On Admitting other Christians to Eucharistic Communion (cont..)

Author: PCCU

Note Interpreting The "Instruction On Admitting Other Christians To Eucharistic Communion In The Catholic Church Under Certain Circumstances"


17 October, 1973

1. After the publication of the "Instruction on Admitting Other Christians to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church" on 1 June 1972, various interpretations of it were given, some of which depart from the letter and the spirit of the document. To prevent the spread of such inaccurate interpretations and their consequences, we think it useful to recall to mind a few points.

2. With this Instruction, pastoral in character, the Secretariat for Promotion of the Unity of Christians had no intention of changing the rules laid down by the Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism and further explained by the Ecumenical Directory (D. 37 and 40). The intention was to explain that the existing discipline derives from the requirements of the faith and so retains its full vigor.

3. The basic principles of the Instruction are:

(a) There is an indissoluble link between the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the Eucharist or between ecclesial and eucharistic communion; the celebration of the Eucharist of itself signifies the fullness of profession of faith and ecclesial communion (cf. Instruction, Pt. II, 1, 2, 3)

(b) The Eucharist is for the baptized a spiritual food which enables them to live with Christ's own life, to be incorporated more profoundly in him and share more intensely in the whole economy of the Mystery of Christ (cf. Instruction, (D. 43), Pt. II).

4. Within the full communion of faith, eucharistic communion is the expression of this full communion and therefore of the unity of the faithful; at the same time it is the means of maintaining and reinforcing this unity. But eucharistic communion practiced by those who are not in full ecclesial communion with each other cannot be the expression of that full unity which the Eucharist of its nature signifies and which in this case does not exist; for this reason such communion cannot be regarded as a means to be used to lead to full ecclesial communion.

5. All the same, both the Ecumenical Directory and the Instruction, on the strength of what has already been said in the Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism, allow the possibility of exceptions insofar as the Eucharist is necessary spiritual nourishment for the Christian life.

6. It is the local ordinary's responsibility to examine these exceptional cases and make concrete decisions. The Instruction (n. 6) recalls that the Ecumenical Directory gives the episcopal authority power to decide whether in these rare cases the required conditions are present or not. The episcopal authority's faculty of examining and deciding is governed by criteria laid down in the Ecumenical Directory (n. 55) and further explained in the Instruction (Pt. IV, 2): ". . . admission to Catholic eucharistic communion is confined to particular cases of those Christians who have a faith in the sacrament in conformity with that of the Church, who experience a serious spiritual need for the eucharistic sustenance, who for a prolonged period are unable to have recourse to a minister of their own community, and who ask for the sacrament of their own accord all this provided that they have proper dispositions and lead lives worthy of a Christian."

This criterion is observed if all the required conditions are verified. An objective, pastorally responsible examination does not allow any of the conditions to be ignored.

It must also be noted that the Instruction speaks of particular cases, which are to be examined individually. Hence a general regulation cannot be issued which makes a category out of an exceptional case, nor is it possible to legitimize on the basis of <epikeia> by turning this latter into a general rule.

Nevertheless, the bishop can in the various situations decide what are the needs that make exceptions applicable, that is to say, what constitutes a special case, and they can determine the manner of verifying whether all the required conditions are fulfilled in such a particular case. When particular cases present themselves fairly often in one region, following a recurrent pattern, episcopal conferences can issue some guiding principles for ascertaining that all the conditions are verified in particular cases. Normally however it will be within the competence of the local ordinary to judge such cases.

7. For other Christians to be admitted to the Eucharist in the Catholic Church the Instruction requires that they manifest a faith in the sacrament in conformity with that of the Catholic Church. This faith is not limited to a mere affirmation of the "real presence" in the Eucharist, but implies the doctrine of the Eucharist as taught in the Catholic Church.

8. It is to be noted that the Instruction (Pt. V) calls to mind the fact that the <Directorium Oecumenicum> (par. 34-54) provides for the Orientals not in full communion with the Catholic Church rules different from those regarding other Christians (par. 55-63). For example:

(a) since they belong to a community whose eucharistic faith is in conformity with that of the Catholic Church, a personal declaration of faith in the sacrament will not be required of them when they are admitted: in an Orthodox Christian this faith is taken for granted;

(b) since the Orthodox Churches have true sacraments and, above all, by virtue of apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, concessions for sacramental communion must take account of legitimate reciprocity (n. 43);

(c) justifiable reasons for advising sacramental sharing are considerably more extensive.

9. The question of reciprocity arises only with these Churches which have preserved the substance of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Orders and apostolic succession. Hence a Catholic cannot ask for the Eucharist except from a minister who has been validly ordained (<Directorium Oecumenicum>, n. 55).

10. The desire to share the Eucharist fundamentally expresses the desire of the perfect ecclesial unity of all Christians which Christ willed. Inter-confessional dialogue on the theology of the Eucharist (as sacrament and sacrifice), on the theology of ministry and of the Church is pursuing its course within the ambit of the ecumenical movement, supported by the promises and prayer of our Lord; it is stimulated and enlivened by the charity, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We express the hope that the ecumenical movement will lead to a common profession of faith among Christians, and so allow us to celebrate the Eucharist in ecclesial unity, giving fulfillment to the words "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body" (1 Cor. 10:17).