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Catholic-Lutheran Dialogue: Pope Francis, the Eucharist, and Reception
In recent weeks, two significant events highlighted the significant progress made in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue over the last fifty years.
On 31 October, Reformation Day, the U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue published a consensus statement, Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist. The Declaration draws on the fifty years of official dialogues to produce a litany of 32 consensus statements – a list of doctrinal agreements on the related topics of the Church, ministry, and the Eucharist – that are the direct results of dialogue, and which are no longer church-dividing issues.
The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has unanimously affirmed the document and has forwarded it to the 2016 Churchwide Assembly and the Lutheran World Federation for consideration. On the Catholic side, the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) also affirmed the consensus unanimously. They have sent it on to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for consideration.
Two key points from the conclusion of From Conflict to Communion guided the work. [Called to Communion is the 2013 document published by the international Catholic-Lutheran dialogue, in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformations, in 2017]:
1) Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced.
2) Lutherans and Catholics must let themselves continuously be transformed by the encounter with each other and by mutual witness of faith.
Too frequently, we hear the complaint, “What has been achieved with all this dialogue?” as if to expect that the answer is nothing. It is easier for those of us too young to remember the time before the Council to think this way, growing up in an age when it was taken for granted that we should be ecumenically engaged, and little seems to have changed since the 1980s. The purpose of this document is to respond to the question, and to lay the groundwork for the next steps in the dialogue.
With the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) the days when one could simplistically summarize the disparity on Catholic and Lutheran teaching on justification as “Protestants believe you are saved by faith alone, and Catholics that you are saved by faith and works” are thankfully long gone. The Declaration on the Way offers a longer list of doctrines that we clearly share in common.
The summary form makes it easy for preachers to integrate into their preaching, and catechists to integrate into their teaching. While wading through volumes of dialogue statements and notes might make a daunting task for the typical parish pastoral minister or Sunday school teacher, this entire document is about 100 pages and easily navigated.
This concern is “Ecumenical Reception”. It is one thing for the Churches, through their official dialogues, to agree on an article of faith, but it is quite another for that to really sink in at the grassroots level. It has to be adopted, and adapted, at the local level – both in terms of local culture and pastoral practice, and at the level of individual faith and the understanding. What good is an agreement on justification or ecclesiology if the Sunday school teachers, the pulpit preachers, and the popular bloggers are still using outdated information and spreading stereotypes based on the misunderstandings and attitudes of the past, as if no dialogue had ever happened?
Catholics and Lutherans agree on the Church’s foundation in God’s saving work, in Scripture and the means of Grace, the Church as communion (koinonia) with visible and invisible elements, the communion of saints and the eschatological nature of the Church and its mission. We agree on ordained ministry as an essential element of the Church, the universal priesthood, the divine origin of ministry, the nature of ministerial authority, much of the nature of ordination, the unity of the orders of ministry, and the need for a ministry of worldwide unity. So too are there agreements on the Trinitarian and Christological dimension of the Eucharist, the Eucharist as a sacrificial memorial, the eschatological and ecclesiological dimensions of the Eucharist, and even on the Real Presence in the Eucharist.
Where work remains to be done is on some aspects of the nature of ordination and who may be ordained, and the question of what intermediate sacramental steps might be taken to help lead to reconciliation an full communion among the separated Christian communities. Before offering ‘next steps on the way’ the document suggests that “The possibility of occasional admission of members of our churches to Eucharistic communion with the other side (communicatio in sacris) could be offered more clearly and regulated more compassionately.”
Almost as if in response to the document, Pope Francis visited Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church just a couple weeks later, on 15 November, and responded to a question about Eucharistic hospitality that suggested that Lutherans might receive communion as a matter of conscience. We take it as a given that this assumes the normal conditions being met and in appropriate circumstances.
At first blush, this seems little more than an affirmation of the long-standing practice of the Church articulated in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which was virtually unchanged from the pre-Vatican II conditions.
