DAILY CATHOLIC FRI-SAT-SUN October 2-4, 1998 vol. 9, no. 193
NEWS & VIEWS
IRISH, BRITISH BISHOPS TEACH ON EUCHARIST
The Catholic bishops’ conferences of Ireland and Britain have issued a major joint teaching document on the Eucharist, reminding Catholics that they may not receive Communion from Anglican ministers.
The letter-– entitled One Bread, One Body-– also spells out the very limited circumstances in which non-Catholics may receive Communion in a Catholic church.
The document follows the widely publicized decision of Ireland’s President Mary McAleese to receive communion at a service in Dublin’s Anglican (Episcopalian) Christ Church Cathedral. Irish newspapers published photographs of President McAleese (a practicing Catholic) receiving the chalice at the service. Shortly afterwards, the United States ambassador to Ireland, Jean Kennedy Smith, also received communion in a Dublin Anglican Cathedral.
Dublin’s Archbishop Desmond Connell attacked the President’s actions. He said partaking of communion in a Protestant church was "a sham." (The resulting uproar forced the archbishop to explain that he did not mean that Anglican Communion was cheap or shoddy, but that it was not what it appeared to be.) The archbishop said that, if the rules for intercommunion were changed because of public pressure, there could be "a blurring of the boundaries about what we believe about the Eucharist and about who we are."
Today’s document on the Eucharist-– preparation of which began in 1996-– ensures that there will be no such blurring.
The document points out that the Eucharist is the heart and summit of the Church’s life, but it says the "sacrificial" understanding of the Eucharist needs renewed emphasis, even among Catholics. It says that, in some Catholic circles, there appears to be a confusion between the celebration of Mass, on the one hand, and a communion service (or celebration of the Word and Communion), on the other.
Only a validly ordained priest can bring the Eucharist into being, so it is essential that the person who presides at the Eucharist should have been validly ordained by a bishop in the recognized apostolic succession. "The Catholic Church is unable to affirm this of those Christian communities rooted in the Reformation," say the bishops. "Nor can we affirm that they have retained the authentic and full reality of the Eucharistic mystery. That is why reciprocity in sacramental sharing is not possible with these communities, whereas the same difficulty does not arise with the Eastern Churches."
The document distinguishes between different degrees of worshippers at Mass. "At nearly every Mass, there are people in differing degrees of spiritual and visible communion with the Catholic Church. A typical congregation includes mainly Catholics able to receive Holy Communion, and so participate fully in the Eucharist.
"There are also others who know they may not receive Communion, such as • unbaptized people being prepared to be initiated into the Church, • baptized Christians on the way towards reception into full communion with the Church,•Catholics in new relationships established after one or both partners have suffered the trauma of breakdown in their marriages, • Catholics conscious of serious sin who know they need the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming forward to Communion, • children who have not yet received first Holy Communion and • fellow Christians who do not feel ready or willing to come into full communion with the Catholic Church.
"In Catholic teaching, full communion of faith is made clearly visible above all at the celebration of Mass. The simple act of receiving Holy Communion is the highest expression of a living and visible unity of faith… "Full participation at a Catholic Mass through reception of Holy Communion normally implies full communion with the Catholic Church itself…For this reason, as Catholic Bishops in Britain and Ireland, we do not judge the celebration of the Eucharist at an ecumenical gathering or event to be a situation in which sacramental sharing might be considered as appropriate in our countries."
The bishops accept that, in certain circumstances, the non-Catholic partner in a mixed marriage may exceptionally be admitted to Communion in a Catholic Church. Non-Catholics might also be allowed to receive Communion if, for example, their child is to be baptized or to receive first Communion or Confirmation during Mass. The wife of an Anglican clergyman being ordained into the Catholic Church might also be allowed to receive Communion. But these examples were to be judged on an individual basis by the bishop or his delegate-– not by individual priests.
Other than that, the bishops say a non-Catholic should only be allowed to receive Communion in a Catholic Church where the person is:
• suffering persecution or
• in grave spiritual necessity and with no chance of recourse to their own community.
Non-Catholics receiving Communion must:
• discern a grave and pressing need and ask for the Sacrament on their own initiative,
• manifest a Catholic faith in the Sacrament and
• be properly disposed.
The document says "priests and other Catholic ministers should issue neither general nor specific invitations to other Christians to receive Holy Communion," although those who ask to receive Communion should be treated kindly and sensitively, even when their request cannot be granted.
The bishops also called for the renewal of periods of Exposition, Benediction, and personal visits for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
Archbishop Sean Brady, the head of the Irish Catholic Church, said: "It should be emphasized that the Catholic Church’s teaching and norms in regard to the Eucharist apply throughout the world and are not the prerogative of any one part of it."
Initial reaction from Protestants to the document was negative, with
the Church of Ireland Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, Bishop John Neill,
describing the letter as outdated, absolutist, ambiguous, and
Articles provided through Catholic World News Service.
NEWS & VIEWS