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If you mean non-Christians, the answer is clearly “no”.
But, assuming you mean other Christians, the short answer is “yes”. The slightly longer, but more accurate answer, is “yes, IF…”
It seems pretty basic, but you might be surprised how often this question still comes up, and worse, how often the people offering answers get it wrong, at least in part.
The question asks, “is it possible”, not “is it normally the case”. The answer to the former is “yes”, and to the latter “no, but there are exceptions”.
One thing that is absolutely clear: To say “non-Catholics cannot receive sacraments in the Catholic Church” is plainly wrong according to the law, and potentially sinful.
First let us remember the ideal: That all Christians should be part of one and the same communion, that One Church willed by Christ in a real, visible, tangible way. In such a case, naturally all Christians could receive communion together.
However, because of our brokenness, because of our human failing and sin, because of fault that lay with Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike, the Church is wounded. Its unity maybe substantially present, but it is defective, and needs repair. As long as this abnormal state of division persists, we cannot freely share Eucharistic communion, which is a sign of ecclesiastical communion.
Above all, this not-sharing is meant to provoke a painful longing that prompts action for unity.
In 1983, the revised Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church was published, nearly twenty years after the Council that mandated it. It outlined several conditions for the ministry of the sacraments in Canon 844. Allow me to summarize:
§844.1 You should normally receive sacraments only from ministers in the same communion. But there are exceptions built into this norm. (That is, as part of the law itself; not even considering exceptions of pastoral prudential judgement or oikonomia)
§844.2 Catholics can always receive some sacraments from some non-Catholic Churches.
§844.3 Some Non-Catholic Christians are always welcome to participate in some sacraments from the Catholic Church.
§844.4 Non-Catholic Christians who do not fall into the category of always being welcome to participate in these sacraments, can be allowed sometimes, in certain situations.
§844.5 Local or national norms must be made in consultation with ecumenical counterparts in any affected church or communion.
There are certain considerations that apply universally to this question, whether for Catholics or non-Catholics approaching the sacraments:
- Only baptized Christians can approach the sacraments
- Proper disposition is always expected
- It is a free and spontaneous act, motivated out of genuine need or desire for the sacrament (as opposed to an act of protest or a ‘shotgun’ sacrament, for example)
- “Indifferentism” and “Triumphalism” must both be avoided
- Indifferentism is the sin of accepting our divisions as normal, and that sacramental sharing between broken communions is normal or normative.
- Triumphalism is the sin of thinking that ‘we’ are better than the other because we ‘own’ the truth, or the Real Presence, or suchlike. Making mockery of other churches’ liturgies or sacraments is an example.
§844.3 and .4 are the most relevant to the original question:
Can non-Catholic Christians receive communion at a Catholic church?
Paragraph three tells us that, given the universal conditions above, the members of the following churches and communions are always welcome at Catholic sacraments: Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, Old Catholics; anyone else the pope determines to be “in a similar situation”.
Paragraph four tells us that anyone not in the “always welcome” category can receive Reconciliation, Eucharist, or Anointing under the following circumstances:
-They share the Catholic faith in these sacraments (e.g., believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist), AND
-Their own minister or community is inaccessible, AND EITHER
-They are in danger of death, OR
-They have a grave or pressing need (What these are to be determined by the bishop or bishops’ conference. Those that have done so have named, e.g., weddings, funerals, a child’s first communion, mixed marriages, spiritual crises, et al.).
And that remains the law in force. However, just a dozen years after the promulgation of this code, the same pope who authorized it, St. John Paul II, modified these requirements – and this is frequently overlooked.
In his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, the Polish pontiff said,
…it is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who
1) greatly desire to receive these sacraments,
2) freely request them, and
3) manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments. (UUS, §46)
First, it is a “source of joy”. Not grudging admission or acceptance. Not mere tolerance nor haughty triumphalism. It is a a joy that we can share the sacraments, some of the time, despite our divisions.
It is just a pity he did not actually modify the Code to match his encyclical, which would have removed all doubt – but that was a common problem of his pontificate.
Not only is saying “Non-Catholics cannot receive sacraments in the Catholic Church” plainly wrong according to the law, it is morally wrong to take any joy in denying fellow Christians this opportunity or from the state of brokenness in which we find ourselves.
