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LITURGY: Eucharist for Non-Catholics

8/17/2004 - 7:00 AM PST

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And More on Ad-libbing the Prayers of the Faithful

ROME, AUG. 18, 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 ...

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