsacraments. However, both Churches teach that confirmation completes

baptism.Both Churches hold that confirmation imparts in a special way the special

giftand seal of the Holy Spirit, strengthening the person confirmed to liveaccording

tothe holy vocation of a Christian, and both typically confer this sacrament onyoung

peopleat about the age of 12 to 15. In the PNCC as in the Latin rite of the RCC the

bishopsare the ordinary ministers of confirmation. However, in both Churches pro

visionis made for priests to administer it when this is necessary or appropriate(e.g.

inremote areas which the bishop cannot visit regularly, in the face of largenumbers

tobe confirmed requiring that the bishops have further assistance, on occasion inthe

courseof receiving an adult into membership in the Church, or in danger of death

facedby one not yet confirmed).

 

TheEucharist

 

Itis evident that the Holy Eucharist holds a place of central importance in thelife of

bothChurches and a great many parallels have been noted in both our past and

presentpractices. The 1889 Declaration of Utrecht, article 6, held and taught by the

bishopsof the PNCC, speaks of it as "the true and central point of Catholicworship"

whilethe Vatican II Constitution on the Divine Liturgy, no. 10, speaks of theliturgy

culminatingin the Eucharist as "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is

directed(and) also the fount from which all her power flows."

 

Toappreciate more fully how the Eucharistic faith of the Union of Utrechtcompares

withthat of the Roman Catholic Church it is helpful to see at somewhat greater

lengththe sources just cited. This is a more complete citation from article 6 of the

Declarationof Utrecht :

 

             "Considering that the Holy Eucharist has always been the truecentral

             point of Catholic worship, we consider it our duty to declare that we

             maintain with perfect fidelity the ancient Catholic doctrine concerning

             the Sacrament of the Altar, by believing that we receive the Body

             and Blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ under the species of bread and

             wine. The Eucharistic celebration in the Church is neither a continual

             repetition nor a renewal of the expiatory sacrifice which Jesus offered

             once for all upon the Cross; but it is a sacrifice because it is the

             perpetual commemoration of the sacrifice offered upon the Cross, and

             it is the act by which we represent upon earth and appropriate to

             ourselves the one offering which Jesus Christ makes in Heaven,

             according to the Epistle to the Hebrews, 9, 11-12, for the salvation of

             redeemed humanity, by appearing for us in the presence of God (Heb.

             9:24). The character of the Holy Eucharist being thus understood, it is,

             at the same time, a sacrificial feast, by means of which the faithful in

             receiving the Body and Blood of our Saviour, enter into communion

             with one another (1 Cor. 10.17)."

 

Andhere follows the statement on the Eucharist from article 47 of the VaticanCouncil

Constitutionon the Divine Liturgy :

 

             "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our savior

             instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did

             in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages

             until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse,

             the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of

             love, sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet in whichChrist

             is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory

             is given to us."

 

Inreflecting on these texts we find in them a very close correspondence in thefaith

whicheach expresses in its own words. Though differences of linguistic usage can be

found(e.g. transsubstantiatio -- Trent, sess. XIII, cap. 4; and przeistoczenie --PNCC

Catechism,1944, p. 33) our experience of the lived faith and Eucharistic devotion

foundin our Churches convinces us that ours is a shared belief that Christ in His

unboundedlove "did institute these holy mysteries in which spiritually and bodily,in

Hisentire being, . . . (He) abides among us" (PNCC Canon) under theappearances of

breadand wine. Thus together we affirm that "the Holy Eucharist is true Bodyand the

trueBlood of our Lord Jesus under the appearances of bread and wine for the

nourishmentof mankind for eternal life" (Katechism, catechism by Bishop F. Hodur,

Scranton,1920, page 32).

 

Thereis indeed a great deal of correspondence in Eucharistic practice in our two

Churches.Both Churches encourage the active participation of the faithful in the

Eucharisticliturgy and to this end celebrate the liturgy in the language of the people.

Inthe United States today this is most commonly done in English in both Churches,

thoughPolish is at times used in the PNCC and Latin or other languages in the RCC.