Other developments between 1983 and 1995:
- “danger of death or grave and pressing need” is simplified to “great desire”
- “spontaneously request” is clarified as “freely” requesting, so no one is tempted to hinder someone who has been thinking about this for a while
- the accessibility of their own minister is irrelevant
That was twenty years ago. It is only to be expected that the fruits of ecumenical dialogue have resulted in even further development. Pope Francis, in his visits to the Lutheran and Anglican congregations in Rome, and in his Jubilee recognition of Lefebvrite confessors, has indicated as much.
Perhaps it is time for the apostolic see to recognize “in a similar situation” to the Eastern churches, some of the churches and ecclesial communities of the West, particularly the Anglicans, some Lutherans, and the SSPX. At least, we can acknowledge the growth in agreement about sacraments, especially Orders and Eucharist, to be sufficient to allow more common sharing along the lines of John Paul II’s vision of twenty years ago, or more.
So, can non-Catholics receive communion at a Catholic Eucharist? Yes, they can – if they are baptized, properly disposed, recognize that this division of Christians is not normal, greatly desire them, freely request them, and share a “catholic” belief about them.
Which, if you think about it, would likely be the case if someone is intentionally approaching the sacrament in a Catholic Church anyway, no?
In the fall of 1997, I remember standing at the door to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame, as I was congratulated several times on my appointment as auxiliary bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
Of course, it was not me, but Daniel Jenky, CSC, rector of the basilica who had been so nominated. I was merely serving as vimpa for Bishop John D’Arcy, who was on hand to make the announcement. I was also jokingly referred to among the other servers and basilica staff as Fr. Jenky’s body double, so alike we looked with beard and glasses. Vested in alb and vimp veil, it is no surprise I was mistaken for the bishop-elect on more than one occasion that day.
We decided to dub his excellency as poster-bishop for our newly founded “Beards for Bishops” campaign. We – seminarians, servers, and theology students – felt it was high time for the lingering prejudice against hirsute hierarchs in the Latin church to come to an end.
When differences become polarized divisions, extreme positions are taken in reaction to “the other” that would not be considered in an objective, balanced mindset. Thus Reformed churches become iconoclastic and whitewashed, while Catholic churches spew baroque excess, each extreme fueling an even more extreme reaction. Similarly, as Eastern and Oriental churches maintained and promoted a manful and manly beardliness for its clergy. in the wake of division, the Latin west insisted on the clean shaven route. Perhaps in the wake of that move, clean-shavenness was purported to be too effeminate for the orders of the East, and so on.
In law, starting in the twelfth century, Latin clergy were discouraged and sometimes forbidden from growing their beards. The Council of Toulouse, in 1119, apparently threatened excommunication for those whos facial hair grew (or merely grew unruly, it is not clear), and Pope Alexander III (1159-81) ordered his archdeacon (think vicar general/chief of staff) to ensure that all Roman deacons and presbyters were clean shaven, by force if necessary. Gregory IX incorporated Alexander’s decree into canon law, and there it remained into the twentieth century. In 1866, the second plenary council of Baltimore explicitly outlawed beards for clergy in the U.S. The 1917 Code of Canon Law said merely to keep a simple hair style (CIC 136 §1), so the local law and cultural taboo remained. No legislation regarding facial hair remains in the 1983 code, Deo gratias.
It was not a consistent ban, despite the attitude and cultural assumptions during the Pian papacies of the 19th and 20th century. The popes from Clement VII (1523) to Inocent XII (d.1700) certainly had beards (as did, if the mosaics at San Paolo fuori le Mura are to be believed, most bishops of Rome from Peter through the first millennium In fact, it was 800 years before we had the first beardless pontiff, in the person of Pope Valentine).
Nevertheless, the late pre-conciliar climate had ossified the ban on barbarous appearance, and even after the apparent change with Vatican II, a bearded bishops was still barely to be found in the western Catholic church. From those humble beginnings in 1997, the Beards for Bishops campaign is now even more humble, and ready to tackle the next challenge: a bearded bishop of Rome.
Quod non fecerunt Barberini fecerunt barbari, anyone?
