Intercommunion

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Why non-Catholics may not receive the Eucharist

USCCB Guidelines for Receiving Communion

United States Catholic Conference, 1997

The following Guidelines for Receiving Communion must be included in a prominent place in all participation aids in the same type used for the responses of the assembly.

For Catholics
As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.
For Other Christians
We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ's prayer for us "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21).
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon 844 § 4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 § 3).
For Those Not Receiving Communion
All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.
For Non-Christians
We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family.

Reflections on the Eucharistic Discipline

No priest or parish can decide to set aside these norms of canon law as interpreted and applied by the bishops. Taking Communion is a sign of unity with the Roman Catholic Church. Whatever it is that keeps people from becoming members of the Church also keeps them from receiving Communion: objections to dogma, discipline, or authority. The liturgy belongs to the whole Church, not just to the local congregation. The Church teaches that Communion is for members in good standing only. If someone wishes to take Communion, they need to first become members of the Church or return to good standing by confessing their sins, doing penance, and amending their lives. If they do not wish to become Catholic, they should not take the sign of unity with the Catholic Church.
These norms are as old as the New Testament. Paul says, "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying" (1 Cor 11:27-30).
The logic of abstaining from Communion with our separated brothers and sisters is that it would be hypocritical to take the sign of union of hearts and mind when, in fact, we are not united as one. Our union is real (by baptism) but broken (by rejection of various and sundry parts of the Church's tradition); praying together is good, but taking Communion together is definitely forbidden.

Twelve Step Programs and the Catholic Mass

The Tenth Tradition of Alocholics Anonymous and the other Twelve Step Programs modeled on AA states that these groups "have no opinion on outside issues."
The programs do not constitute a religion. They teach that we can enjoy recovery so long as we "maintain a fit spiritual condition," and they prescribe that each person should seek a God (or a Higher Power) of their own understanding that can restore them to sanity (Step 2), from whom the recovering person can expect care (Step 3), compassion (Steps 5 and 7), and power to live a wholesome life (Step 11). The program promises that taking these steps will lead to a "spiritual awakening" that will enable us to help others and to "practice these principles in all our affairs" (Step 12). This is the essential spirituality that all Twelve Step Programs have in common.
With respect to the principles of recovery, the dogma, discipline and liturgical norms of the Catholic Church are "outside issues" (Tradition 10). The programs, as such, do not specify how churches should conduct communion services or regulate the lives of 12-step members who participate in a church. Each member of a 12-Step group is free to associate with a religion or not, as they see fit.
When I speak in conferences at a 12-step retreat, I aim to share "experience, strength and hope," as do all who participate in any 12-step meeting. I confine my remarks as far as I can to the essential spirituality of AA and other similar programs. But when I celebrate the Eucharist or other sacraments, I do so as an official representative of a particular Christian community and I am bound by the vows I took at ordination to act in union with the mind of the Church, which is completely consistent with the essential spirituality of the 12 Steps but goes beyond them in particular details. Therefore I cannot conduct the Mass as if it were a 12-Step meeting.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, Communion is reserved for members of the Church in good standing. Ex-Catholics and non-Catholics are welcome to attend the Mass and pray with us, if they wish, but they may not take Communion. The organizers of the retreat may wish to arrange for a non-Catholic communion service, a Bible study, or a prayer meeting organized and led by representatives of other religious traditions. The time for Mass should be arranged so that it does not interfere with the 12-Step conferences, if at all possible.
I have been giving 12-Step retreats since 1986. I have noticed that many good people are shocked and saddened when they learn that I celebrate the Mass according to the traditions of Catholicism rather than according to the traditions of the 12-Step meetings. I've decided it's better to deal with this problem from the very beginning of our discussions about the structure of the retreat rather than to have it come as a surprise during the course of the weekend. The Mass belongs to the Church. It is not my personal property, nor is it subject to the authority of the 12-Step groups.
Anyone who wishes to take Communion in the Church may do so by returning to the Church or by becoming Catholic. No one is excluded from this invitation. Those who do not wish to be Catholic are free not to be Catholic--it's their choice. But having made that choice, they may not demand that they should be included in the sign of unity with the Church.
Recovery depends upon a "rigorous honesty." It is not good spirituality and not a good plan for recovery to be dishonest about our religious views. I hope we can arrange a place and time for Catholics to practice their religion during the retreat and to allow others to do the same.

Why Catholics may not receive communion in non-Catholic services

Cathechism of the Catholic Church

Catechism #1400
"Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, "have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders."[1] It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible."

Code of Canon Law

Code of Canon Law Can. 844
The italicized material is my commentary on the code. MXM, SJ.
§1.
Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and ⇒ can. 861, §2.[2]
Note the exclusivity of sacramental life expressed by the word "alone" in the canon. Non-Catholics, as a general rule, may not receive the sacraments from Catholic ministers. Catholics, as a general rule, may not receive the sacraments from non-Catholic ministers.
§2.
Whenever 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.
These would be Eastern Orthodox Churches and a few schismatic Catholic churches in the West that have preserved apostolic succession and therefore have seven valid sacraments.
§3.
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.
§4.
If 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.
§5.
For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.

Vatican II

Unitatis Redintegratio
§3.
The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church--whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church--do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion.
§8.
Yet worship in common [communicatio in sacris] is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity.

Ecclesiae de Eucharistia

Encyclical On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church.
30.
The Catholic Church's teaching on the relationship between priestly ministry and the Eucharist and her teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice have both been the subject in recent decades of a fruitful dialogue in the area of ecumenism. We must give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the significant progress and convergence achieved in this regard, which lead us to hope one day for a full sharing of faith. Nonetheless, the observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church remain fully pertinent: “The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory.”[3]
The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity. Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full communion, including Eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it.
The fact that the power of consecrating the Eucharist has been entrusted only to Bishops and priests does not represent any kind of belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for in the communion of the one body of Christ which is the Church this gift redounds to the benefit of all.
46.
In my Encyclical Ut Unum Sint I expressed my own appreciation of these norms, which make it possible to provide for the salvation of souls with proper discernment: “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 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.”[4]
These conditions, from which no dispensation can be given, must be carefully respected, even though they deal with specific individual cases, 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.[5]
The faithful observance of the body of norms established in this area[6] is a manifestation and, at the same time, a guarantee of our love for Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, for our brothers and sisters of different Christian confessions – who have a right to our witness to the truth – and for the cause itself of the promotion of unity.

Permission for Intercommunion with the Orthodox

Can. 844
§1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and ⇒ can. 861, §2.
§2. Whenever 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.
§3. 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.
§4. If 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.
§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.

References

  1. UR 22 § 3.
  2. Can. 861 §1. The ordinary minister of baptism is a bishop, a presbyter, or a deacon...
  3. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 22.
  4. No. 46: AAS 87 (1995), 948.
  5. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 22.
  6. Code of Canon Law, Canon 844; Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Canon 671.