BothChurches encourage the faithful to the frequent reception of Holy Communion,

havingprepared themselves for this with the Sacrament of Penance. In the PNCC

childrendo not make their First Communion until the age of seven, and in the RCC not

untilthey have reached the age of discernment,which is also generally seven. In both

Churcheschildren are encouraged to prepare themselves for this by first receiving

theSacrament of Penance. In addition to the requisite dispositions of the soul,the

faithfulare also enjoined to observe a fast from solid food and alcoholic beverages

beforereceiving the Eucharist (for two hours in the case of the PNCC, for one hour in

thecase of the RCC). In both Churches the reception of the Eucharist is made

availableto the faithful not only on Sundays and Holy Days, but daily. Both Churches

providethree ways for the reception of the Eucharist: 1) receiving the Sacred Host

andthe Most Precious Blood separately, 2) receiving by intinction, i.e. the Sacred

Hostdipped in the Most Precious Blood, or 3) receiving under one species, e.g. only

theSacred Host. In the PNCC the second form, reception by intinction, is the most

common;whereas in the RCC reception in either the first or third form is more often

thecase.

 

Besidesthese commonalities, we have found the following practical differences

betweenus. In the PNCC the minister of Holy Communion is a bishop, priest or

deacon,whereas in the RCC it may be one of these or one who, though not ordained,

hasbeen commissioned by the Church to serve as a Eucharistic minister. The PNCC

administersthe Eucharist only to members of its Church. The RCC as a general rule

restrictsadmission to the sacraments to members of the Roman Catholic Church and

toEastern Orthodox Christians who ask to be admitted; but in certaincircumstances

ofneed will also admit individual Christians of other churches or ecclesial

communitieswho request the sacraments with faith and are properly disposed.

 

Finallywe have found that Eucharistic devotions, i.e. the adoration of Christ in the

BlessedSacrament, continues to play an important part in the life of the PNCC, e.g.

onthe Feast of Corpus Christi, after the principal Mass on the first Sunday ofeach

month,in the Profession of the Sacrament on Easter Morning, after Lenten Services

suchas the Stations of the Cross, after Penitential Services in Advent and Lent,

afterMay and October devotions to Our Lady and June devotions to the Sacred

Heart.Such Eucharistic devotions have also been a prominent feature of the practice

ofthe RCC in the past, but have now diminished in frequency because of thegreater

emphasisliturgical renewal has placed on the Eucharistic celebration itself and the

greaterfrequency with which it is celebrated. Thus, as an example, in many parishes

thecelebration of evening Masses on the days of Lent has taken the place of

paraliturgicalLenten devotions such as the Stations of the Cross and the extra

Eucharisticdevotions which accompanied them.

 

TheSacrament of Penance.

 

Togetherthe RCC and the PNCC hold that penance is the sacrament instituted by

JesusChrist in which through confession, sorrow and a strong purpose of amending

ourlives, sins are forgiven. It is grounded on the words of Christ: "As theFather has

sentme so I also send you. . . . Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiventhem"

(Jn.20:21, 23). With these words we believe Christ gave His Apostles and theirlawful

successorspower and authority to absolve from sin those who sincerely repent of

theiroffenses. on this there is no difference between us.

 

Howeverwe have found practical differences which are revealed in the forms used by

ourChurches for the administration of this sacrament.

 

ThePNCC uses two forms in its penitential practice. Form I is Auricular (orprivate)

Confessionof the individual penitent to the confessor. This form, which may be used

byall, is mandatory for children and youth until the age of 16. Form II isGeneral

Confession,the form more commonly used by adults. Following this form a penitential

serviceis conducted in which all seeking the sacrament participate and all are

absolvedin common. This service, distinct from the penitential rite at the beginning

ofevery Mass, consists of the following elements: invitation to repentance, a

penitentialhymn, prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, exhortation, examination of

conscience,the confiteor, the assignment of a penance, and absolution.