A sadly small number of cardinal electors willingly wear wisdom-witnessing whiskers:
- George Allencherry, 69,
Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
- Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, 53,
Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church
- Reinhard Marx, 59,
Archbishop of Munich
- Antonius I Nagueb, 77,
Patriarch emeritus of the Coptic Catholic Church
- Sean O’Malley, 68,
Archbishop of Boston
One could add to that the hairier heads of the other Catholic Churches sui iuris, whether patriarch or major archbishop, given their office as heads of churches, and whether created cardinal or not, equivalent (at least) to the cardinal-bishops in dignity:
- Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, 57,
Patriarch of Alexandria for the Coptic Catholic Church
- Gregory III Laham, 79,
Patriarch of Antioch for the Greek-Melkite Catholic Church
- Mar Ignatius Joseph III Younan, 68,
Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church
- Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, 73,
Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenian Catholic Church
- Sviatoslav Shevchuk, 42,
Major Archbishop of Kyiv–Halyč of the Ukranian Catholic Church
(Their Beatitudes, Patriarchs Bechara Boutrous al-Rahi of the Maronites and Raphael I Louis Sako of the Chaldeans are clean-shaven; rumors of Latinization have neither been confirmed, nor denied.)
Of these ten, then, who is papabile? The retired Coptic patriarch is already a patriarch emeritus and unlikely to succeed another. The Antiochene may be seen as too old. The Ukranian major archbishop, de facto patriarch of the second largest of the Catholic Churches (after the Roman), is seen as the most likely of the non-cardinals, but as more than a decade younger than the youngest cardinal, it is still a long shot. And, the idea of electing an eastern patriarch as bishop of Rome may still be too great a change for too great a number of cardinal-electors, though there is a sort of precedent (thirteen Greeks, four Syrians, and two from modern day Israel/Palestine, if you count Peter himself).
Though I might personally welcome such a move, let us assume it is unlikely. That leaves only two villous vescovi among the princes of the Roman Church.
Archbishop Reinhard Marx of München serves on the pontifical council for peace and justice and the congregation for catholic education, and is president of the German bishops’ conference Committee for Social Issues. He was elected a year ago as President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union. He has published books on Catholic Social Teaching, and has been a bishop since 1996. When he was appointed, German news agency Deutsche-Press Agentur, described him as “left of center” in general, but “moderately conservative” on doctrinal issues. There have been seven or eight German popes, depending on whether you count Stephen IX, born in Lorraine (now France).
Archbishop Seán Patrick O’Malley of Boston is an Irish American Capuchin, with a record of cleaning up dioceses damaged by the sex abuse scandal (and the bigger scandal of their cover-ups by bishops). He was born in Lakewood, OH (where I lived for all of three months in the wake of the abuse scandal-induced hiring freeze on the diocese there in 2002). His doctorate is in Spanish and Portuguese literature and he was the first cardinal to start a personal blog and podcast, in 2006. He serves on the Congregations for Clergy and Consecrated Life, and on the Council for Family. There has never been a capuchin pope, an American pope, or indeed, a genuinely Western pope (that is, a pope from the western hemisphere!)
Could one of these two men be elected bishop of Rome later this week? If so, the Beards for Bishops Campaign will rejoice in the return of the razorless pontificate after centuries of suppression. Join us in prayer, invoking the patron saints of facial hair, St. Brendan the Navigator and St. Wilgefortis the bearded virgin and martyr.
After class on Friday, my professor and I walked down the hill from the Angelicum to the Anglican Centre in Rome to join a group of canon lawyers from the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church engage in a presentation and a conversation on the nature of Anglican Patrimony in light of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus.
In the wake of the 2009 apostolic constitution making provision for the establishment of personal ordinariates, questions have been raised about the exact nature of the “Anglican Patrimony” which is named in the text of the constitution and its appended general norms. Cardinal Levada’s answer to the inquiring Anglicans was, “we are hoping you can tell us!” To begin answering that question, the Anglican Centre in Rome is coordinating a series of meetings this year on the theme Anglican Patrimony in light of Anglicanorum Coetibus.
There were 22 participants in the workshop: Three lay women, four lay men, and fifteen priests – Most of the participants were members of the standing colloquium of Anglican and Catholic canonists, who chose to have their annual meeting in conjunction with this workshop.
Questions raised and observations made included the following:
What exactly is “patrimony”? Canonically the term is used in the Latin code only in reference to the charism of religious orders and the particular customs of local churches in the formation of priests. In the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches, it more clearly refers to the liturgy, theology, spirituality, and discipline of a particular church (CCEO 28, 39, 405). If the model of religious order charism is an example, it was noted by a Franciscan friar present that it took Clare 40 years to get the rule she wanted approved by Rome, a constant give and take, debate and discussion between the founder’s vision and the hierarchy’s presumptions – and we are only 16 months from the announcement of the Apostolic Constitution and six weeks from the establishment of the first actual Ordinariate. We may not know for some time what this received Anglican Patrimony will actually be.
