March 16, 2018

That All May Be One / Fr. Rick Ginther

Improved Christian unity still does not include sharing in sacraments

Fr. Rick GintherWe are approaching Easter. During this time, Christian families gather for a meal. And more often than not, they go to church together, sometimes in a mix of Christian denominations.

On Easter, almost all Christian denominations will share a form of “eucharist.”

For the Catholic Church, receiving the Eucharist is guided by two basic principles: one statement of faith (creed) and a common visible apostolic succession through our bishops (the successors to the Apostles).

Sadly, we know that Christians do not share such a common statement of faith or a common visible apostolic succession. Our unity is ruptured.

This is why we do not invite Christians from communities not in full communion with the Church to receive Communion, as happens among some other Christian communities.

It is true that a belief in the real presence is important when one receives the Eucharist in a Catholic church. But this is not the sole criteria for reception or non-reception. Real presence is a part of the entire belief system noted earlier.

The “Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism,” Section IV, lays out the relationship between “communion received” and “communion embodied” in faith, worship and community life.

Paragraphs 122-128 discuss the sacramental relationship with the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Noting that we are not in full communion, yet hold “very close communion in matters of faith (#122),” an Orthodox Christian may from time to time receive Eucharist at a Catholic Mass. Cautions about this do follow.

The Directory goes on to state that a Roman Catholic “for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister” may “receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick from a minister of an Eastern (Orthodox) Church (#123).” Yet again it cautions that the discipline of the Eastern Orthodox Church may or may not allow for this.

Paragraphs 129-136 lay out norms for when non-Catholic Christians may receive Communion with us.

In danger of death, a non-Catholic Christian who is unable to approach his own church’s minister may seek to receive penance, Eucharist or the anointing of the sick (#131).

A non-Catholic Christian, through no fault of their own, when deprived access to their own church’s sacramental ministry, also may receive Communion based on principles laid out by the local Catholic bishop (#130-131).

By the same token, a Roman Catholic who is deprived of reception of the sacrament may approach another church. If their sacraments are seen as valid, or the minister is known to be validly ordained according to Catholic teaching (#132), they may receive.

It is clear that these exceptions are more rare than we might hope. They do not allow for blanket “intercommuning,” even at Easter.

I know of the pain shared “at the table of the Lord.” At the annual National Workshop on Christian Unity, we do not intercommune—and we are all about promoting unity! But we will not feign a communion of faith, worship or community of life.

Thankfully, we share in common prayer, common Scripture and common blessing. And that is what we embrace now, knowing that a fuller expression of our oneness in communion yet lies on the horizon of God’s Easter people.

(Father Rick Ginther is director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism. He is also pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis.)

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