The Old Catholic and Polish National Churches

Author: Father Edward McNamara, LC


The Old Catholic and Polish National Churches

ROME, 14 FEB. 2012 (ZENIT)
Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: I understand that under unusual circumstances, such as a crisis, or being isolated from access to Catholic sacraments, that it is acceptable, from the Catholic point of view, to receive the sacraments from an Orthodox priest because their ordination is valid as their bishops have remained in apostolic succession. Given the same urgent conditions or isolation, may a Catholic receive valid sacraments from the Old Catholic Church or a Polish National Catholic Church — which my friend says are still in apostolic succession? He seems to think there might be an issue because of ordination of women. Does the Catholic Church still recognize these Churches as being in apostolic succession? — L.Q., Watertown, Wisconsin

A: The situation is not the same with respect to the "Old Catholics" whose historical center is in Utrecht and the "Polish National Catholic Church" based in North America. Both groups were in communion until relatively recently.

For several reasons, the Diocese of Utrecht separated from the Catholic Church after 1703. This Church later ordained independent bishops for other Dutch dioceses. After the proclamation of the dogma of papal infallibility in 1870, several groups of mostly German-speaking Catholics split from the Church. They were supported by the independent bishop of Utrecht, who ordained some of them to the episcopate.

Until now they have maintained the legitimate apostolic succession and valid sacraments.

However, they have some strong doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church and after 1996 have begun to ordain woman as priests.

Unless these Churches eventually accept woman bishops, they will maintain the apostolic succession. However, the Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of orders conferred upon a woman and, as a consequence, a Catholic could never request the sacraments from such a minister.

For these reasons, although in a grave emergency a Catholic could receive the sacraments from a validly ordained Old Catholic priest, the doctrinal differences are such that it would normally be inadvisable to receive Communion or other sacraments in one of their celebrations in the cases foreseen in Canon 844 below.

The Polish National Catholic Church was established in the United States in 1887 as a result of a series of pastoral misunderstandings and property disputes. One of its leaders, Father Franciszek Hodur, was ordained bishop by three Old Catholic bishops in Utrecht in 1907 and later ordained other bishops so as to assure the apostolic succession. This Church established communion with the Episcopal church and with the Old Catholics.

In 1978 it terminated intercommunion with the Episcopal church, and with the Old Catholics after 1996. In both cases, the reason was the decision of these churches to admit woman to the priesthood — a position totally rejected by the Polish National Catholic Church.

Relations between the Polish National Catholic Church and the Catholic Church have improved somewhat from the 1970s. In 1996 the U.S. bishops' conference reached an agreement, approved by the Holy See, which placed this Church in a position similar to that of Eastern Orthodox Churches.

Therefore, the provisions of Canon 844 of the code of Canon Law are applicable to ministers of the Polish National Catholic Church. To wit:

"Canon 844 §1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and canon 861, §2.

"§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

"§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.

"§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

"§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community."

* * *

Follow-up: The Old Catholic and Polish National Churches [2-28-2012]

In line with our Feb. 14 column on the Old Catholic and Polish National Churches, a reader from France had previously written: "A friend of mine belongs to the Latin rite, but lives in a town where Catholics are a majority, but Latins are a tiny minority. A Latin-rite priest comes regularly to celebrate to this Latin community, but once every trimester or so, he is not able to come. My friend's question is whether he is obliged to go to the Catholic Byzantine Mass to fulfill the Sunday obligation." In other words: Is someone always obliged to fulfill the Sunday obligation in a rite different from his own when the latter is not available?

This theme is dealt with in canons 1247-1248 of the Code of Canon Law:

"1247. On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.

"Moreover, they are to abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord's day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.

"1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

"§2. If participation in the eucharistic celebration becomes impossible because of the absence of a sacred minister or for another grave cause, it is strongly recommended that the faithful take part in a liturgy of the word if such a liturgy is celebrated in a parish church or other sacred place according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop or that they devote themselves to prayer for a suitable time alone, as a family, or, as the occasion permits, in groups of families."

The canons do not deal specifically with our problem, but I believe that indirectly the question is broached.

In the first place, the obligation is to attend Mass. The canons make no distinctions regarding rites. Second, it is specifically stated that this obligation may be fulfilled at any Catholic rite.

Therefore, I would say that if a Latin Catholic is only able to fulfill his obligation by attending a Catholic Byzantine Divine Liturgy, then he is obliged to do so.

There may be some rare cases in which due to "another grave cause" there might be practical difficulties for Latin Catholics to be able to attend an otherwise available Eastern Catholic rite. In such cases the bishop can make special provision for the faithful in these circumstances.

The situation is different if the only Mass available is a non-Catholic Eastern celebration. In this case the Catholic has no obligation to attend.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field

Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210


Terms of Use      Privacy Policy