Synod Reflects on a Key Ecumenical Question

Communion for Christian of Other Confessions

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 5, 2005 ( Several interventions at the Synod of Bishops over the first three days have focused on intercommunion, namely, the possibility of Christians of other confessions receiving the Eucharist.

Among those who have addressed the issue are Cardinal Georges Cottier, theologian of the Pontifical Household, who invited the synod fathers to study the argument, when he spoke Tuesday during the session of free interventions.

Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand, observed, «There are Catholics married to people baptized in other Christian faiths. We acknowledge them to be baptized in Christ in the sacrament of marriage, but not in the reception of the Eucharist.»

Cardinal Julián Herranz, president of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, illustrated the canonical exceptions on the topic of intercommunion, reminding the synod fathers of what the assembly’s working document indicates. Participants base their interventions on the working document.

In No. 45 of the encyclical «Ecclesia de Eucharistia,» quoted in the synod’s working document, Pope John Paul II mentioned these exceptions.

«While it is never legitimate to concelebrate in the absence of full communion, the same is not true with respect to the administration of the Eucharist, under special circumstances, to individual persons belonging to Churches or Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church,» the Polish Pontiff wrote.

«In this case, in fact, the intention is to meet a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer, not to bring about an ‘intercommunion’ which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established,» he affirmed.

Canon law

Paragraph 2 of Canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law explains that «[w]henever 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.»

Paragraph 3 of the canon states that 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.

Finally, Paragraph 4 of the same canon states that «[i]f 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.»

The synod’s working document acknowledges that «the manner of presenting the mystery of the Eucharist in ecumenical dialogue still needs clarification, so as to avoid two opposite extremes: complete exclusion beforehand and a relativism.»

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