Some resolution on the Brother Roger question?

In the dicussion about Brother Roger’s ecclesial status in the post below, Dr Mike Liccione pointed to a comment by one of his commentators on his blog. For the record, Mike, I think your commentator has it exactly right.

Question: Was Brother Roger in full Eucharistic Communion with the Catholic Church or not?
Answer: He was not.
Question: Was Brother Roger given Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church or not?
Answer: He was.

Although it sounds contradictory, this is fully in keeping with the practice of the Church. Baptised Christians who have not been received into full Eucharistic Communion with the Catholic Church may be given communion under certain circumstances.

The canon law that applies is as follows:

CIC 844 p. 3: “Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the oriental churches which do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask on their own for the sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the oriental churches as far as these sacraments are concerned”

CIC 844 p. 4: “If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed”

While on the surface, paragraph 4 appears fairly restrictive, it has in fact been exercised pastorally with some latitude.

I will give an example. My Lutheran wife and oldest daughter do not (as a rule) receive communion when the come with me to mass (my second daughter is doing her first communion at her Lutheran parish in a few weeks time). They respect me and my beliefs and they respect the Church’s beliefs. However, they do have a genuinely Catholic belief in the sacrament, and are very well disposed toward the Catholic Church. But at World Youth Day, after a week of immersion in the whole Catholic thing, and then to be at the Eucharist with the Holy Father while at the same time having no access that day to a Lutheran eucharist, they asked me if it would be permissable to receive communion. I pointed out the Church’s teaching on the matter, and then said that they should judge for themselves. They both communed.

This was, however, a highly exceptional circumstance, and they have not used this one reception of communion as an excuse to begin receiving communion at other times when they come to mass with me. I imagine, however, that if I were to die tomorrow, they would all receive communion at my funeral mass. And this too would be according to the Church’s practice, which makes allowance for such pastoral situations.

So it would be wrong, I think, to view the (admittedly repeated) instances in which Br Roger received communion in the Catholic Church as a statement that he was in full communion with the Catholic Church. The Ecumenical Directory of 1993 (p. 101) states clearly that

“In the present state of our relations with the ecclesial Communities of the Reformation of the 16th century, we have not yet reached agreement about the significance or sacramental nature or even of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation. Therefore, under present circumstances, persons entering into full communion with the Catholic Church from one of these Communities are to receive the sacrament of Confirmation according to the doctrine and rite of the Catholic Church before being admitted to Eucharistic communion.”

Roger had not received Catholic confirmation, so he cannot have been said to have been “admitted to” Eucharistic communion.

However he was GIVEN Eucharistic communion. This must be taken as recognition that (as the canons say) he “manifested Catholic faith in these sacraments and was properly disposed”. And that is about the sum of what Cardinal Kasper says in his interview. Nothing more and nothing less. It was the repeated instances in which Br Roger was given communion which led to the impression that he had been “admitted to” full Eucharistic communion.

I might end by quoting a little of the Ecumenical Directory (1993), p.129ff:

129. A sacrament is an act of Christ and of the Church through the Spirit. Its celebration in a concrete community is the sign of the reality of its unity in faith, worship and community life. As well as being signs, sacraments—most specially the Eucharist—are sources of the unity of the Christian community and of spiritual life, and are means for building them up. Thus Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression.

At the same time, the Catholic Church teaches that by baptism members of other Churches and ecclesial Communities are brought into a real, even if imperfect communion, with the Catholic Church and that “baptism, which constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn… is wholly directed toward the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ”. The Eucharist is, for the baptised, a spiritual food which enables them to overcome sin and to live the very life of Christ, to be incorporated more profoundly in Him and share more intensely in the whole economy of the Mystery of Christ.

It is in the light of these two basic principles, which must always be taken into account together, that in general the Catholic Church permits access to its Eucharistic communion and to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick, only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. For the same reasons, it also recognises 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.

…Catholic ministers will judge individual cases and administer these sacraments only in accord with these established norms, where they exist. Otherwise they will judge according to the norms of this Directory.

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0 Responses to Some resolution on the Brother Roger question?

  1. Christine says:

    And this too would be according to the Church’s practice, which makes allowance for such pastoral situations.

