ROME, 2 DEC. 2003 (ZENIT).
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor
of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.
Q: I went to a Mass once on a retreat at a religious house where one
Protestant read the epistle and a Protestant minister helped to distribute
the Precious Blood. Is that allowed? — K.D., Warren, Michigan
A: In most cases, no. Any formal participation in the liturgy, whether as
reader, server or eucharistic minister is a sign of communion of faith in
all that is implied in the celebration.
Therefore in most cases only a Catholic in good standing should serve in
any liturgical role. Likewise, before serving, each individual Catholic
should be reasonably sure that he or she is in the state of grace.
There may be some rare exceptions. The Holy See's 1993 Ecumenical
Directory states that the proclamation of sacred Scripture at Mass is done
by Catholics. In exceptional circumstances and for a just cause, the
diocesan bishop may permit a member of another church or ecclesial
community to carry out the function of reader (see No. 133). The homily,
however, is always reserved to the priest or deacon.
The reason should be fairly clear: because of the intimate relationship
between the table of the Word and the Eucharist during the celebration.
Reading the Word in this context is acting as a (sub-delegated) minister
of the Church and normally only a Catholic may serve this function.
Indeed, many theologically aware Protestants would not choose to read in a
Catholic Mass, even if it were allowed, as it would naturally imply
acceptance of the ecclesial theology behind the selection of readings and,
hence, be in contradiction with the (Protestant) principle of private
In fact, after the publication of the revised Catholic Lectionary, some
Protestants desired to adopt it for their services because of the rich
selection of texts. Others, however, entertained serious doubts as to the
wisdom of this proposal because of the "risk" of surreptitiously accepting
the Catholic theology implied in the Church's collation of certain
scriptural passages from the Old and New Testament, especially those
underlying doctrines such as the sacraments.
If this is the case for reading Scripture, which at least is something we
largely have in common with Protestants, then with even more reason is it
the case with respect to participating and administrating the Eucharist.
John Paul II has reminded us in his recent encyclical "Ecclesia de
Eucharistia" that sharing in the celebration of the Eucharist can only be
the culmination, never the starting point, of our search for unity.
This does not exclude Catholics and other Christians from sharing God's
Word in other circumstances, especially those of a specifically ecumenical
nature. The Ecumenical Directory provides ample indications and norms
regarding non-Catholic assistance at Catholic celebrations and the
possibilities and limits of Catholic participation in non- Catholic
While Christian unity is a very desirable goal, it can never be achieved
by papering over the very real differences between us, but only by
honestly facing up to them.
Excessive zeal in facilitating intercommunion not only constitutes a grave
lack of respect for our most sacred things but, in a way, also slights our
non-Catholic interlocutors by saying that we ourselves don't take
seriously what for them are crucial and essential points of doctrine. This
procedure probably does far more harm than good to the ongoing ecumenical
dialogue ..... ZE03120221