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The Russian Orthodox are the last of four local churches to withdraw from participation in the Great and Holy Council, the Pan-Orthodox Synod, set to begin tomorrow – Pentecost Sunday in their calendar. Their reason given that as consensus was adopted as the model for any and all work of the Council, and that at least one local church had withdrawn, consensus was no longer possible.
The timeline of last-minute withdrawal from the Council:
- 1 June – Bulgarian Orthodox Church
- 6 June – (Greek) Patriarchate of Antioch
- 10 June – Georgian Orthodox Church
- 13 June – Russian Orthodox Church
As I see it, consensus to hold the Council now, under the presented procedures, and the promise to attend by each local church was achieved in March 2014 and affirmed just a few months ago, at the January 2016 Synaxis of Primates. The Churches themselves committed to hold the Council, to attend, and to participate.
Therefore, now is too late to back out. Common sense would dictate that after having committed to the Council, if you back out, you lose your voice and vote, but the decisions are still binding upon you and consensus depends on those who are actually present and participating. You forfeit your right to vote, you do not get a veto, by backing out. If you want to object to some document, you have to be participating to do so.
In other words, dear Bulgaria, et al., you do not have to agree, but you do have to show up.
Of course, this is a moral obligation, there is no juridical, binding power that would compel otherwise. One could argue that failure to participate in a general council to which unanimous consensus compels you to attend is tantamount to excommunication – to me, non-participation in the Council seems a far more serious breach of communion that disagreements over the calendar, over jurisdiction in Bahrain, or over who can grant the Americans autocephaly.
To be sure, some of the objections of the local churches are valid and should be considered. Some are nonsense. But I admire far more the Serbian Orthodox Church, who, while deeply concerned about several aspects of both process and content, are still committed to exercising synodality. You cannot claim to be a church who takes synodality seriously, over and against what you perceive as excessive papal primacy in the Catholic Church, and then fail utterly to even organize yourselves into a regular exercise of that synodality on a universal level.
You go to a Council to resolve issues, to raise new ones, to practice being Church together even in disagreement. Unity cannot be achieved by putting off meeting. True, we should see this as the beginning of a lengthy process, not a stand-alone event. Vatican II was eight months of meetings spread over four years allowing generous time for research and consultation. And it had only been ninety years since the last attempt at a general council, only 400 years since the last complete council. The Orthodox have three times as much time to make up for – a real council could be expected to take a full year of meeting together. One week is nowhere near enough.
But at the end of the day, it is hard to respect anyone who claims “we have not had enough time to get ready” or “let’s
postpone procrastinate some more.” Seriously? 1229 years since the last general council, 115 years since the first call for this one, and 55 years since the planning commissions started meeting, even by the glacial ecclesial standards, this is absurd.
Still, we can be grateful that the leaders themselves seem to have more patience with childishly manipulative behavior than I do, as telling the Russian (or Bulgarian, Georgian, or Antiochene) Patriarch he has just been demoted to the bottom of the table for skipping a required meeting probably would not do much to actually get him to show up next time he promises to do so. But since they do seem so concerned about seating arrangements, maybe that would work better than appeals to common sense and episcopal responsibility…
We are in the midst of an extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, called at the end of the celebrations commemorating the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council, capping commemorations that started with the Year of Faith. For the last four years, the Church has marked this anniversary in a number of ways.
In October 2012, Pope Benedict presided over a solemn liturgy commemorating the opening of the Council, with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Rowan Williams in places of honor at his side. Also honored during the event 16 Council Fathers, any of the approximately 3000 bishops who participated in at least one of the four sessions of the Council. (At the time, there were several dozen still living).
They were joined by eight Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, 80 Cardinals, 191 Archbishops and Bishops participating in the XIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, together with 104 Presidents of Episcopal Conferences from throughout the world.
Today, a few months after celebrating the anniversary of the close of the Council, there are about 35 living Council Fathers; 19 of whom lived through all four sessions.
In this Jubilee of Mercy, i repeat a proposal i first made during the Year of Faith:
Make the remaining Council Fathers members of the College of Cardinals.
At the least, those who were Council Fathers for all four sessions.