 

TheRCC, in contrast, has three forms for the administration of this sacrament.Form I

isthe Rite for the Reconciliation of the Individual Penitents, and it correspondsto

FormI of the PNCC. However, the RCC considers this to be the ordinary means of

reconciliationwith God and with the Church in which there takes place the healing

encounterbetween our need and God's merciful compassion. Form II is the Rite for

theReconciliation of Several Penitents with Individual Confession and Absolution.

Thisrite is followed at penitential services which are regularly scheduled by Roman

Catholicparishes, especially during Advent and Lent, with a sufficient number of

confessorspresent to hear the confessions and absolve each of those who come

forwardto receive the sacrament. Form III is the Rite for the Reconciliation of

SeveralPenitents with General Confession and Absolution. This is similar to the

PNCCForm II, but with these differences: 1) It is limited to circumstances ofserious

necessity.2) It may not be received twice without an intervening individual

confessionof sins unless a just cause requires this. 3) It should be followed in due

courseby an individual confession in which each grave sin that has not previously

beenconfessed is confessed. 4) It does not remove the obligation of each Roman

Catholicto confess individually at least once a year all grave sins not previously

confessed.5) This third rite may not be publicly scheduled or announced in advance.

6)This rite may not be used as part of any Eucharistic liturgy.

 

TheRCC admits Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities to this

sacramentunder the same conditions, by way of exception, whereby they are

admittedto the Eucharist.

 

Inreviewing these correspondences and practical differences, it was theconclusion

ofour dialogue that the difference between us is more a difference of form thanof

underlyingintention or understanding of the sacrament itself.

 

TheAnointing of the Sick.

 

Ourdiscussion of this sacrament revealed no differences between us in matters of

faith.It can be noted, however, that the administration of this sacrament by the RCC

andthe PNCC has undergone in recent years a notable degree of renewal in its

liturgicalcelebration so that it can be seen more clearly by the faithful as a sacrament

ofthe sick intended for healing and not constricted to the "last rites"for the dying. In

certainRCC and PNCC parishes there are now on occasion communal services at

whichthis sacrament is administered. The RCC admits other Christians to this

sacramentupon the same conditions whereby they are, by way of exception,

admittedto the Eucharist.

 

HolyMatrimony

 

Marriagein Christ is held by both Churches to be a sacrament of the New Law given

tous by the Lord. Thus the RCC holds that "The matrimonial covenant, bywhich a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the wholeof life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of spouses and theprocreation and education of

offspring;this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the

Lordto the dignity of a sacrament" (Code of Canon Law, Canon 1055,1). In thePNCC

itis taught that "Matrimony is the Sacrament which makes a Christian man andwoman

husbandand wife, gives them the grace to be faithful to each other, and to bring up

theirchildren in love and devotion to God" (Rt. Rev. Thaddeus Zielinski, ACatechism

ofthe Polish National Catholic Church, p. 77).

 

Anumber of notable points of comparison emerged in the course of the dialogue.In

thePNCC the priest who officiates at a wedding is regarded as the minister of the

sacramentof matrimony. Marriages entered into without the presence of a priest are

seenas legal unions but are not held to be sacramental marriages until the blessingof

thepriest has been received. In the Latin rite of the Roman Catholic Church the

husbandand wife are regarded as the ministers of the sacrament of matrimony and

thepriest is the official witness of the Church. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law,

baptizedLatin rite Catholics who have not formally with drawn from the Church (i.e.

deliberatelyand knowingly) are obliged to marry in the presence of a priest and two

otherwitnesses. This requirement (known as the "canonical form ofmarriage") must

beobserved for the marriage to be recognized as valid by the Roman Catholic

Church.Exceptions may be granted only by a dispensation from the Roman Catholic

bishop.Roman Catholic priests do confer the "nuptial blessing" at marriages,though

thisis seen as something distinct from the conferral of the sacrament itself. Intimes

pastthe nuptial blessing was conferred only at the first marriage of a bride andwas

alsorestricted to certain times of the liturgical year, not being conferred during

Adventand Lent. It is now conferred more widely.

