A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
ROME, 30 MAY 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: My cousin will be ordained this summer as a priest in the Episcopal Church (High Church). At her first mass, may I receive communion from her? — J.L., Silver Spring, Maryland
A: Pope John Paul II answered this question in his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," No. 30:
"The Catholic Church's teaching on the relationship between priestly ministry and the Eucharist and her teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice have both been the subject in recent decades of a fruitful dialogue in the area of ecumenism. We must give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the significant progress and convergence achieved in this regard, which lead us to hope one day for a full sharing of faith. Nonetheless, the observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church remain fully pertinent: 'The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory' (Vatican II, 'Unitatis Redintegratio,' No. 22).
"The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity. Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full communion, including Eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it.
"The fact that the power of consecrating the Eucharist has been entrusted only to bishops and priests does not represent any kind of belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church this gift redounds to the benefit of all."
From this it is clear that while one may attend a relative's ordination as an Episcopal minister, a Catholic should refrain from receiving communion. If this ceremony were to take place on a Sunday, it would not substitute for Sunday Mass.
For a Catholic, participating at Mass and receiving Communion should be the zenith of life in the Church toward which all other activities are ordained and from which they receive their strength.
Receiving Communion expresses the Catholic's union of heart, mind and soul to Christ and his Church.
Our "Amen" before receiving Christ's Body affirms our belief in all that the Church teaches with respect to this sublime mystery. It also affirms our belief in Christ's incarnation, passion, death and resurrection which is the Eucharist's foundation. Christ's Church makes the Eucharist.
Because it is such a strong statement of faith, we could say that a Catholic is never more Catholic than when receiving the Lord. And this is why we can never partake of the Eucharist in another ecclesial community which does not have the fullness of the Eucharist and the priesthood. ZE06053023
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Follow-up: Episcopalian Eucharist [6-13-2006]
Some readers of our May 30 column, on communion at an Episcopalian ordination, asked why I did not simply affirm that the ordination was invalid.
A specific mention of this fact would have been moot as I assumed that both the original questioner, and ZENIT readers in general, are sufficiently well formed to know that the Church could never recognize the sacramental validity of the ordination of a woman to Anglican orders.
The question, therefore, had to do with why it was not correct to receive communion at such a service. Since Pope John Paul II had authoritatively answered this precise question, I considered it best to use his very words in reply.
Another reader, a priest from Winnipeg, Manitoba, broached another point: "You mentioned recently that 'one may attend a relative's ordination as an Episcopal minister.' I've always appreciated the old practice of not attending an invalid marriage because of the witness value of attending. Since an Episcopal ordination does not produce a valid priest, would the attendance of a Catholic imply an approval of some sort? And if not, perhaps if the person submitting to the rite is a lapsed Catholic, it would be better if the Catholic did not attend."
I do not believe the two situations are perfectly parallel. Attending a ceremony involving an invalid marriage can signify approval for a couple entering into an objectively sinful state.
Attending, for a just cause, an Episcopalian ordination or analogous installation ceremonies for Protestant ministers does not imply any recognition of their sacramental validity and is simply a gesture of friendship or family ties.
I agree, however, that some particular circumstances, such as the ordination of a lapsed Catholic, would make it inadvisable for a Catholic to attend such a ceremony. No matter how much respect we may have for the sincere faith of other Christians, no Catholic could approve or view positively a person's publicly abandoning the Catholic faith, which we believe to be the fullness of Christ's Church, by becoming a minister in another Christian community.
Finally, a reader from Paris asked: "I'd like to know whether a Protestant can receive Catholic Communion or not, especially if he/she accepts the Catholic meaning of Eucharistic Communion."
We have addressed this issue in our column of Dec. 2 and 16, 2003. ZE06061322
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