The senior-most, Bishop Jan van Cauwelaert, CICM, of Inongo, Congo has been a bishop for more than 62 years. The junior of those present throughout the Council is Seattle’s Archbishop emeritus Raymond Hunthausen, ordained bishop mere weeks before the opening of the first session. (Full disclosure: Hunthausen confirmed me)
Of the 35, four are already cardinals, Francis Arinze, Jose de Jesus Pimiento Rodriguez, Serafim Fernandes de Arujo, and Sfeir (of those, only Arinze was not at all four sessions of the Council).
So, that means 15 new cardinals, if only those from all four sessions, or 31 if all of them.
All are over 80, so none would be voting. This is not about who selects the next pope or appointing people whose work lies in the future.
This would be an honorary step, something to mark a half-century of episcopal ministry and leadership in the rarest and most solemn exercise of their ministry of governance over the universal church. This is about honoring the Council, and the entire church. A small, but symbolic gesture.
Most likely, most would not be able to attend a consistory to receive the red hat and ring, but simpler may be better.
I think it would be a nice way to close out the Year of Mercy, a final way to mark the 50 years of blessing brought by the Holy Spirit through the universal and extraordinary magisterium of the Church, expressly in a spirit of synodality.
Granted: any credibly accused of sexual abuse of children, covering up the same, or other similarly grave matters should be excluded.
You have probably heard by now that, while addressing 900 women religious (i.e., sisters) in Rome for the meeting of the International Union of Superiors General, Pope Francis was asked to study the question of women in the diaconate. He responded in the affirmative: He said understanding about their role in the early Church remained unclear and agreed it would be useful to set up a commission to study the question.
You may know my doctoral research is on the diaconate, through the lens of receptive ecumenism. So, while others, like Phyllis Zagano, Gary Macy, Aime Georges Mortimort, and Cipriano Vagaggini, have explored the topic of women deacons more directly, I do have something more than gut instinct to offer. Some quick facts and reflections
- The diaconate is the oldest order of ministry in the church, especially if you count the Seven in Acts 6 as deacons. They preexist both bishops and presbyters.
- The Seven in Acts 6 are not deacons, however. At least, not according to the Scriptures themselves. It was not until Irenaeus (c.130-202) that they are identified as such, perhaps by this analogy. At most, we can see in the Seven a prefiguring of the diaconate inasmuch as we see in the Twelve a prefiguring of the episcopate.
- In the New Testament, while diakonia/diakonos are used several times, there are various meanings. Only three times is it clear that we are talking about an office of ministry in the Church: Romans 16.1, Philippians 1.1, and 1 Timothy 3.8-12.
- In two of those three, women are clearly included as deacons.
- In those cases the same word, diakonos (s.) or diakonoi (pl.), is used for both men and women. The use of deacon for men and deaconess for women comes later, in the early to mid third century. (see below)
- Phoebe in Romans 16.1 is the first person named as a deacon in Scripture.
(Stephen, protomartyr, is never called a deacon in the New Testament!)
- 1 Timothy 3 details the qualities of bishops and deacons (no reference to presbyters/priests). Male and female deacons are both addressed in vv.8-13.
- Diakonia is ministry. Not “service” – at least, not if you mean “serving at tables”. “Service” works only if you recall that service is leadership, according to Jesus at the Last Supper. Diakonia is a ministry of servant-leadership, which is why it is a quality of bishops and deacons both.
Select Patristic sources:
(By no means exhaustive)
- “The bishop is the image God the Father; the deacon stands in the place of Christ the Son; the presbyterate succeeds the role of the senate of God or the assembly of apostles.”(Ignatius, c.110)
- The first mention of “deaconess” – a gender-differentiated term rather than just including women as deacons – as noted in the International Theological Commission’s 2002 study on the Diaconate, is in the Didascalia Apostolorum (c.250):
- “The bishop sits for you in the place of God Almighty. But the deacon stands in the place of Christ; and do you love him. The deaconess shall be honored by you in the place of the Holy Spirit…”
- The Apostolic Constitutions apply the concept of cleros (clergy) to the following, in order: bishop, deacon, presbyter, deaconess, subdeacon, cantor, reader.
- Jerome is famous for his disdain of deacons, complaining that they should not see themselves as more important than the presbyterate, the council of elders who advise bishops. However, he acknowledges that the reason for this misconception lies in the fact that deacons are paid more than presbyters, and have more responsibility in assisting the bishop.
