a Catholic give, or invite a non-Catholic to receive, holy Communion? Wouldn’t that
promote our efforts toward ecumenism?
your intentions may be excellent, ecumenism would be more hurt than helped by what
Does the Eucharist already have a meaning
or does it have only the meaning which I assign to it? How a person answers that
question heavily influences his or her stance on intercommunion.
In the Catholic Church, the communicant
responds, “Amen,” to the announcement, “Body of Christ.” Can that Amen mean everything
from, “Yes, I believe Christ is present here,” to, “Christ is present here in the
same way that my deceased grandmother is present when I look at her photo”?
With a few exceptions, the practice and
law of the Roman Catholic Church are not to give the Eucharist to non-Catholics.
In receiving the Eucharist we not only need to believe that Jesus is truly present
under the appearances of bread and wine, but must also be in communion with the Catholic
For all practical purposes, when a person
receives Communion, he or she is saying: “I accept all Catholics as my brothers and
sisters. I hold the same truths as they do. I accept the Holy Father and the bishops
as successors of Peter and the other apostles.”
In some circumstances Orthodox Christians
may receive Communion. Even non-Catholics could, under special circumstances, receive
Communion with the permission of the bishop—for example, if the person is dying and
expresses faith in the Real Presence.
Many missalettes printed in the United
States carry this 1996 guideline from our bishops:
“Because Catholics believe that the celebration
of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life and worship,
members of those Churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not
admitted to holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other
Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop
and the provision of canon law” (Canon #844,4).
In 1940 Brother Roger Schutz brought
Protestants and Catholics together to establish a monastic community in Taize, France.
That monastery has contributed a great deal to the ecumenical movement, but its monks
do not practice intercommunion.
Admitting and seeking to understand the
painful differences that keep Catholics and non-Catholics apart in this matter may
be today’s best contribution to ecumenism.
heard that in October the pope will sign a document that is intended to unite all
Christians under one umbrella regardless of denomination. Could you please explain
what this means to our Catholic faith? Is there a compromise here regarding the Catholic
traditions and beliefs? Where can I find more information on this subject?
A: I think
you have been hearing about a historic agreement between Roman Catholics and Lutherans—not
a document to unite all Christians. A Joint Declaration on Justification was scheduled
to be signed in Augsburg, Germany, on October 31, 1999, on behalf of the Roman Catholic
Church and the Lutheran World Federation.
This document reflects 30 years of ecumenical dialogue between these two Churches
and ends a 400-year-old doctrinal dispute. The Holy See’s Pontifical Council for Promoting
Christian Unity helped develop this joint declaration, which has been approved by the
Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and by Pope John Paul II. I do
not know if the pope himself intends to sign it.
Justification is the teaching about how people are saved. This teaching was probably
the most basic difference between Roman Catholics and Martin Luther in the 16th century.
The joint declaration says: “The understanding of the doctrine of justification set
forth in this declaration shows that a consensus in basic truths exists between Lutherans
and Catholics [#40]....The teaching of the Lutheran churches presented in this declaration
does not fall under the condemnations from the Council of Trent. The condemnations
in the Lutheran Confessions do not apply to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church
presented in this declaration [#41].”
The Lutheran World Federation represents 58 million of the world’s 61 million Lutherans;
this document was approved according to official procedures of that federation and
the Holy See.
When the joint declaration was approved in June 1998, both sides identified issues
needing resolution before the declaration could be accepted as an official statement
for these Christians. A further “Common Statement” and “Annex” were released by both
sides on June 11, 1999; they are part of the document to be signed in Augsburg, Germany,
where the foundational Lutheran Augsburg Confession on justification was drawn
up in 1530.
The following are two key passages: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith
in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by
God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling
us to good works”(#15); and “Grace, as fellowship of the justified with God in faith,
hope and love, is always received from the salvific and creative work of God. But it
is nevertheless the responsibility of the justified not to waste this grace but to
live in it. The exhortation to do good works is the exhortation to practice the faith” (“Annex,” #2D).
You can be sure that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has very carefully
carried out its responsibilities and would not have approved this new document if it
compromised the Catholic faith.
Your best source of information will be your diocesan newspaper, Catholic magazines
and official Catholic and Lutheran publications. You can find the text for this joint
declaration at www.zenit.org/english on
the Internet or at a public library.
Since many Protestants other than Lutherans consider the Augsburg Confession a foundational
document, they will surely take notice of this joint declaration.
was very disappointed with your answer about this in the July issue. Article #1183
of The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The tabernacle is to be
situated ‘in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor.’ The dignity,
placing and security of the eucharistic tabernacle should foster adoration before
the Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” Off to the side
or at the back of the church does not fit the Catechism’s call for a “most worthy
place with greatest honor.”
could argue that the first sentence in this Catechism quote favors a central
place in the sanctuary. Others could argue that, while respecting the reverence called
for in the first sentence, the second sentence favors a place where individuals can
get closer to the tabernacle for private prayer and adoration. The Church’s current
liturgical directives favor this second interpretation.
In May 1967 the Sacred Congregation of
Rites issued Eucharisticum Mysterium, which says in Chapter III, Section II.D.: “In
the celebration of the Mass the principal modes of worship by which Christ is present
to his Church are gradually revealed. First of all, Christ is seen to be present
among the faithful gathered in his name; then in his Word, as the Scriptures are
read and explained; in the person of the minister; finally and in a unique way under
the species of the Eucharist. Consequently, by reason of the symbolism, it is more
in keeping with the nature of the celebration that the eucharistic presence of Christ,
which is the fruit of the consecration and should be seen as such, should not be
on the altar from the very beginning of Mass through the reservation of the sacred
species in the tabernacle.”
You can find this text in Vatican
II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery,
O.P. (Costello Publishing, 1975). The same principle is reflected in the General
Instruction to the Roman Missal (March 27, 1975): “Every encouragement should
be given to the practice of eucharistic reservation in a chapel suited to the faithful’s
private adoration and prayer” (#276).
The 1983 Code of Canon Law says, “The
tabernacle in which the blessed Eucharist is reserved should be sited in a distinguished
place in the church or oratory, a place which is conspicuous, suitably adorned and
conducive to prayer” (#938,2).
Individuals can have honest differences
of opinion about whether a particular site is “conspicuous, suitably adorned and
conducive to prayer.” Most dioceses require that plans for new churches or major
renovations of existing ones be approved by a diocesan commission appointed for this
No one today can argue truthfully that
official Church directives require that the tabernacle be in the sanctuary.
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