A Critical Analysis of Kevin Seasoltz’s article, One House, Many Dwellings: Open and Closed Communion – By Elizabeth Elive


Kevin Seasoltz’s contribution to the highly controversial topic – Open and Closed Communion1(OCC) is noteworthy. His argument is firmly rooted in Scripture thus he emphasises that “the gospels challenge our approach to Eucharistic faith and practice” (see 2005: 405 and footnote 1). This author’s theology of Open Communion (OC) is based on the notion of the Eucharist as the locus of  God’s all-embracing and unconditional love (Ex 34:6), revealed by Jesus in his total self-giving unto death (see 2005: 405 – 407).  He highlights the relevance of this revelation to Jesus’ disciples (2005: 406, 408), reviews the “divergent positions” (Glastonbury Bulletin (GB) no. 97 1997) of some Churches to identify their basic requirements for OC and, concludes by evaluating the case of Catholics excluded from the Eucharist for “canonical irregularities” (see 2005: 416).  This essay will critically analyse Seasoltz’s theology and the conclusion will identify themes for further research.

God’s love offered in the Eucharist

1This author prefers the term Open Communion to “Intercommunion” because “the latter implies a policy of reciprocation” (See Seasoltz 2005: 409). I will use the term Open Communion in this essay.

Seasoltz situates the Eucharist in the context of the all-embracing and unconditional love of God  (Ex 34:6; 2005: 405) by making the link between Jesus’ total self-giving for the forgiveness, reconciliation and healing of all people  (See Mt 26:26-28; 2005: 406), and His gift of the Eucharist saying:

“Through his death on the cross, Jesus has achieved ultimate healing, the forgiveness of sins, and he offers this gift to his disciples in the Eucharist as the source of the peace and reconciliation they are seeking” (2005: 406).

Benoit holds a similar view when he states that Eucharistic Celebration is the means by which the fruits of the cross are communicated to every individual (see 1964: 99).  This is supported by Benedict XVI who states that Jesus offers his own body and blood1 and gives us the “totality of his life” in the Eucharist (Sacramentum Caritatis (SC1) (2007: 7) – a reference to John 6:53: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”. This “total self-giving” imbues the Eucharist with that characteristic of openness which, Seasoltz maintains excludes no one (see 2005: 406).3

The Eucharist – Gratuitous Gift 

The affirmation that the Eucharist is gift also derives from the notion of Jesus’ self-given. Benedict XVI writes:

“The Eucharist is the gift that Jesus makes of himself thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman” (SC1 Introduction).

Accordingly, Seasoltz insists that Eucharistic participation is gratuitous (see 2005: 408, 418).    

1 Note the reference to the cross.

3 The phrase “poured out for many” in Seasoltz’s classic text – Mtt 26:26-28 – “stresses the sense of a great number and does not exclude anyone” (Benoit 1964: 80).

Eating and Drinking with Sinners

Seasoltz holds that Luke’s food and drink motif “provides a broad background for Jesus’ Eucharistic teaching” (2005: 406). The Biblical notion of sharing meals carries overtones of friendship with those at table (see Ps 41:10). By highlighting the animosity of the authorities towards Jesus for eating and drinking with sinners (see Lk 7:34, Mt 9:11-13; 2005: 406), Seasoltz underscores Jesus’ commitment to them.  He says: 

“Jesus never turned away the outcast, the betrayer, the sinner nor … the self-righteous, because he was concerned with all who were weak” (2005: 407).

This statement reveals Jesus’ companions at table and the condition (weakness), which guarantees this favour, because it disposes them to “God’s offer of life and salvation” (2005: 406).

Relevance of Jesus’ Teaching 

A basic idea in Seasoltz’s theology, which is supported by Deiss, is the Church’s responsibility to reflect God’s love to the world (see 2005: 408).  According to Deiss the Church’s “vocation consists precisely in being aglow with the beauty unblemished and unwrinkled, so that the splendour of the Lord may show through her face” (Deiss 1976: 117).  From the Beatitudes (See Mt 5: 1-12; 2005: 406) to John’s account, which sums up Jesus’ teaching in: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34), Seasoltz recognises this mandate.  The disciple’s experience of God’s love which, “transcends all human criteria” (2005: 407), makes them ambassadors of that love. (see Jn 13: 35) (2005: 407, footnote 6).


The Scriptural foundation of Seasoltz’s theology is commendable. However, this author’s approach does not seem to take sufficiently into account the ecclesial dimension of the Eucharist.  He risks isolating Eucharistic reception from its context – the celebration of the Eucharist (Holy Mass) and the liturgy. The Bishop’s Conference of England and Wales (BCEW) observes:

“No individual thread of Catholic doctrine can be fully understood in isolation from the total tapestry. Catholic faith in the Eucharist and Catholic faith in the Church are two essential dimensions of one and the same Mystery of faith…” (CBEW 1998: 12).  

Seasoltz demonstrates knowledge of the shift in traditional view of what constituted “the right to approach the Eucharist” (see 2005: 409) – from Baptism alone to “one’s creed, code of behaviour and cultic practices” – and the circumstances that led to this (see 2005: 408). Nevertheless he does not show how his ideas can be implemented within the current underlying theological stand of the Churches.

The Eucharist is the action of Christ and the Church (See Bernadine 1994: 12; Deiss 1976: 117), therefore Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) tells us:

“…All who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.” (SC 10).  

If the Eucharist is the locus of God’s love, the church is the locus of the Eucharist and there Jesus healing power is made available.

The Christian Community and the Eucharist

According to (CBEW), participation in the body and blood of Christ effects a deeper commitment to God and to other members of the community (see One Bread One Body (BB) 1998: 8).   Communion implies participation (Heb. 10:13; 2 Cor 1: 6-7) as well as sharing, and is expressed in a “visible human community” (Acts 2:42) (See. Anglican – Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) 1991: 15). Inability to recognise the validity of the Eucharistic community thus raises doubts as to the real understanding of the Eucharistic itself.  Deiss holds that “a community which celebrates the Eucharist amid mutual indifference of its members is a living lie” (1996: 118), just as “practising Eucharistic hospitality between Christian confessions which have not yet achieved unity of belief” is pretence (1996:118). Nevertheless, even Deiss shares the ecumenical dilemma: “whether opening the doors to Eucharistic hospitality … is not closer to the gospel than keeping them shut?” (1996: 119).

Seasoltz makes a relevant argument for those in Canonical irregularities.  They share the faith and participate in the Eucharistic celebration, but do not experience the reconciliation which comes with forgiveness.  Cardinal Bernadine argues that although we are never worthy of the Eucharistic table “for it is God’s grace and gift” (1984: 22), offered as “food for the journey begun at Baptism” (1984: 22), situations arise on the level of faith which must be addressed before re-admittance. He names among them, forgetfulness of the Church from which we began, abandoning our struggle against evil or remaining unrepentant (1984; 22). For Bernadine gratuity and responsibility go together.  To be unworthy, he says, does not preclude the obligation to be prepared (1984: 22).


Seasoltz’s approach to the question of OCC dares the Churches to revaluate their positions in light of the Gospels (see 2005: 409). His argument, however, could be elucidated by further exploration of the “essential link” between worship and theology (2005: 410) (see GB no. 97 1997). Spiritual Communion is likewise an area that needs further research to enable those who, for various reasons, cannot participate physically, to know they are not left out. Jesus said, “It is the Spirit that gives life. The flesh has nothing to offer (Jn 6:63).


A research of the notion of Spiritual Communion will be a good follow-up of this essay.  



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