While we all know that the Anglicans, Lutherans, and other churches and ecclesial communities born from the Reformations ordain women, even to the diaconate, many Catholics would be sadly uninterested because of the fact that while we recognize the real and effective nature of their ministry, we do not recognize the sacramental validity vis a vis apostolic succession in a juridical sense. This is insufficient reason to dismiss the reality or ecumenical importance of this practice in itself, but, for the sake of brevity, I will look East to where there is an undisputed view of the validity of orders: The Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, and Assyrian Church of the East.
Surely they would laugh at us for even discussing the ordination of women?
- First, the Orthodox are clear on the distinction between ordination (cheirotonia) for “major orders” and consecration/blessing (cheirothesia) for “minor orders”.
- Ordination (cheirotonia) is conducted inside the sanctuary, while the blessing or consecration (cheirothesia) of minor orders (cantor, reader, subdeacon, etc.) was conducted outside the sanctuary.
- The deaconess is clearly ordained (cheirotonia), and conducted within the sanctuary. Not only is she ordained, properly speaking, but it is a major, not a minor order.
- The Armenian Apostolic Church, as well as the Orthodox Churches of Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, and Japan all currently have, or have recently had, ordained deaconesses.
- Due to early medieval development of the office, especially in the East, Deaconesses are now generally found in monastic communities (not unlike Orthodox bishops, who always come from monastic priests).
- In fact, even in the west, vestiges of this conflation of the offices of deaconess and abbess remain in that some orders of nuns are still invested with diaconal stole and other symbols of the office (e.g., Carthusians).
Contemporary Catholic Considerations:
- Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, made it clear the Church cannot possibly ordain women to the episcopate or the presbyterate, because women cannot be configured to act in persona Christi capitis. In this case, acting “as Christ the head [of the Church]” narrowly means “priesthood” – presiding at Eucharist – not the more broad understanding of a ministry of ecclesial governance or pastoral leadership. He deliberately excluded the diaconate from this prohibition.
- Pope Benedict XVI opened the door for the ordination of women by changing Canon Law in 2009, with his motu proprio Omnium in Mentem. Following the logic above, he changed canons §1008 and 1009 to exclude the diaconate from being one of those ministries “configured to the person of Christ the Head”. This eliminates, or appears to eliminate, the need to be configured to the maleness of Jesus, as well.
- As the current prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, wrote in his book Priesthood and Diaconate, it is the unity of the three orders of ministry that would prevent women from being ordained to any one if forbidden from the other two. A clear demarcation – say, by developing a theology of sacramental priesthood that includes two orders and excludes the third – opens the door to different theologies of who can be ordained.
- Since we know little of the duties of a deaconess beyond the liturgical, principally assisting the bishop at full-immersion baptism and initiation, Müller and others object to the pastoral need for that exact same ministry today. In part, this is an objection to the compromise proposals of theologians like Walter Kasper, who suggested re-instituting the order of deaconesses as a non-ordained ministry, along the lines of the revival of consecrated virgins.
- One significant discussion is whether “deaconess” and “woman deacon” are the same thing. A popular post on the topic notes that both pope and prefect know that “the deaconesses of history ‘were not purely and simply equivalent to the deacons.'” Though this is not necessarily helpful, as women are not “purely and simply equivalent” to men, either. That makes them no less equal.
- Resulting questions include, are women ordained to the same order of diaconate as men, or are they ordained to a distinct order? If distinct, does that mean we have four ordained offices in the Church, not three? Were there historically two different realities: ordained women deacons and merely consecrated deaconesses (essentially a society of apostolic life, in contemporary terminology)?
- A critique to the Müller objections, however, is that he seems to suggest that deaconesses would have to be identical to their patristic-era form. But of course, this is contrary to the reality of all other ministries. If we went back to the earliest forms, with all three orders together, without historical development, it might look like this:
- The bishop would be mega-parish pastor and the only minister allowed to preside at Christian Initiation and Eucharist;
- The deacons (and deaconesses?) would be the senior (possibly, only) paid staff assisting the bishop, most likely to succeed him, and the career-path of choice for the ecclesial-minded;
- The presbyterate would be a consultative council of mostly older, married men whose career was secular and whose only responsibility is advising the bishop and his deacons.