 

BothChurches hold to the inviolability of marriage. In 1958 the PNCC determinedthat

eachof its dioceses would have a matrimonial court since cases of need were

increasing.Before this date rare exceptions depended upon episcopal review of the

caseand concurrence of the Prime Bishop. Now these courts review cases and make

theirrecommendations; then the bishop of the dioceses instruct their priests as to

thedirection to be taken. These rules are strictly enforced in the PNCC, and only

activemembers of this Church may appeal to its matrimonial courts. The possible

groundsfor annulment of marriage were set down in the guidelines of the 1958 Synod.

 

Thediocesan bishop does not usually take such a direct hand in the matrimonialcourts

ofthe Roman Catholic Church. Declarations of nullity are granted only when a caseis

reviewedby two successive courts and grounds have been established proving the

existenceof a prior block which impeded a true marriage. This must be satisfactorily

proven,for marriage enjoys "the favor of the law" and thus may not bedeclared null

withoutsuch proof. While, in the past, informal cases were quite rare in Roman

Catholicmatrimonial courts, there has been a marked increase in more recent times.

 

Theincrease noted by the Churches was seen by the bishop as an indication of the

needto convince people of the sanctity of marriage so that they prepare themselves

betterfor it. In the face of secularizing trends, the anonymity of urban life inwhich

peoplebecome lost and the serious problem of teenage marriage, both the Church

andfamilies have much to do.

 

Attentionwas given to mixed marriages between Polish National Catholics and

RomanCatholics. Today both Churches provide for closer contact in preparing

couplesfor such marriages and their celebration. Ideally the priests of both Churches

shouldbe called upon to assist in this preparation, though in practice this as yet

occurstoo rarely. Due to the restrictions observed with respect to sharing the

Eucharisttogether, the celebration of these mixed marriages outside the contexted

ofthe Eucharist is counseled in many instances. Special notice was made of the

promisewhich the Roman Catholic Church asked of its members entering mixed

marriage;namely, to do all that they can to see to the Catholic baptism and

upbringingof future children. While it can be explained that this promise is not

intendedto cancel the religious duties of the PNCC partner, the PNCC bishop

pointedout that it continues to constitute a real difficulty for their people. Theyfelt

itneeded to be understood that a Catholic upbringing is also provided to childrenof

thePolish National Catholic Church.

 

HolyOrders.

 

Itis understood that the RCC and the PNCC similarly maintain the threefoldpattern

ofthe ordained ministry, made up of bishops, presbyters and deacons; and further

thatboth Churches regard the apostolic succession of bishops to be integral to the

ordainedministry of the Church. Given this, the dialogue turned its attention to the

riteswhich are employed by the two Churches in the ordination of bishops as well as

therites used to ordain priests and deacons. It was the conclusion of the bishops

thatthese rites display an essential similarity. It was noted that the sacramentalform

usedfor the ordination of a bishop in the PNCC is nearly an exact Polish renderingof

theLatin form used by the Roman Catholic Church prior to the reforms instituted by

PopePaul VI in 1968.

 

Theapostolic succession of bishops as seen in light of the teachings of the IIVatican

Counciland those of the Polish National Catholic Church were also presented. A good

dealof clarity emerged on this matter so that the bishops were able to discern that

apostolicsuccession is not an issue in question between the Churches. It seemed

clearto the Roman Catholic participants on the basis of the evidence that the

bishopsof the Polish National Catholic Church are validly ordained bishops in

apostolicsuccession.

 

Othermatters reviewed and discussed included the procedures followed by the

Churchesin the selection of candidates for the office and ministry of bishops. And

somefurther questions were raised concerning the manner in which bishops

exercisedthe authority of their office. Principle among these was the collegiality of

bishops.We see the need and the desirability of discussing further the collegiality of

RomanCatholic bishops with the Bishop of Rome as the head of their college as well

asthe fraternal links which exist between the bishop of the PNCC and otherbishops

ofthe Old Catholic Union of Utrecht.

 

TheWord of God.