There was some discussion that the ordinariates are apparently not limited to Anglicans and former Anglicans. [Though, in rereading the text, it does seem to be limited] Indeed, many of the traditionalist Anglicans attracted to it are former Catholics – canonically still considered Catholic by the Latin code. But does this mean that Lutherans, Baptists, et al. can join the Catholic Church as part of the Ordinariate? What/who defines an “Anglican group” that can corporately join the Ordinariate? Four of the provinces of the Anglican Communion are in fact united churches, local ecumenical unions between Anglicans, Reformed, and other denominations. Could a Presbyterian elder of one of these united churches join and become an Anglican Ordinariate priest? Many of these members of united churches are part of the Anglican Communion but do not think of themselves as Anglican.
Why was the model of the pastoral provision not simply adopted more widely? (Where personal parishes would be set up allowing for use of Anglican rites and lead by former Anglican clergy) In this case it was thought that the patrimony would not be sufficiently preserved, and Pope Benedict finds the Anglican patrimony to be worthy of preservation within the Catholics Church, not just by the Anglican Communion. (This observation lead to an entire conversation about the locus and determiners of Anglican patrimony).
What would be the approved liturgical use in the Ordinariate, and would this be up to each Ordinariate individually? Someone had heard the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which had been approved for use by the Episcopal Church in the US but rejected by Parliament for use by the Church of England, would be the model. This was unconfirmed, and others noted that most Anglo-Catholics, in England especially, are already using the Roman rite anyway and would likely continue to do so.
This lead to the speculation that there could be an Anglican Ordinariate in which no particularly Anglican Eucharistic rite was celebrated, somewhat ironic when one considers that most people probably think of Anglican patrimony in primarily liturgical terms.
Why not establish an Anglican Catholic Church sui iuris, like the Eastern Catholic Churches? The thought here was the mention in the constitution of seeing the Anglican Church as a particular expression of the Latin Church, its rites as variation of the Roman rite – as well as not wanting to do any more to appear to be bringing back uniatism as a form of ecumenism, something which has been rejected by the Catholic Church in its agreements with the Orthodox.
Since the Anglican Communion officially recognizes two sacraments, how will the other five be celebrated in an Anglican Ordinariate, since the Catholics Church accepts seven? This question was ‘corrected’ as someone else noted that the Anglicans do, in fact, recognize all seven sacraments and both churches, as agreed in ARCIC I, recognize a hierarchy of sacraments – the two dominical sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist holding a pride of place among the seven sacramental acts, for both churches, though this is expressed differently in parts of the Anglican Communion than others.
Candidacy for ordination, in the personal ordinariates, will be determined by the Governing Council – but this is neither Catholic nor Anglican, for both communions currently put this decision in the hands of the ordaining bishop, though with appropriate consultation.
Some noted that there had been popular speculation that the exception to celibacy would only be granted pro tempore, however, this would have been made clear in the text if that was the intent. Each will be appealed on a case by case basis, as celibacy remains the ideal for those who were not already ordained in the Anglican church, but it remains a real, practical possibility.
Married bishops are a part of Anglican Patrimony, based on scripture, yet the Official Commentary on the Apostolic Constitution, written by Jesuit Father Gianfranco Ghirlanda, Rector emeritus of the Gregorian, has “absolutely excluded” the possibility of married bishops “given the entire Catholic Latin tradition and the tradition of the Oriental Catholic Churches, including the Orthodox tradition…” The VIS communiqué on 15 January announcing the erection of the first Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for England and Wales, went so far as to say, “For doctrinal reasons the Church does not, in any circumstances, allow the ordination of married men as bishops.”
Given all of that, the question was asked, how much a part of the Anglican patrimony are married bishops, and what reasons could there be to exclude them? It was noted that despite the VIS announcement, there are no doctrinal reasons for not ordaining married men to the episcopate, only disciplinary reasons. It is suspected, given the wording of Fr. Ghirlanda’s commentary, that this could be out of ecumenical concern for our relations with the East – but also noted that the traditions of Latin and Eastern and Oriental churches have always differed, and the Orthodox would likely not be concerned whether we had a different discipline in the West vis a vis married bishops or not. Strangest of all, some noted, was that though the married former Anglican bishops would only be ordained to the presbyterate, especially those serving as ordinary are still allowed the use of pontificals, the symbols of episcopal office such as the pectoral cross and ring.
