Paul MCPARTLAN. A Service of Love: Papal Primacy, the Eucharist & Church Unity. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2013. Pp 100. $16.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8132-2135-9. Reviewed by James DALLEN, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258.


McPartlan, Catholic participant in the international Catholic-Orthodox theological dialogue, is already well known for his work in the area of Eucharistic ecclesiology. Here he attempts to situate papal primacy in a Eucharistic context with the hope of bringing East and West closer to full communion on the basis of an understanding both shared in the first millennium.

McPartlan points out that the East-West schism came about as the West developed a juridical understanding of the papacy focused on jurisdiction. In the first millennium the pope generally acted synodically in moderating disputes, presiding at ecumenical councils, and serving the Church’s communion. The Gregorian reformation was aimed at ending lay investiture, simony, and other abuses and maintaining the Church’s freedom from secular authorities. The consequences included—especially later under Innocent III—a view of the pope as having the fullness of power in the Church and of the bishops as sharing in his responsibility or even as his delegates. This view reached its extreme in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Vatican II has returned to a sacramental understanding of episcopal collegiality and the recognition that primacy and conciliarity or synodality are interdependent and interrelated at all levels of the Church as icon of the Trinity. McPartlan adopts Karl Rahner’s contention that, rather than two not entirely distinct subjects of authority in the Church—the pope alone and the pope with the bishops—there is only one, the college of bishops united with the pope as its head, so that, even when the pope acts unilaterally, he does so as head of the college. McPartlan asserts that the role of the primate, as of all bishops, must be determined fundamentally by reference to the Eucharist. It is always the one same Eucharist, the Eucharist of the whole Church, at which bishops, including the primate, preside, and their ministry for unity is likewise one.

McPartlan acknowledges that, even if a universal primacy is accepted as serving the unity of the college of bishops and thus of the Church, there can still be disagreement on the manner in which the primacy is exercised. Unfortunately, documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (which he utilizes without critique) regress from Vatican II and provide support for what he rightly regards as outmoded. Communio, for example, still comes across as juridical in those documents, Rome sometimes seems identified with universal Church, and the pope at times seems to be presented as universal bishop in the absolute sense.

The Eucharistic presidency of bishops, including the primate, is a promising area of study for understanding the relationship of primacy and collegiality. However, McPartlan does not explore that in detail here nor indicate how that perspective will make a difference in practice. I’d suggest that the abstract role of presiding at Eucharist always has to be concretized in terms of an ars celebrandi that fosters the assembly’s full, conscious, and active participation as community. Can the role of the primate—which McPartlan characterizes as a ministry of unity, charity, and peace—be too different? But, more fundamentally, are we as Church truly committed to an ecclesiology of communion with Eucharist at its heart? That’s not altogether clear in either liturgical or ecclesial communion.