 

Thereare numerous points on which we find no disagreement between the RCC and

thePNCC with respect to the Word of God. Together we hold that "Christ theLord,

inwhom the entire revelation of the Most High God is summed up (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20;3:16

4:6)commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel" (Vatican II Constitution on

DivineRevelation, n. 7). Further we concur that "in order that the full andliving

Gospelmight always be preserved in the church the Apostles left bishops as their

successors.They gave them ๋their own position of teaching authority' (St. Irenaeus,

Adv.Haer., III, 3, 1:PG 7, 848). This sacred Tradition, then, and the sacredScripture of

bothTestaments are like the mirror in which the church during its pilgrim journeyhere

onearth contemplates God, from whom she receives everything, until such time as

sheis brought to see Him face to face as He really is (cf. Jn 3:2)" (VaticanII, Ibid.).

Alsowe agree that "the task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Workof God,

whetherin its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to theliving

teachingoffice of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the

nameof Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, butis

itsservant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it" (Ibid. n. 8).

 

Prizingthe Word of God as one of His greatest gifts, received from Christ with the

commandthat it be proclaimed and preached in His name throughout the world to

everyperson, the PNCC has not hesitated in the past to speak of the Word of God

heardand preached in the Church as having sacramental power (moc sakramentalna --

Resolutionof the Second Synod, 1909; in Wiara i Wiedza, Scranton, 1913, page 12).

 

Forits part the RCC does not speak of the Word of God as a sacrament distinct from

andalong side the seven sacraments which it celebrates. it considers the

proclamationof the Word of God to be an integral part of the celebration of all seven

sacraments.The Word of God permeates all the sacramental rites. To ensure that this

wouldbe realized in practice the Second Vatican Council provided for a new emphasis

onpreaching and a new structure for its liturgy. The Council stressed that"two parts

whichin a sense go to make up the Mass, viz. the Liturgy of the word and the

Eucharisticliturgy, are so closely connected with each other that they form but one

singleact of worship" (Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, n. 56). Because"access

tothe Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian Faithful,"

(Constitutionon Divine Revelation, n. 22) a new lectionary or book of readings has

beendeveloped for a three-year liturgical cycle providing a much wider selection of

scripturalreadings at Mass than the previous one-year cycle could provide. Further

theCouncil urged that "all clerics, particularly priests of Christ and otherswho, as

deaconsor catechists, are officially engaged in the ministry of the word, should

immersethemselves in the Scriptures by constant sacred reading and diligent study.

Forit must not happen that anyone becomes ๋an empty preacher of the word to

others,not being a bearer of the word in his own heart,' (St. Augustine, Serm. 179;

PL38, 966) when he ought to be sharing the boundless riches of the divine wordwith

thefaithful committed to his care, especially in the sacred liturgy"(Constitution on

DivineRevelation, n. 24).

 

Thishaving been said, while we recognize a certain difference at least indescriptive

terminologyused by the PNCC and the RCC, we see as well a deep point of contact

beneaththis formal difference. For the RCC also holds that in His Holy Word Christ

makeshimself present to His people with power (Ibid, 13, 17) and for this reason"the

Churchhas always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the

Lord,in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the Sacred Liturgy, to partakeof

thebread of life and to offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word ofGod

andthe Body of Christ" (Ibid. n. 21).

 

TheLife to Come.

 

Afterour dialogue on the sacraments a further subject for discussion was the

doctrineof the Church concerning God's universal call of all to salvation, and

teachingsof the Church concerning heaven, hell and purgatory. Our dialogue took into

accountthe teachings of Sacred Scripture, the ancient creeds, the Fathers of the

Church(both East and West) as well as subsequent Church tradition.