According to the Code, for members of the churches and ecclesial communions born out of the Reformation (i.e., Anglicans and Protestants) to receive communion during a Catholic Eucharist, they must:
- Be baptized
- Be properly disposed
- Manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament (=Real Presence)
- Not have access to a minister of their own church or communion
- Approach the sacrament on their own accord
- Be motivated by “grave pastoral need”, such as danger of death; other situations to be determined (generally, not case-by-case) by the episcopal conference or diocesan bishop. (CIC §844.4)
[Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian Church of the East, and Old Catholic Christians are allowed to participate in Catholic sacramental life at any time, with respect to the rules of their own traditions, essentially only needing baptism, disposition, and belief in the Real Presence, which are all assumed in these cases as well. This is dealt with in CIC §844.3]
In application, Lutherans always fulfill condition 1: we have long recognized their baptism as valid. Whenever a communicant approaches during the communion procession, it is assumed they fulfill conditions 2 and 5, unless there is some grave public reason to know otherwise. This is, even for Catholics, generally a matter of conscience (guided by their spiritual advisor, confessor, etc.).
As the consensus statement above highlights, Catholics and Lutherans have long articulated agreement on the Real Presence, so being Lutheran is enough to fulfill condition 3.
This condition does not mean, as some have suggested, that only those in full communion with the Catholic Church can receive communion; it means you must agree with the Catholic theology of the Real Presence; most Christians do. Neither does it mean that you must use the word “transubstantiation” – even within the Catholic communion, many of the Eastern Churches do not. In Mysterium Fidei (1965), and Paul VI reminded us that it is helpful, even necessary, to find “fresh ways of expressing [the Real Presence], even by using new words” – it is the meaning of the doctrine, not its formulation, which is always imperfect and in need of reform, that is essential.
Where there is remains some discussion, and frequent confusion, are the following two questions:
- what does it mean not to have access to a minister of their own church?
- and what constitutes a grave pastoral need?
The 1993 Directory on the Application of Principals and Norms on Ecumenism offers an interpretive lens and some clarifications, noting 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.” (§130)
Pope John Paul II similarly softened the language of condition 6 from “danger of death or other grave necessity” to simply “grave spiritual need”. He reduced the requirements to this spiritual need and baptism, proper disposition, and who freely approach the sacrament – eliminating the “lack of access to a minister of their own faith” as a condition. (Ecclesia de Eucharistia §34-46, esp. 45). Where bishops and bishops conferences have attended to their duty in this regard, ‘mixed’ marriage and family life is the most common example of a situation that meets these conditions.
Unfortunately, as with a great many of the Polish pope’s great achievements, he lead by example and larger-than-life theatrical symbols, and never changed the law itself to correspond with his actions or apparent intentions. One could hope that among the myriad reforms that the Church needs would be an updating of the Code to account for the developments in ecumenical dialogue over the last five decades.
Both John Paul II and the Directory take care to point out that this concerns individuals, not interim concelebration or general table fellowship, and that the purpose is always for the spiritual care of the individual and the motivation for full communion, with care that it not lead to indifferentism. Triumphalism about Catholic Eucharistic theology or practice – that is, to suggest erroneously that only Catholics celebrate the Eucharist or “have the Real Presence” – is not part of the equation. In fact, it could be argued that if that is your attitude, you are not properly disposed to receive, owing to a sin of pride!
In other words, it is not possible for any informed Catholic to say, “Non-Catholics may never receive communion at a Catholic Eucharist”. This truth has been encased in law since at least 1983. This is a “dumbing-down” of a complex discipline of the faith to the point of error.
Understanding of the conditions under which access to the sacrament is allowed has developed even in the thirty years since the Code was published. These legitimate developments have to be considered as well, not just the Code itself. It is already Church teaching and practice, explicitly in many jurisdictions and implicitly in others, that the Lutheran spouse of a Catholic could receive communion during the Catholic Eucharist, at least in some situations.
Pope Francis is merely reiterating this. What he does, and has every right to do, as supreme pontiff and universal pastor, in light of real progress made by the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue on the Eucharist, is to frame it in a more positive way. He could, in fact, change the Code itself to allow more frequent opportunities, or to spell out more clearly a longer list of situations, like an interchurch marriage, where the exceptions apply. He is, after all, the supreme legislator.
We already know that there are certain circumstances that a Lutheran can receive; Pope Francis is suggesting that it is a matter of conscience by the individual to determine when those conditions are fulfilled. This is, practically, just acknowledging the current practice of the Church: it is the conscience of the person that determines if they are properly disposed, whether there is spiritual need (and what constitutes ‘grave’), and motivates them to approach the sacrament.
