14 October 2015, The Tablet

A statement on non-Catholic Christians receiving Holy Communion

In response to a proposal in the Synod on the Family's working document that would allow non-Catholic Christians married to Catholics routinely to receive communion, Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham and co-chairman of the latest phase of Anglican-Catholic ecumenical dialogue known as Arcic III, released the following statement:

The working document of the synod on the Family highlights the longing that many inter-church couples experience to receive the Eucharist together. It calls to mind the provision the Catholic Church already makes on the occasion of celebrating a marriage, and under the usual conditions, for a baptised member of another church or ecclesial community to receive Holy Communion with their new spouse during a Roman Catholic Nuptial Mass.

It also acknowledges the possibility for such a spouse to receive Holy Communion at a Roman Catholic Mass, by way of exception and in “situations of grave and pressing need”, at the discretion of the minister and according to any norms established by the competent Bishops’ Conference (PCPCU Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism § 130).

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales established its own norms in the 1998 teaching document One Bread One Body. This recognises that “a couple in a mixed marriage may well have a strong desire to receive Holy Communion together, to be fully united at the Lord’s table”(§ 83).

However, because of the exceptional nature of such occasions, “there will sometimes be a deep sense of pain and sadness when they find themselves divided at this most sacred moment of unity”. One Bread One Body identifies some unique occasions “for joy or for sorrow in the life of a family or an individual” which might include Baptism, Confirmation, First Holy Communion, Ordination, and the Funeral Mass as well as Marriage (cf §§ 106 – 109) – unique occasions when careful and sensitive consideration should be given to spontaneous requests for the sacraments.

Personally, I cannot foresee a proposal arising from the synod that would regard the sacramental unity of a couple in marriage as representing in itself a situation of “grave and pressing need”. Such a proposal would tend to establish a category of Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church yet distinguished from other Christians by a “right” to receive Holy Communion at a Roman Catholic Mass on any occasion.

Nor can I imagine that the usual and recurring demands of a hectic family life could be regarded as constituting a long-term situation where a person would “be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community” (one of the conditions currently required by the Ecumenical Directory §131).

At the same time, I believe we should make the sacramental possibilities that are currently offered by the Catholic Church much better known for the good of couples in mixed marriages or inter-church families and I hope that the synod will take up this theme. One Bread One Body §115 urges Catholic priests to “treat with kindness and sensitivity other Christians who seek admission to these sacraments, welcoming them with pastoral love even when their request cannot be granted.”

We need to take much greater care in discerning such situations since “the sacraments should not be denied to those whom the present law of the Church allows to receive them.”



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Comment by: Marie
Posted: 16/10/2015 20:57:13

The archbishop does not see a grave and pressing need for a Christian couple in a mixed marriage to receive Holy Communion together.

How easily he forgets the Last Supper when Jesus first washed his disciples feet before sharing himself fully with them in bread and wine.

We have been married for forty years and been present at Mass together, with our family in all that time. Both of us have supported our family and each other, in the faith and each of us beleive in the Real Presence at Holy Communion.

"What God has joined together let no man put assunder". We are "put "assunder" every week because of the rules of man, not the rules of God.

Our grown up family have been scandalized by this ruling.

It should not be acceptable that a non Catholic partner has to go off to his own denomination rather than be present to his wife and family, this would be a sign of disunity within their marriage and would leave their spouse unsupported during the Mass, especially where young children are involved. To suggest such a thing is not at all helpful and shows how completely out of touch the Bishop is to the suffering of families like ours.

I don't think for a moment that by us attending two separate churches on Sunday, somehow Our Lord would be pleased.

He denounced Pharisees for laying heavy burdens and not doing a thing to remove them, those burdens weigh heavily on our marriage and bring sadness where there should be joy.

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