    Interesting, David. At my (Catholic) sister-in-law’s funeral, which was attended by her Lutheran in-laws, the priest specifically stated that only Catholics who were properly disposed should receive Communion.

    As far as Brother Roger is concerned I’ve heard both versions, that he did — and did not — enter into full communion with the Church. I find the secrecy about it all very confusing and the Vatican should clearly come out with the answer one way or another. I also think it sets a bad precedent of clericalism — the fact that he belonged to a religious community, if he was in fact not Catholic, should not give him any precedence over a faithful lay Catholic.

  2. Mike says:

    David, this is personal to your family, so I wouldn’t normally ask, except that you’ve made the issue public in your blog and so I think you’re willing to discuss it, and probably more able than most people.

    ” . . .while at the same time having no access that day to a Lutheran eucharist . . .” .
    I think you say this in response to CIC844 p 4 about people ” . . . who cannot approach a minister of their own community . . .”

    How does this clause really make any sense? The Catholic understanding is that the Lutheran Eucharist is invalid. Impolitely but frankly speaking, that means (I believe) it is *no* Eucharist at all. Why would access or not to a Lutheran minister, who can’t give them the Eucharist, be at all relevant for your family who believe in the Catholic notion of the Eucharist?

    I always thought those parts of Canon Law more had in mind the Orthodox who have valid sacraments.

  3. Schütz says:

    Mike (and Christine):

    “Those parts of canon law” are quite specific about the difference between Orthodox and Protestant Churches. Orthodox may receive communion at any time and for any reason in the Catholic Church as long as this doesn’t cause some sort of problem in their own Church. Catholics may also licitly receive the Eucharist in an Eastern Church, as long as they are given permission to do so by the Orthodox pastor.

    The various “grave reasons” apply to giving the sacraments to Protestants only. (Keeping in mind that the Church never gives Catholics reciprocal permission to receive communion in a Protestant church for precisely the reason you point out – I, for eg., would never, EVER receive communion in a protestant

    The ruling “who cannot approach a minister of their own community” has been more rigorously applied here and less rigourously applied there. Let us simply say that it has been less rigorously applied in relation to families that are mixed Catholic/Protestant, since the Church also has a degree of understanding of the “domestic Church” which builds upon the already existing and already acknowledged “real but imperfect” communion established in baptism. In general, this would only apply to the immediate family, not to the extended network of relatives (who do not form a part of the “domestic Church”). Hence the pastor at Christine’s sister-in-law’s funeral was quite right to make the announcement he did – yet nevertheless he could also have offered communion to her sister-in-law’s Lutheran husband and children (if that were the scenariou) if they were properly disposed and had the proper faith regarding the sacrament.

    As for the way in which my family regards Lutheran eucharist, I can say that they have a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist – but not, perhaps, a Catholic understanding of the validity of holy orders. Now you might quibble that that means they don’t have a fully Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, but if they did, they would be Catholic (since a fully Catholic understanding of the Eucharist impels toward communion with the Bishop of Rome – well, who knows, perhaps even that might be present in some form or other).

    All I can say is that, although my wife is aware of the Catholic doctrine that the Ordinations (and hence Eucharists and Absolutions) of Protestant churches are invalid, it is not a fact that I emphasise either to her or to my children – for the quite simple reason that I want to build up their faith, rather than tear it down.

    You have to remember that my children are 9 years old and 7 years old respectively. I think it is more important that I teach them a properly Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, than that I try to complicate things at this point by saying that all they receive in their Lutheran parish is bread and wine. My youngest daughter is doing her first communion in her Lutheran parish next week, and I want her to believe with all her heart that she is receiving the body an blood of Christ – for if she has this faith, I can be assured that at least she will be making a valid “spiritual communion”, if not a real Eucharistic one.

    Do you understand what I mean by that? If you don’t, I can’t really help you.

    Building further on that, let me also say that I have instilled in my daughters an understanding of the “Sunday Obligation” to attend the Eucharist. Once again, I think it is important for them to understand and live the principle, so that one day they may live it IN FACT. Always understand that that is my ultimate hope and prayer for all my family – that (either through personal communion or the miracle of the restoration of full communion between the Lutheran Church of Australian and the Catholic Church) they enter full and formal Eucharistic communion with the Catholic Church. Any judgement I make about the way we solve the myriad ecumenical problems that arise simply within our own “domestic Church” is my call, as long as it is in accordance with the direction of Holy Mother Church.

