A ZENIT DAILY DISPATCH
Eucharist for Non-Catholics
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 Church law? — 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 sick.
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 valid."
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 fact:
"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 mercy.
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
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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 sacraments.
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 Church.
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 supreme law.
"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
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