The bishop of Rome also reminds us, as did Vatican II, that communion is not only the goal and sign of ecclesial communion achieved, but also a viaticum (food for the journey) for walking together on the way to that unity. If witness to the unity of the Church generally restricts Eucharistic sharing, the grace to be had from it sometimes commends the practice. (UR §8). Under the right, carefully proscribed circumstances, the Church has taught for fifty years, certain occasions of Eucharistic hospitality is good for the soul, and for the ultimate goal of full communion.
The real progress made by dialogue necessitates a real change in discipline and practice, and we can see this in the (rather conservative) shifts from the Code to the Directory to John Paul II to Francis.
Anyone “confused” by the pope’s comments has probably not kept up with the development of Church teaching in and since the Council, and is unaware of the even previously existing conditions (e.g., danger of death) that allowed a non-Catholic to receive communion from a Catholic minister.
What has changed with Pope Francis is that the ‘norm’ is now to take a more generous reading of the law – one in which the hermeneutic is mercy and the care of souls – rather than a rigorously constrained reading or a hermeneutic of triumphalism. This is possible without even offering a change in the law itself.
Pope Francis: Lutherans at Catholic Eucharist
During a visit to Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pope Francis was asked about conditions under which a Lutheran could receive communion at her husband’s Catholic church.
Question: My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I’m married to an Italian, who is a Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord’s Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?
Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.
It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.
When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.
I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?
It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what’s the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.
Translation from Edward Pentin at National Catholic Register: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-tells-lutheran-to-talk-to-the-lord-about-receiving-eucharist/#ixzz3s1dc2mBP
Communion under one kind
The Lay Centre welcomed Monsignor Nicola Filipi, the secretary to Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Vicar General of Rome. He is, if you will, the vicar general’s vicar general. Don Nicola joins us each year with an update about the life of the Roman Church – and no, I do not mean the Catholic Church as a whole there, but the properly called Church of Rome – the local metropolitan diocese.
I have mentioned elsewhere the great liturgical variety I see in Rome, certainly in respect the kinds of things that would have self-appointed liturgical police crying foul. But we experienced something perfectly legit, yet rather unusual, so it is worth commenting.
Much ado is made here about communion under both species – as in, they tend to forget that this is the norm.* In fact, most of Italy does not offer the cup to the assembly, or, if they do, they offer intinction. Either case is odd for someone coming from a local church where the normative value of offering and receiving under both kinds has always been strongly emphasized. At the lay centre we normally have both offered, but accommodate presider preference.
With a small community, we also try to prepare exact numbers of hosts, and while the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the chapel, it is usually just a single host in a lunette or small monstrance withing the tabernacle. While this is more faithful to the norms of the Church, it is unusual in Italy, where parishes sometimes have so many reserved hosts that they will celebrate the Eucharist and then offer communion from the tabernacle – a clear liturgical no-no.
We had an unexpected number of guests that evening, and Don Nicola had decided to offer the cup by intinction. When it came to the last two in the communion procession, we were out of consecrated hosts. Turning to the tabernacle and finding only a single host in the lunette, he opted instead to offer the cup alone.
Communion under one kind only is sacramentally sufficient, albeit liturgically lacking, and foreseen only when there is no alternative or if there is some grave reason – like wheat allergy or alcoholism – to avoid the other species. Often in Italy it takes the form of the host only, and not the cup. It was nice to see the liturgical principle put into practice for exactly and only the reason it was intended, however.
What i find interesting is the choice to leave something in the tabernacle rather than offer it as communion.
*Sviluppo: I have been informed by an eminent italian canon lawyer, that in fact, the norm for communion in Italy, as promulgated by the national bishops’ conference, is the host alone. The legal norm is not the only norm, however. I have seen the situation best described by Paul Ford thus: “It is, in truth, acknowledged by many eminent authorities, that the Sacrament, as thus administered to the laity, loses a part of its significance, and may lose a part of its grace also, not of the grace of salvation, but of the grace of sanctification.” The sacramental norm, if you will, is both kinds, while the legal norm in this case is the host only.
