The Vatican, as this magazine reports, has denied that there ever was a commission to oversee an “Ecumenical Mass”, that is, a Mass that could be celebrated by Catholics and Protestants together. Furthermore, Cardinal Woelki of Cologne went as far as to say any such project would be impossible, given the differences in belief between Catholics and Protestants.
Needless to say, the whole thing was a non-starter, but not quite for the reasons you might suppose. In none of the talk about the “Ecumenical Mass” was there any hint that any Protestant or Orthodox theologians were on board, and it would be pretty pointless to pioneer an “Ecumenical Mass” from the Catholic side only. But the lopsided nature of the chatter perhaps gives us an indication of what was really behind these rumours. Certain Catholics may want an “Ecumenical Mass”, but there is not a shred of evidence that any Protestants do or any Orthodox do. Even the name gives it away. Protestants and Orthodox would never use the word ‘Mass’.
With the authoritative denials from the Vatican the “Ecumenical Mass” is dead and buried, and a good thing too – the whole idea betrayed a startling ignorance of both theology and history, as well as a most unseemly desire to throw Catholic doctrine to the winds, quite apart from being severely impractical. (I would love to know what the Orthodox might make of it: I imagine not very much, and they would not be reticent in sharing their misgivings.) However, the suspicion that will not go away is that this was some sort of kite-flying exercise by the certain elements in the Church.
It is clear from the reactions of Catholics that an “Ecumenical Mass” is not something we want. But there are other kites still in the air. Chief of these is the Commission to discuss women and the diaconate, despite the fact that this question was examined in the Second Vatican Council and also in 2002 by the International Theological Commission. Why discuss it again? Well, if you keep on putting your toe in the water, you may one day eventually find that it is warm enough to swim. Female deacons are a way of edging us all towards the concept of female ordination and women priests.
If this were not enough, we have the talk of viri probati, and the upcoming Amazonian Synod which may be designed to soften up opinion about the clerical celibacy rule. And then there is the Humanae Vitae Commission which may be only a study group, or indeed may be a phantom, like the “Ecumenical Mass” commission; or it may indeed be talk designed to test Catholic opinion on Humanae Vitae and see if there is any appetite for change.
Whichever way you look at it, it is a funny old world. The Vatican is supposed to be reforming itself, and in so doing streamlining its communications strategy. Transparency is supposed to be the order of the day in the modern world, but here we are, lost in a fog of rumour, supposition and manipulation. This does not look good. Catholics can hardly be happy with it, and as for our ecumenical partners (the one the “Ecumenical Mass” was supposedly designed for), they perhaps are having all their prejudices about Rome confirmed.