 

Discussionwas prompted by the fact that in the past some thought there was a

differencein the Churches' teachings because of differing emphasis in preaching. The

PolishNational Catholic Church does not wish to stress the fear of hell and damnation

asa motivation for living a Christian life since in the end it could have ademoralizing

effecton the people. It was made clear in this dialogue that the Polish National

CatholicChurch, by its positive homiletic emphasis on God's universal salvific will as

wellas His gracious assistance and loving mercy toward sinners, does not intend to

denyany other element of Christian teaching. The Church's basic teaching may be

summedup in the words of the Most Reverend Francis Hodur, the first bishop of the

PolishNational Catholic Church:

 

             "I believe in final Divine justice, in future life beyond the gravewhich

             will be the further continuation of present life dependent in state and

             degree of perfection and happiness on our current life but before all

              elseon the state of our soul in the last hour before death."

 

             "I believe in immortality and happiness in eternity, in the unionwith

             God of all generations and times because I believe in the Divine

             power of love, charity and justice, and I desire nothing other than that

             it should happen to me according to my faith."

 

Inthe dialogue a fundamental agreement by the Churches in their teachingconcerning

heavenwas ascertained. In both Churches the intercession of the saints in heaven is

invoked.Further agreement exists on prayers for the deceased, including the

celebrationof Masses for them. Today both Churches emphasize the compassionate

mercyand love of God in preaching without denying the seriousness of hell. God is

just,will never punish unjustly, and wills the salvation of all. Both Churches

acknowledgethat fear of damnation is not the best motive for Christian living, but it

isa salutary one.

 

Havingestablished this much, our dialogue gave close attention to an apparent

differencewhich surfaced in the past. Specifically this has to do with whether hell is

eternal.In A Catechism of the Polish National Catholic Church published by the

MissionFund PNCC, one finds the question: "What of eternal punishment?" Tothis

answeris given: "Eternal punishment would be contrary to the wisdom, love and

justiceof God" (N. 169). A different teaching is found in the Constitution on the

Churchof the Second Vatican Council, where one reads: "Since we know neither the

daynor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so

thatwhen the single course of earthly life is completed (cf. Heb. 9:27), we maymerit

toenter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed (cf.Mt.

25:31-46)and not, like the wicked and slothful servants (cf. Mt. 25:36), be ordered to

departinto the eternal fire (cf. Mt.25:41), into the outer darkness where ๋there will

beweeping and gnashing of teeth' (Mt. 22:13 and 25:30)" (N. 48).

 

Inconsidering this disparity, three factors should be taken into account. First,the

catechismcited, though significant, is not a magisterial document of the PNCC. It

doesnot carry the weight of a citation from the Second Vatican Council, forinstance.

Second,the dialogue is in receipt of a statement subscribed to by the six current

bishopsof the PNCC under date of March 1, 1988 which reads: "Maintaining the

teachingsof the Undivided Church, we, the Bishops of the Polish National Catholic

Church,in conformity with the Declaration of Utrecht (September 24, 1889), affirm the

following:'The Polish National Catholic Church has not taught and does not teach the

so-calleddoctrine of Universal Salvation.' " Third, assurances have been given that

catecheticalmaterials in use by the PNCC will be in conformity with this teaching of

itsbishops.

 

Werecognize that Jesus, as recorded by the New Testament, made use of the

languageof His time. He spoke both of Sheol, the dark abode of all the dead; and

Gehenna,the postexilic Jewish idea of an eschatological place of punishment for

apostateJews and Gentile sinners where they suffered the pain of everlasting fire.

Fromthis basis Christian theology has proceeded through a complex and extended

developmentguided by faith in the resurrection of the dead. Nonetheless, whatever

maybe implied by the terms "unquenchable fire" and "everlastingfire," they should

notbe explained away as meaningless. On this we agree, whatever further questions

remainbefore us.

 

WhileRoman Catholics do hold to the "fire" of hell, both Churches agreethat hell's

greatesttorment is that of immeasurable loss. Neither Church teaches that individual

humanbeings, even those who might be damned, are annihilated and cease to exist,

assome have argued on the basis of Mt. 10:28, "Be afraid of the one who candestroy

boththe body and the soul in gehenna." Both Churches appreciate that theso-called

"lastthings" are described in our teaching by eschatological imagery and thatmuch

concerningthe life beyond remains unavoidably mysterious to us as long as we

sojournin this life.