  4. Mike says:

    Hi Dave,

    Yes, I think I understand you, and overall it seems quite reasonable. To be clear, I don’t find it odd that you or your family act this way. I see why you wouldn’t be trying to rub it in their face, and I see why it would be relevant *from their point of view* to seek a Lutheran Eucharist first. What I really meant was why it would matter (as a condition for Eucharist reception) from the point of view of the Catholic Church.

    What I find odd is the wording of Canon Law here. The Catholic Church seems to be saying, in essence, that “you separated bretheren who believe in the Real Presence may on certain occasions receive the Body and Blood of Christ from us – but only if you can’t find one of your own ministers to give you some bread and wine.”

    Anyway, on a side note, it’s interesting what you say about the Domestic Church coming into play here – I hadn’t heard that before.

  5. Christine says:

    David, I do understand what you are saying and the complications involved in an interdenominational family.

    However — at some point your daughters will no doubt observe that you, in your own words “never receive Communion in a Protestant church.” How will that impact what you are implying about the Catholic/Lutheran view of the Eucharist? Although I recognize that at that point they may be older and capable of understanding the complexities involved.

    I guess my thinking is that World Youth Day really didn’t present the sitatuion where a Lutheran is not able to receive Communion from his/her own pastor. It was an extraordinary event.

    Were it a situation where the unavailability were for an extended period, that would be a different matter.

    At any rate, I completely agree withy you that your primary objective is to build up their faith in their formative years. That is very important, especially in the context of the Domestic Church.

  6. Christine says:

    Oh, and and wanted to add that I still stand by my position on Brother Roger. If he was repeatedly receiving Communion as a non-Catholic (which admittedly I don’t know for sure), then we have set up a two-tier system in the Church. I’m not quite ready to canonize him a “saint” and thereby justify his participation on that basis.

    For the year that I waited to enter full communion with the Church I respectfully refrained from receiving. It would have been very easy to do so, as my workplace is located close to the diocesan Cathedral. No one would have ever known the difference. With my close Catholic connection on my Father’s side I could have easily persuaded myself.

    But I did not.

  7. Schütz says:

    Yep, all that is why I had questions too. I guess in the end we leave it to God. But I would be wary too of any attempt (as Kasper seemed to be making) of setting up a two-tier system – one for saints and one for the rest of us!

    I think when the kids ask the question, I will be more than ready to give the answer (a bit like sex education!).

    On the weekend, my wife went to a Pentecostal Church to accompany a friend to a healing service. “What’s a Pentacostal Church, Dad?” came the question. We talked about the differences, including that they think the bread and wine (or cracker and grape juice in this case) is only symbolic. We talked about how in some Pentecostal Churches everyone takes a piece of cracker and a small glass of juice, the pastor or someone else will read the story of the Last Supper from the bible, and then everyone eats their cracker and juice while thinking about Jesus.

    “But we believe that you need a priest to bless the bread and wine so it becomes Jesus’ body and blood, don’t we, Dad?”

    You see? That’s what I mean by a Catholic understanding of the Eucharist.

    Now, they have asked me in the past “Why don’t you receive communion in the Lutheran Church, Dad?” and I have said because I don’t belong to that church, and because holy communion should only be shared among Christians who are fully united with one another. But the time will come when I have to also answer: because I believe that you need “a priest to bless the bread and wine”. Then I would explain about the tragic history of the split between Lutherans and the Catholic Church when pastors were not ordained properly and so were not proper priests etc. etc. so the Eucharist is lacking something necessary to make it a true Eucharist. And that’s why I am a Catholic and not a Lutheran.

  8. Christine says:

    A very charitable and eminently catholic answer, David. I, too, am pained by my separation at the Table. My Lutheran sister and mother are my dearest companions aside from my husband.

    Your daughters are blessed to have parents who are supportive and able to encourage their questions on matters of faith.

    I join in your prayer that in God’s good time we will all again share the Eucharistic bond that is already present in our common baptism.

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