Chaldean and Assyrian Churches Sign Pact on Eucharist

Access to Communion Approved in Special Cases

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2001 ( The Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East have taken a decisive step toward East-West unity by offering access to the Eucharist to each other´s faithful in special instances.

An agreement published Thursday by the Vatican Press Office states that, when “necessity requires, Assyrian faithful are permitted to participate and to receive Holy Communion in a Chaldean celebration of the Holy Eucharist.”

The text was prepared by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, in agreement with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

The guidelines permitting this change were signed July 20, but the Vatican has only now made them public, thus accepting the proposals of Patriarch Mar Dinkha IV of the Assyrian Church of the East, and Patriarch Mar Raphaël Bidawid of the Chaldean Church. The Chaldean patriarch is attending the Synod of Bishops in Rome.

The guidelines constitute notable progress in ecumenical relations. However, as the document indicates, the measure “is not equal to full Eucharistic communion,” although it spells real progress “toward that blessed day when it will be possible to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in peace.”

This is a special decision from the pastoral point of view, as the faithful of these Churches often live in minority situations, and sometimes have great difficulty in gaining access to the Eucharist.

The majority of these faithful live in Iraq, Iran and Turkey. Assyrian Christians number about 400,000. They are in Iraq, the Mideast, Northern Europe, the United States and Australia.

The Chaldeans number 800,000 and they live primarily in Iraq.

Both communities suffer from great poverty. The Vatican note explains that for many it is difficult to have a “normal sacramental life,” hence the importance of this decision.

The Assyrian Church of the East isolated itself from the rest of Christianity after the Council of Ephesus in 431, which condemned the heresy of Patriarch Nestorius, who believed that Jesus had only one nature.

In 1552, following a series of individual conversions of bishops, part of this Church re-established communion with Rome, giving birth to the Chaldean Church. Its see is in Baghdad.

Both the Chaldean and Assyrian Churches have continued to share the same theological, liturgical and spiritual tradition.

A joint Christological declaration, signed by Mar Dinkha IV and John Paul II in Rome in 1994, eliminated the error of attributing monophysitism to the Assyrians, thus overcoming the cause of the schism.

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