Can you force someone to be more reverent? Is it possible to compel reverence from someone by demanding a particular prayer, position, or facial expression?
We can cultivate reverence. We can create environments that aid people in prayer. We can counsel others, offer spiritual companionship and direction, and inspire liturgical involvement and devotional piety in a way that encourages reverence. But I do not think it is possible to make people more reverent by making them do something which they are not ready to do. In fact, trying to do so would more often have the effect opposite of the intent, and instead impose irreverence.
Yet it is precisely in the language of “increasing reverence” during the Eucharist that there has been discussion in recent years of imposing particular postures – including how one receives communion. It has always been my position – as someone who has spent a decade instructing Eucharistic ministers and prepared adults and children to receive their first communion – that you should receive communion reverently.
The Latin church itself prescribes two forms for this, in the hands and on the tongue. Dioceses and bishops’ conferences may add or stress elements of the General Instruction on the Roman Missal, such that in some places we are asked to bow before receiving, as we proclaim ‘Amen’; others suggest a sign of the cross immediately after; in the Archdiocese of Seattle we remain standing throughout the communion procession as a sign of reverence, honoring the presence of Christ and the assembly’s act of communion with Him (and the Church), and honoring the liturgical integrity of the procession itself.
The Holy Father has himself weighed in on this, especially since he has been seen to prefer to administer communion in a particular fashion, and some commentators interpreted this to mean he was indicating a change. This is not entirely the case, however:
I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand; I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself.
The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive Communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the Real Presence with an exclamation point. One important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of Mass events we hold at Saint Peter’s, both in the Basilica and in the Square. I have heard of people who, after receiving Communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir.
In recent months, it seems this last, unique concern has trumped general liturgical principle, and since the beginning of Advent 2010, at St. Peter’s Basilica during papal masses (and only at papal liturgies, as far as I have seen) communicants are refused communion unless they receive on the tongue.
The first time this happened to me, it was quite jarring. There has been no announcement that I have found, it was just a change. In fact, it seemed that many of the Eucharistic ministers (who are always priests during the papal liturgies, though not necessarily so at other liturgies there) had not been informed. I thought, actually, that it was just the priest at my station “imposing reverence” as he saw fit. He even looked a bit smug. Looking up and down the aisle, some priests were still serving the host according to the communicant’s desire, and others were refusing ‘in the hand’.
Clearly, this did not instill reverence, but rather robbed the moment of its usual spiritual peace. As I watched people’s reactions, from tourists to young Italians, to one elderly nun in full habit, more than three-quarters went to receive on the hand and when they were refused, responded in surprise, confusion, or even disgust (the septuagenarian sister looked ready to ‘have words’ with the young priest, but then decided against it).
The second time I went to a papal mass with this new practice, the priest at my communion station was a friend and classmate. I was prepared, and this time noticed every minister serving in the hand only, and this time it was the ushers who were gesticulating to everyone to make it clear that communion was only available orally. My friend looked apologetic, and the priest next to him was confused, clearly not having been informed of this new rule, either. Again, though some people would have received this way in any case and others had been recently enough to know what to expect, others looked disconcerted, distracted, or dissatisfied. None appeared more reverent.
Then again, reverence is an interior orientation, not an exterior expression, so maybe they were.
Quote of the Day
The advice of Pope Saint Gregory the Great (590-604) to Augustine of Canterbury, as a model of communion for the contemporary (postmodern?) ecclesial scene:
Agustine’s Second Question: Even though the faith is one, are there varying customs in the churches? And is there one form of Mass in the Holy Roman Church and another in Gaulish churches?
Pope Gregory answered: My brother, you know the customs of the Roman Church in which, of course, you were brought up. But it is my wish that if you have found any customs in the Roman or the Gaulish church or any other church which may be more pleasing to Almighty God, you should make a careful selection of them and sedulously teach the Church of the English, which is still new in the faith, what you have been able to gather from other churches. For things are not to be loved for the sake of a place, but places are to be loved for the sake of their good things. Therefore choose from every individual Church whatever things are devout, religious, and right. And when you have collected these as it were into one bundle, see that the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.
From The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, as quoted in Frederick M. Bliss, Catholic and Ecumenical: History and Hope – Why the Catholic Church is Ecumenical and What She is Doing About It, p9.