|ROME, 17 AUG. 2004 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
Q: I have been a Eucharistic minister to the sick for the past 10 years. I
have done this in four different dioceses. I have permission from the
local bishop to bring daily Communion to a gravely ill relative. This past
Sunday, I met several Episcopalians and Lutherans who really wanted to
participate in some type of a service too. My heart went out to them. In
all our readings Jesus healed based on a person's faith, not their creed.
I have not shared Communion, but my heart says this would be good for the
faith of those who are suffering. May the Eucharist be shared among
non-Catholic if there is faith in the Real Presence? Must I abide by
— S.C., Little Rock, Arkansas
A: John Paul II has spoken on the relationship between the Eucharist and
ecumenism in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia":
"The gift of Christ and his Spirit which we receive in Eucharistic
communion superabundantly fulfills the yearning for fraternal unity deeply
rooted in the human heart; at the same time it elevates the experience of
fraternity already present in our common sharing at the same Eucharistic
table to a degree which far surpasses that of the simple human experience
of sharing a meal. Through her communion with the body of Christ the
Church comes to be ever more profoundly 'in Christ in the nature of a
sacrament, that is, a sign and instrument of intimate unity with God and
of the unity of the whole human race.'
"The seeds of disunity, which daily experience shows to be so deeply
rooted in humanity as a result of sin, are countered by the unifying power
of the body of Christ. The Eucharist, precisely by building up the Church,
creates human community" (No. 24).
Later, in No. 46 of the encyclical, the Pope reminds us of those rare
cases, and under what conditions, non-Catholic Christians may be admitted
to the sacraments of the Eucharist, reconciliation and anointing of the
This administration is limited to "Christians who are not in full
communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these
sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic
Church professes with regard to these sacraments. Conversely, in specific
cases and in particular circumstances, Catholics too can request these
same sacraments from ministers of Churches in which these sacraments are
It adds: "These conditions, from which no dispensation can be given, must
be carefully respected, even though they deal with specific individual
cases. That is because the denial of one or more truths of the faith
regarding these sacraments and, among these, the truth regarding the need
of the ministerial priesthood for their validity, renders the person
asking improperly disposed to legitimately receiving them. And the
opposite is also true: Catholics may not receive 'communion' in those
communities which lack a valid sacrament of orders."
The Holy Father refers to several numbers of the Ecumenical Directory
which specify these conditions in more detail, in its chapter on "Sharing
Spiritual Activities and Resources."
The general principles involved in this sharing must reflect this double
"1) The real communion in the life of the Spirit which already exists
among Christians and is expressed in their prayer and liturgical worship;
"2) The incomplete character of this communion because of differences of
faith and understanding which are incompatible with an unrestricted mutual
sharing of spiritual endowments."
For these reasons the Church recognizes 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" (No. 130).
Apart from the case of danger of death, the episcopal conference and the
local bishop may specify other grave circumstances in which a Protestant
may receive these sacraments although always respecting the conditions
outlined above in the Holy Father's encyclical: "that the person be unable
to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own
Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her own
initiative, [and] manifest Catholic faith in this sacrament and be
properly disposed" (No. 131).
Therefore in general it is not possible for you to give Communion to
Protestants. But if you find one who fulfills the above conditions, you
should advise the local pastor so that the person may receive
reconciliation and anointing of the sick.
This does not mean that you are completely despoiled of all possibilities
of giving spiritual comfort while exercising one of the corporal works of
Apart from words of encouragement and consolation you could also use some
of the spiritual treasury of readings, prayers and intercessions found in
the ritual for the care of the sick. Thus you could pray for, and with,
these souls in a time of need. ZE04081723
* * *
Follow-up: Eucharist for
Non-Catholics [from 31 August 2004]
Pursuant to our reply regarding holy Communion for Protestants (see Aug.
17), a reader from Toronto asked about the matter vis-à-vis the members of
the Orthodox and other Eastern Churches. Likewise, another reader asked at
what Eastern-rite Churches a Catholic may receive Communion.
The rules for Eastern Orthodox and other Eastern Christians are different
from that for Protestants, since the Catholic Church recognizes the
validity of Orthodox and Eastern priesthood and the common faith in the
For this reason the Catholic Church admits them to Communion if they are
unable to assist at their own liturgy.
As stated by No. 25 of the Ecumenical Directory: "Catholic ministers may
lawfully administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and the anointing
of the sick to members of the Eastern Churches, who ask for these
sacraments of their own free will and are properly disposed."
Some Eastern Churches, however, discourage their members from availing of
this possibility. The Ecumenical Directory asks that "due consideration
should be given to the discipline of the Eastern Churches for their own
faithful and any suggestion of proselytism should be avoided."
Any Catholic may participate in the Eucharist of any Catholic Eastern
Of those Eastern Churches not in communion with the Holy See, the
directory says in No. 123: "Whenever necessity requires or a genuine
spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or
indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for any Catholic for whom it is
physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, to
receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick
from a minister of an Eastern Church."
This means that there must be a good motive and not done out of curiosity
or desire for variety. It would not usually be permissible, for example,
for a Catholic to attend a non-Catholic Eastern rite if there were a
Catholic church readily available.
The directory also admonishes Catholics to be careful about not offending
the sensibilities of our fellow Christians, for charity must always be the
"Since practice differs between Catholics and Eastern Christians in the
matter of frequent communion, confession before communion and the
Eucharistic fast," No. 124 states, "care must be taken to avoid scandal
and suspicion among Eastern Christians through Catholics not following the
Eastern usage. A Catholic who legitimately wishes to communicate with
Eastern Christians must respect the Eastern discipline as much as possible
and refrain from communicating if that Church restricts sacramental
communion to its own members to the exclusion of others." ZE04083120