What will the role of priest’s wives be in the Ordinariate, if any? What role do Anglican clergy spouses have now? This varies in the Anglican Communion, depending on the cultural context, and would likely vary as well in the Ordinariates. In some places the priests wife is treated as the ‘first lady’ of the parish, and the bishops wife even called “mama bishop” and treated as the first among these. In others, they have no role unless they are also a theologian or minister in the church, or volunteer like any other parishioner.
Final comments came from two Anglicans. The first shared that he had initially thought this “pastoral response” was anything but ecumenical, but as he reflected on it, the idea formed that the Anglican patrimony to be received by the Catholic Church in the Ordinariates was the people themselves. In this way, by receiving them, we are receiving some part of Anglicanism, and this may eventually turn out to be one more way in which the ground was prepared for the full-scale reception of each other in full communion down the road.
The other, who also stated considerable concern, shared that he was afraid that this would in fact have some rather negative ecumenical results, again by reason of the people received through the Ordinariate – the Anglicans may be all to happy to see them go, and he fears we Catholics may not be all that happy to receive them, once we get to know them!
On that note, we broke for drinks.
We hear much about the imaginary case of Conservatives v. Liberals in the church… The labels are misconceived, misplaced, and misleading.
Today’s “conservatives” are mostly clinging to convictions and habits developed mainly after the Council of Trent; rare among them are those familiar with the church of the first millennium, and even rarer those who wish to return to its practices.
They who in common parlance are called “liberals” hardly form a cohesive group. Many of them are simply searching honestly for the correct practical implementation of the conciliar vision. Others are “free thinkers” of sorts; they want to propagate the Council’s vision but do not have enough knowledge to do so within the balancing parameters of the Tradition; they easily fall into unacceptable excesses.
With some simplification it is fair to say, though, that the contemporary fight between the conservatives and the (faithful) liberals is between the “Tridentines” and the followers of Vatican II.
Ladislas Orsy, Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates. Liturgical Press: 2009. p.87, footnote 22
(Responses welcome, as always! What do you think?)
Father John Paul Kimes is a Maronite presbyter serving in the Supreme Tribunal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the section which deals with grave delicts, those sins which involve the desecration of the sacraments and, since 2001, the sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
The Maronite Church is one of the 23 “self-governing” churches that make up the Catholic Church, and is the only patriarchal church with no Orthodox counterpart. The short version of the history is that while communion between the church of Rome and the church of Lebanon was never broken, communication was lost for some centuries at a time. However, at any opportunity where communion could be expressed, it was. So, it is common to say that the Maronite church was always a part of the Catholic communion. Born of the Syrian tradition surrounding Antioch and Edessa, this church settled in Lebanon and took its name from a hermit-priest of the late fourth century, St. Maron.
Given the connection to these communities, the liturgical rites are West Syrian, or Antiochene, and the liturgical language is a variation of Aramaic, and also includes Arabic. While most of our celebration was in English, some key prayers and responses were said in Arabic, and only our Egyptian Muslim and our Italian scripture scholar could keep up without the transliteration!
It’s a beautiful liturgy, even in the simple setting of our chapel. Perhaps especially so. After my experience with the Syro-Malabar Divine Liturgy recently, I was stuck by how much more of a role the deacon has in the Maronite rite. Also that neither the Alleluia nor the Gloria are omitted in the Maronite liturgy during Lent. (I found a Maronite liturgy on YouTube you could check out)
After dinner Fr. Kimes engaged questions and shared something of his work in the CDF. One of the questions posed was around the role of lay people in curial offices. There are few offices which are actually required, by law, to be held by a cleric, and the CDF tribunal is one of them. In most dicasteries it is simply a culture that has not been challenged. When he was prefect of the CDF, Cardinal Ratzinger apparently filled as many positions as he could with qualified non-ordained people. Even when, after becoming pope, the Congregation needed the very particular expertise of a lay person in a position reserved in canon law to a cleric, Pope Benedict granted it without question.
So why hasn’t this openness translated into changes across the curia now that he’s pope? He leaves his deputies to do the hiring themselves; rather than micromanage he prefers to lead by example. I’m not sure it’s a clear example, however, to most that are unaware of this. There remains, too, what might be described as a benign clericalism (my term, not his), a belief that the limitations to certain offices to clergy is broader than it actually is. In some cases this is more explicit and less benign. But even in the case of the Supreme Tribunal of the CDF, which is clearly clerical by law, Fr. Kimes expressed the opinion that this was a wisdom – some of what is dealt with is so heinous, the thought is that the judges need all the sacramental graces and spiritual strength that they can have, hence the preference in law for someone ordained.