In any case, the restoration of the diaconate called for at Vatican II (LG, 29) “reestablished the principle of the permanent exercise of the diaconate and note one particular form which the diaconate had taken in the past.” (ITC, Diaconate Study, 73). Moreover, this restoration is a work in progress:
- We still have a transitional diaconate to be suppressed. (Historically understandable, it makes as much sense theologically as a transitional presbyterate for deacon candidates).
- We still have people who think the main difference between deacons and presbyters is marriage and celibacy, respectively. I have heard people complain because the deacon kissed his wife while still in vestments/clerical suit; others still refer to a “lay diaconate” because, clearly, celibacy is the mark of clergy, not ordination!
- We still have people who think that the nature of the diaconate is to be a volunteer ministry performed by retirees.
- We still have people who think diakonia means “menial service” and forbid deacons from exercising their vocation to leadership in the church, even participating in governance in the offices that were once (in other titles) theirs exclusively, i.e., vicars general, episcopal, and forane.
- We still have a wide variety of formation programs for deacons, from requiring an S.T.B. or M.Div. (equivalent to formation for presbyters) to little less than certification for Sunday school catechist.
- We still have dioceses where deacons are not allowed to preach, or where deacons are forbidden from wearing clerical clothing (while seminarians are allowed to do so?).
And so on. We have a lot of theology left to work out. More importantly, a lot of theology in hand has yet to be put into practice, codified into law, or supported by structures. If this conversation and study of women in the diaconate helps with that, so much the better!
Q: What do you call a sleepwalking nun?
A: A Roamin’ Catholic!
A father and a son are seated at dinner having a steak on a Lenten Friday, when the boy makes a realization and says, “Some people don’t eat meat on Fridays because there is a separation of Church & Steak!”
Q: How does Moses make his coffee?
A: Hebrews it.
A man walks up to God ands says: “God, how long is a million years for you?”
God answers, “Oh… about a minute.”
Man: “And how about a million dollars?”
God: “About a penny.”
Man: “In that case, Lord, may I borrow a penny?”
God: “Give me a minute.”
A Franciscan, a Dominican, and a Jesuit discover the real tomb of Jesus, only to find his mortal remains still inside. Horrified, they each react differently.
The Franciscan says, “This changes our whole ministry, we cannot tell anyone!”
The Dominican says, “This changes all of our doctrine, we should not tell anyone!”
The Jesuit says, “Well, I’ll be damned, He did exist!”
“Jesus, get your butt out of bed! Morning mass starts in 5 minutes!”
If Eve sacrificed the future of the whole human race for an apple… what would she do for a Klondike bar?
A new monk arrives at an ancient monastery and sees all the monks copying texts. He goes to the abbot, slightly confused and asked him why the copy the copies rather than the original, because they could be copying the same mistakes.
The abbot , recognizing he has a point, goes to the storage room to find the originals. A few hours later, he is still gone, and the new monk sets out to look for him. He finds the abbot in the basement, holding one of the most ancient manuscripts in his hands, sobbing.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” the young monk asks, worried.
The abbot replies, tearfully, “The word is celebrate. Celebrate!”
A priest, a rabbi, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?!” (Insert laughter here)
Q: What made the priest giggle?
A: Mass Hysteria!
There are three things that even God does not know about the Church:
1) How many congregations of religious women are there?
2) How much money do the Franciscans have stashed away?
3) What do the Jesuits really think and what are they going to do next?
Three famous theologians have just arrived in Heaven, and they are all waiting outside of a room for a debriefing interview with St. Peter.
The first to go in is Walter Kasper, and he is called into the room. He is in there for about an hour, and when he comes out he has tears of joy and relief streaming down his face.
He is overheard saying to himself: “I was afraid I was wrong about so many things!”
The second is Hans Küng. After he is called into the room, he is in there for a few hours. When he comes out, he is shaking his head in disbelief, and he looks troubled.
He says to himself as he leaves: “I cannot believe I was wrong about so many things!”
The third is Joseph Ratzinger. He goes in with a portfolio of lecture notes penned while in retirement. He is in there for days. Finally, the doors open and St. Peter comes out, saying “I cannot believe I was wrong about everything!”
The Holy See tends to see the Anglican Communion as the Church of England;
Anglicans tend to see the Catholic Church as the Church of Rome.
