|ROME, 7 FEB. 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: Is it ever permissible for non-Catholic ecclesial communities to
celebrate their "liturgy" on a dedicated (fixed) altar? An Episcopalian
(Anglican) group which uses our community's guest facilities has been
celebrating both their Office and "eucharist" in our basilica.
F.J., Nodaway, Missouri
A: This question is addressed in the Ecumenical Directory although there
may also be particular norms issued by the bishops' conference or by the
local bishop which apply these norms to concrete local situations.
Nos. 137-142 of the directory state:
"137. Catholic churches are consecrated or blessed buildings which have
an important theological and liturgical significance for the Catholic
community. They are therefore generally reserved for Catholic worship.
However, if priests, ministers or communities not in full communion with
the Catholic Church do not have a place or the liturgical objects
necessary for celebrating worthily their religious ceremonies, the
diocesan Bishop may allow them the use of a church or a Catholic
building and also lend them what may be necessary for their services.
Under similar circumstances, permission may be given to them for
interment or for the celebration of services at Catholic cemeteries.
"138. Because of developments in society, the rapid growth of population
and urbanization, and for financial motives, where there is a good
ecumenical relationship and understanding between the communities, the
shared ownership or use of church premises over an extended period of
time may become a matter of practical interest.
"139. When authorization for such ownership or use is given by the
diocesan Bishop, according to any norms which may be established by the
Episcopal Conference or the Holy See, judicious consideration should be
given to the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, so that this question
is resolved on the basis of a sound sacramental theology with the
respect that is due, while also taking account of the sensitivities of
those who will use the building, e.g., by constructing a separate room
"140. Before making plans for a shared building, the authorities of the
communities concerned should first reach agreement as to how their
various disciplines will be observed, particularly in regard to the
sacraments. Furthermore, a written agreement should be made which will
clearly and adequately take care of all questions which may arise
concerning financial matters and the obligations arising from church and
"141. In Catholic schools and institutions, every effort should be made
to respect the faith and conscience of students or teachers who belong
to other Churches or ecclesial Communities. In accordance with their own
approved statutes, the authorities of these schools and institutions
should take care that clergy of other Communities have every facility
for giving spiritual and sacramental ministration to their own faithful
who attend such schools or institutions. As far as circumstances allow,
with the permission of the diocesan Bishop these facilities can be
offered on the Catholic premises, including the church or chapel.
"142. In hospitals, homes for the aged and similar institutions
conducted by Catholics, the authorities should promptly advise priests
and ministers of other Communities of the presence of their faithful and
afford them every facility to visit these persons and give them
spiritual and sacramental ministrations under dignified and reverent
conditions, including the use of the chapel."
The principles outlined by the document, above all by No. 137, are
fairly clear and little further comment is required.
Our correspondent should therefore assure that the Episcopalian
community's use of the church and the altar has been duly authorized by
the local bishop.
Likewise, and in accordance with the bishop's instructions, he should
guarantee all due respect toward the Blessed Sacrament during the course
of the Episcopalian services as they may not share our faith in Christ's
real presence. ZE06020721
* * *
Follow-up on Altars and Deacons' Vestments [2-21-2006]
My recent column on the use of a Catholic church by a group of
Episcopalians (Feb. 7) concluded with the following sentence: "Likewise,
and in accordance with the bishop's instructions, he should guarantee
all due respect toward the Blessed Sacrament during the course of the
Episcopalian services as they may not share our faith in Christ's real
Judging from our readers' reactions this was a less than felicitous
expression and has given rise to several misunderstandings.
My primary purpose was to ensure respect for the Blessed Sacrament.
However, my comment that the Episcopalians "may not share" the Catholic
understanding of Christ's real presence requires further clarification.
Official Episcopalian doctrine certainly does not adhere to the Catholic
doctrine of Christ's real presence.
My use of the conditional "may not" stemmed from the fact that,
notwithstanding the official line, some Episcopalian individuals and
even a few parish communities would willingly confess their belief that
Christ is present in the tabernacle of Catholic churches.
Since the original question did not proffer any information as to the
particular beliefs of the Episcopalian group, I (perhaps unwisely)
adopted a broader expression.
A more complex question however, is that of the objective validity of
the Episcopalian "eucharist."
Pope Leo XIII officially declared that the line of apostolic succession
was discontinued in the Anglican Communion for several historical and
theological reasons. The Catholic Church therefore does not recognize
the validity of Anglican orders and hence the validity of the sacraments
which depend essentially on orders, above all, of the Eucharist.
Thus, no matter what the personal beliefs of some Anglicans and
Episcopalians regarding the Eucharistic presence in their communion,
there is in reality no true transubstantiation.
In some exceptional cases, however, such as when a Catholic priest
abandons the Church and becomes an Anglican clergyman, there could be a
valid transformation of the bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood.
Of course a priest in this case would be compounding the grave sin of
apostasy with that of sacrilege.
Some readers expressed surprise at the very fact that Catholic churches
could be used at all for non-Catholic rituals and felt I was
contributing to error. Others claimed that I was too restrictive
While I can understand their difficulties, I can only point out that the
substance of my earlier reply was mostly a direct quote from a document
of the Holy See approved by Pope John Paul II. In this document the
Church, in seeking that unity desired by Christ and to overcome past and
present diffidence, strives to strike a delicate balance. It sets clear
boundaries that acknowledge the sometimes profound differences between
Catholic belief and practice from that of some fellow Christians. At the
same time, by emphasizing that which unites us more than our divisions,
it allows for some fairly generous sharing of spiritual goods in areas
where there is no danger of compromising the essential truths of the
On another theme, several readers wrote regarding clarifications
regarding the use of specific vestments.
Regarding the stole, one correspondent expressed doubts regarding my
affirmation that the stole was not originally a symbol of dignity. The
reader cited several Eastern sources to prove his point.
The origin of the stole is rather obscure and, according to some
authors, the priest's and deacon's stole derive from different sources.
Its use as a sign for deacons is found around the same time in both East
and West (above all, Spain and France) as a necessary instrument of
their diaconal service at the altar which later developed into a symbol.
This interpretation is witnessed by St. Isidore of Pelusius in Egypt
(died 440): "The stole with which the deacons perform their service in
the sacred ministries, recalls the humility of the Lord when he washed
and dried the feet of his disciples."
The priest's stole, however, may have derived from the "orarium," which
in civil use was a kind of scarf of fine cloth which was worn by wealthy
persons about the collar to protect from the cold in winter and sweat in
summer. It was also used to wipe the face ("os" from which the name
derives, and not, as was sometimes thought, from "orare," to speak or
As the stole developed into a symbolic vestment its practical purpose in
summer was taken up by the amice, a square white linen cloth worn about
The stole was unknown in Rome until about the beginning of the ninth
century and was probably introduced into the Roman liturgy through the
influence of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and his successors.
Some other readers were puzzled as to why permanent deacons in our
correspondent's diocese were not permitted to wear cassock and surplice.
While I suggested a possible motive, I admit that I really failed to see
the reason behind such a prohibition, since deacons, whether permanent
or transitory, are members of the clergy and are entitled to wear
Certainly Canon 288 of the Code of Canon Law dispenses permanent deacons
from the obligation of clerical dress unless the bishop decides that
they should wear it for good reasons. A dispensation from an obligation
means that they may wear clerical garb but are not obliged to do so.
It does not seem to follow, at least from the canonical point of view,
that the bishop may therefore forbid them from wearing clerical dress.
The code does not provide this faculty but only that of mandating
clerical attire in certain circumstances.
In order to give a definitive opinion we would require more information
than is currently available. ZE06022121