Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What the Catholic Church says about Non-Catholics Receiving Communion

At a recent retreat that I attended a topic of discussion came up on the last day of the retreat between some team members on the receipt of Holy communion by non-catholics and what the stance of the Church is on this and I felt I should share this.

I am including below details from various documents of the Church in relation to this topic. I kept the references to a minimum but I would be more than happy to expand further and give more detailed references from which these texts are derived if required. The bold is my emphasis.

Sacramentum Caritatis

Participation by Christians who are not Catholic

56. The subject of participation in the Eucharist inevitably raises the question of Christians belonging to Churches or Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church. In this regard, it must be said that the intrinsic link between the Eucharist and the Church’s unity inspires us to long for the day when we will be able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist together with all believers in Christ, and in this way to express visibly the fullness of unity that Christ willed for his disciples (cf. Jn 17:21). On the other hand, the respect we owe to the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood prevents us from making it a mere “means” to be used indiscriminately in order to attain that unity. (172) The Eucharist in fact not only manifests our personal communion with Jesus Christ, but also implies full communio with the Church. This is the reason why, sadly albeit not without hope, we ask Christians who are not Catholic to understand and respect our conviction, which is grounded in the Bible and Tradition. We hold that eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion are so linked as to make it generally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive the former without enjoying the latter. There would be even less sense in actually concelebrating with ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church. Yet it remains true that, for the sake of their eternal salvation, individual non-Catholic Christians can be admitted to the Eucharist, the sacrament of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. But this is possible only in specific, exceptional situations and requires that certain precisely defined conditions be met (173). These are clearly indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (174) and in its Compendium (175). Everyone is obliged to observe these norms faithfully.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

1399 The Eastern churches that are not in full communion with the Catholic Church celebrate the Eucharist with great love. “These Churches, although separated from us, yet possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy.” A certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, “given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged.”(235)

1400 Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, “have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.”(236) It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, “when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.”(237)

1401 When, in the Ordinary’s judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions.(238)

Ref 238 above refers to this section of Canon Law:

Canon Law

Can. 844 §1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, §2.

§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.

§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.

New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law: (re: §4)

“Next, canon 844 makes a clear distinction between those covered by paragraph three and those covered by paragraph four. In that paragraph, a more limited exception is applied to other Christians not within full Catholic communion. With regard to the latter, who are neither Eastern Christians nor in the same situation as the East, the requirements are several: (1) a serious need (whether danger of death or, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or of the conference of bishops, other grave necessity); (2) inability to approach their own minister; (3) a voluntary request by the recipient; (4) manifestation of Catholic faith concerning the sacraments in question; and (5) a proper disposition to receive the sacrament.

With regard to the serious need, the Secretariat ofor Promoting Christian Unity has given as examples the situation of persons in prison or under persecution or, aside from such cases of suffering and danger, the situation of persons who live at some distance from their own communion. This is of course not an exhaustive list of such cases, and the judgment belongs to the diocesan bishop or, if it should have issued norms of guidelines for such cases, the conference of bishops.”

I hope this helps clarify matters. I would be more than happy to discuss this further or provide more references. I feel that one thing that I continue learning with time is the need for humility. We say we believe in ONE HOLY CATHOLIC APOSTOLIC CHURCH – and that means submitting to the TEACHING AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH as handed down through the apostles, Popes and bishops. Therefore I do not wish to add MY opinion to this b/c I do not feel that I have the knowledge, wisdom and authority to do so – but the Magesterium does have the knowledge, wisdom and authority as a body guided by the Holy Spirit and given by Christ himself. Furthermore I have no right to pick and choose what I will accept of this authority.
As I always say, there is no such thing as supermarket catholicism, or conservative or liberal catholicism - You're either Catholic or you're not!

God bless (+)



I wonder if the apostles knew what Jesus was talking about at the last supper when he said, “this is my body…”? And if so why or how could they split/ run away / deny Jesus so quickly. I don’t think they fully understood and yet the Lord let them participate.

Response: True, one does wonder…..however is not the role and teaching authority of the Magisterium somewhat related to eliminating the “wonder” “why” and “what” of matters that pertain to the faith? Maybe they did not; but maybe they did!!!! Truly I do not think any of us have the wisdom, authority and knowledge to single to get into that alone without referring to what the Church teaches us.

The probability is that the apostles did understand what it was – I refer you to John 6 -when Jesus explains that he is the bread from heaven and discusses the matter of “eating his flesh and drinking his blood”. Recall how he was adamant about this and did not change his wording….Not only that, he turned to his apostles and asked them if they also wanted to leave at which Peter asks the Lord “To whom shall we go?”. At this point Jesus responds “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!(He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

Scripture scholars refer to this last sentence as an attestation that Judas refused to believe in this miracle of the Eucharist.

God bless (+)


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