While Rome and Canterbury are sister churches in need of full communion, they represent communions broader that the local primatial sees!
Thank you, Dame Mary Tanner.
Seriously, Anglicans, referring to the Catholic Church as the “Roman Church” is equivalent to Catholics referring to the Anglican Communion as the “Church of Canterbury”, or “Canterburian Church”.
Moreover, “Roman Catholic” is better suited for the Latin Church – it excludes all the Eastern Catholics. It is entirely inaccurate to apply this name to the entire Catholic Communion. Even if you can find pre-Vatican II era Catholic texts that do so (the only post-conciliar texts which do so are ecumenical concessions…)
There are more Catholics in say, Brazil (130 million), than in Italy (50 million). More Catholics in the Church of Mexico City (7 million) than in the Church of Rome (2.5 million).
I have lived near, and even in, the same monastery from which St. Gregory the Great sent missionaries to England at the turn of the seventh century, so i understand the deep relationship between the Church of England and the local Church of Rome, but let us remember the bigger picture.
As for the Holy See, one could hear in recent years the lament that “there’s no point in ecumenism any more now that they ordain women bishops.” As if the 2015 ordination of Allison White in the Church of England was the first in the Communion, and not Barbara Harris in 1989 in the Episcopalian Church (U.S.).
Similarly, the Holy See tends to see all of Lutheranism as it if it is the German Evangelishkirche. How easily some forget the episcopal polity of the Nordic countries or that there are as many Lutherans in Ethiopia as in Sweden (about 6 million each).
This is, i think, a symptom of Euro-centrism. It is a parallel to the linguistic myopia wherein Europeans insist on learning, and seeing as normative, Portuguese of Portugal (10 million speakers) rather than Portuguese of Brazil (201 million speakers); Spanish of Spain (46 million) rather than Spanish of Mexico (120 million); British English (60 million) rather than American English (300 million).
[Found in the archives of half-written posts, from shortly after the election of Pope Francis, the third anniversary of which we have just celebrated]
When your pastor retires, he is not called Father Emeritus John Smith.
Rather, Father John, Pastor emeritus of St. Whatshisname Parish.
When your bishop retires, he is not called Bishop Emeritus Sean Patrick Murphy.
Rather, His Excellency, Bishop Sean, Bishop emeritus of Brigadoon.
Or, His Eminence, Cardinal Sean, Bishop emeritus of Brigadoon
(if also has a Roman suburbicarian see, titulus, or diaconiae).
When the pope retires, he ought not be called Pope Emeritus Benedict.
Rather, His Holiness, Pope Benedict, Bishop emeritus of Rome.
From such a good ecclesiologist as Ratzinger, the style Pope Emeritus always struck a discordant note. He knows better than most that there is no office of pope, and therefore no emeritus pope, only the office of bishop of Rome to which the style of “pope” adheres. (Like the priest who is styled “father”).
Roman Pontiff emeritus, also offered in the official statement, never really took off, either (can’t imagine why…).
Turns out, it apparently was not his idea, and he would have been happy with “Father Benedict” (or Pope Benedict, since “pope” just means “father” anyway), as a style. This also recalls and reminds us of the practice that all clergy – bishop, deacon, presbyter – can be addressed as “Father”, not only the presbyterate.
That would have made a lot more sense: Father Benedict, Bishop emeritus of Rome.
In recent weeks, two significant events highlighted the significant progress made in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue over the last fifty years.
On 31 October, Reformation Day, the U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue published a consensus statement, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist. The Declaration draws on the fifty years of official dialogues to produce a litany of 32 consensus statements – a list of doctrinal agreements on the related topics of the Church, ministry, and the Eucharist – that are the direct results of dialogue, and which are no longer church-dividing issues.
The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has unanimously affirmed the document and has forwarded it to the 2016 Churchwide Assembly and the Lutheran World Federation for consideration. On the Catholic side, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also affirmed the consensus unanimously. They have sent it on to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for consideration.
Two key points from the conclusion of From Conflict to Communion guided the work. [Called to Communion is the 2013 document published by the international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformations, in 2017]:
1) Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
2) Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with each other and by mutual witness of faith.
Too frequently, we hear the complaint, “What has been achieved with all this dialogue?” as if to expect that the answer is nothing. It is easier for those of us too young to remember the time before the Council to think this way, growing up in an age when it was taken for granted that we should be ecumenically engaged, and little seems to have changed since the 1980s. The purpose of this document is to respond to the question, and to lay the groundwork for the next steps in the dialogue.
With the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) the days when one could simplistically summarize the disparity on Catholic and Lutheran teaching on justification as “Protestants believe you are saved by faith alone, and Catholics that you are saved by faith and works” are thankfully long gone. The Declaration on the Way offers a longer list of doctrines that we clearly share in common.
The summary form makes it easy for preachers to integrate into their preaching, and catechists to integrate into their teaching. While wading through volumes of dialogue statements and notes might make a daunting task for the typical parish pastoral minister or Sunday school teacher, this entire document is about 100 pages and easily navigated.
This concern is “Ecumenical Reception”. It is one thing for the Churches, through their official dialogues, to agree on an article of faith, but it is quite another for that to really sink in at the grassroots level. It has to be adopted, and adapted, at the local level – both in terms of local culture and pastoral practice, and at the level of individual faith and the understanding. What good is an agreement on justification or ecclesiology if the Sunday school teachers, the pulpit preachers, and the popular bloggers are still using outdated information and spreading stereotypes based on the misunderstandings and attitudes of the past, as if no dialogue had ever happened?
Catholics and Lutherans agree on the Church’s foundation in God’s saving work, in Scripture and the means of Grace, the Church as communion (koinonia) with visible and invisible elements, the communion of saints and the eschatological nature of the Church and its mission. We agree on ordained ministry as an essential element of the Church, the universal priesthood, the divine origin of ministry, the nature of ministerial authority, much of the nature of ordination, the unity of the orders of ministry, and the need for a ministry of worldwide unity. So too are there agreements on the Trinitarian and Christological dimension of the Eucharist, the Eucharist as a sacrificial memorial, the eschatological and ecclesiological dimensions of the Eucharist, and even on the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Where work remains to be done is on some aspects of the nature of ordination and who may be ordained, and the question of what intermediate sacramental steps might be taken to help lead to reconciliation an full communion among the separated Christian communities. Before offering ‘next steps on the way’ the document suggests that “The possibility of occasional admission of members of our churches to Eucharistic communion with the other side (communicatio in sacris) could be offered more clearly and regulated more compassionately.”
Almost as if in response to the document, Pope Francis visited Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church just a couple weeks later, on 15 November, and responded to a question about Eucharistic hospitality that suggested that Lutherans might receive communion as a matter of conscience. We take it as a given that this assumes the normal conditions being met and in appropriate circumstances.
At first blush, this seems little more than an affirmation of the long-standing practice of the Church articulated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which was virtually unchanged from the pre-Vatican II conditions.
According to the Code, for members of the churches and ecclesial communions born out of the Reformation (i.e., Anglicans and Protestants) to receive communion during a Catholic Eucharist, they must:
- Be baptized
- Be properly disposed
- Manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament (=Real Presence)
- Not have access to a minister of their own church or communion
- Approach the sacrament on their own accord
- Be motivated by “grave pastoral need”, such as danger of death; other situations to be determined (generally, not case-by-case) by the episcopal conference or diocesan bishop. (CIC §844.4)
[Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, and Old Catholic Christians are allowed to participate in Catholic sacramental life at any time, with respect to the rules of their own traditions, essentially only needing baptism, disposition, and belief in the Real Presence, which are all assumed in these cases as well. This is dealt with in CIC §844.3]
In application, Lutherans always fulfill condition 1: we have long recognized their baptism as valid. Whenever a communicant approaches during the communion procession, it is assumed they fulfill conditions 2 and 5, unless there is some grave public reason to know otherwise. This is, even for Catholics, generally a matter of conscience (guided by their spiritual advisor, confessor, etc.).
As the consensus statement above highlights, Catholics and Lutherans have long articulated agreement on the Real Presence, so being Lutheran is enough to fulfill condition 3.
This condition does not mean, as some have suggested, that only those in full communion with the Catholic Church can receive communion; it means you must agree with the Catholic theology of the Real Presence; most Christians do. Neither does it mean that you must use the word “transubstantiation” – even within the Catholic communion, many of the Eastern Churches do not. In Mysterium Fidei (1965), and Paul VI reminded us that it is helpful, even necessary, to find “fresh ways of expressing [the Real Presence], even by using new words” – it is the meaning of the doctrine, not its formulation, which is always imperfect and in need of reform, that is essential.
Where there is remains some discussion, and frequent confusion, are the following two questions:
- what does it mean not to have access to a minister of their own church?
- and what constitutes a grave pastoral need?
The 1993 Directory on the Application of Principals and Norms on Ecumenism offers an interpretive lens and some clarifications, noting that, “in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.” (§130)
Pope John Paul II similarly softened the language of condition 6 from “danger of death or other grave necessity” to simply “grave spiritual need”. He reduced the requirements to this spiritual need and baptism, proper disposition, and who freely approach the sacrament – eliminating the “lack of access to a minister of their own faith” as a condition. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia §34-46, esp. 45). Where bishops and bishops conferences have attended to their duty in this regard, ‘mixed’ marriage and family life is the most common example of a situation that meets these conditions.
Unfortunately, as with a great many of the Polish pope’s great achievements, he lead by example and larger-than-life theatrical symbols, and never changed the law itself to correspond with his actions or apparent intentions. One could hope that among the myriad reforms that the Church needs would be an updating of the Code to account for the developments in ecumenical dialogue over the last five decades.
Both John Paul II and the Directory take care to point out that this concerns individuals, not interim concelebration or general table fellowship, and that the purpose is always for the spiritual care of the individual and the motivation for full communion, with care that it not lead to indifferentism. Triumphalism about Catholic Eucharistic theology or practice – that is, to suggest erroneously that only Catholics celebrate the Eucharist or “have the Real Presence” – is not part of the equation. In fact, it could be argued that if that is your attitude, you are not properly disposed to receive, owing to a sin of pride!
In other words, it is not possible for any informed Catholic to say, “Non-Catholics may never receive communion at a Catholic Eucharist”. This truth has been encased in law since at least 1983. This is a “dumbing-down” of a complex discipline of the faith to the point of error.
Understanding of the conditions under which access to the sacrament is allowed has developed even in the thirty years since the Code was published. These legitimate developments have to be considered as well, not just the Code itself. It is already Church teaching and practice, explicitly in many jurisdictions and implicitly in others, that the Lutheran spouse of a Catholic could receive communion during the Catholic Eucharist, at least in some situations.
Pope Francis is merely reiterating this. What he does, and has every right to do, as supreme pontiff and universal pastor, in light of real progress made by the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the Eucharist, is to frame it in a more positive way. He could, in fact, change the Code itself to allow more frequent opportunities, or to spell out more clearly a longer list of situations, like an interchurch marriage, where the exceptions apply. He is, after all, the supreme legislator.
We already know that there are certain circumstances that a Lutheran can receive; Pope Francis is suggesting that it is a matter of conscience by the individual to determine when those conditions are fulfilled. This is, practically, just acknowledging the current practice of the Church: it is the conscience of the person that determines if they are properly disposed, whether there is spiritual need (and what constitutes ‘grave’), and motivates them to approach the sacrament.
The bishop of Rome also reminds us, as did Vatican II, that communion is not only the goal and sign of ecclesial communion achieved, but also a viaticum (food for the journey) for walking together on the way to that unity. If witness to the unity of the Church generally restricts Eucharistic sharing, the grace to be had from it sometimes commends the practice. (UR §8). Under the right, carefully proscribed circumstances, the Church has taught for fifty years, certain occasions of Eucharistic hospitality is good for the soul, and for the ultimate goal of full communion.
The real progress made by dialogue necessitates a real change in discipline and practice, and we can see this in the (rather conservative) shifts from the Code to the Directory to John Paul II to Francis.
Anyone “confused” by the pope’s comments has probably not kept up with the development of Church teaching in and since the Council, and is unaware of the even previously existing conditions (e.g., danger of death) that allowed a non-Catholic to receive communion from a Catholic minister.
What has changed with Pope Francis is that the ‘norm’ is now to take a more generous reading of the law – one in which the hermeneutic is mercy and the care of souls – rather than a rigorously constrained reading or a hermeneutic of triumphalism. This is possible without even offering a change in the law itself.