Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Reception of communion in non-Catholic bodies

Dear N.,

Thank you so very much for your brilliant questions: they are sensitive and delicate questions you raise and our answers to them must be guided by pastoral charity, a love for souls and a desire for the salvation of all men.

Ecclesial communities derived from the reformation and separated from Apostolic Churches have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders - they lack valid Apostolic Orders necessary for the valid celebration of the Eucharist. It is for this reason that, for Catholic Churches, such as the Anglican Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible. However these ecclesial communities, when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory. Catholic Churches do not recognise the offering of communion in protestant communities as valid; it is not the Body and Body of Christ under the form of bread and wine.

Celebrations of the sacraments in ecclesial bodies which do not possess Apostolic Succession lack the sacramental assurance and guarantee of the communication of grace in the sacraments for which the sacraments were instituted and given to the Church by the Lord. Surely the Holy Ghost can own, bless and use the ordinances and rites of non-Apostolic ecclesial communities as extraordinary means of grace, means of grace outside the Church's recognised sacramental order, but such rites are not endowed with that certitude of grace which the sacraments are intended to insure.

'Let only that Eucharist be regarded as legitimate, which is celebrated under the bishop or him to whom he has entrusted it' (Saint Ignatius of Antioch, To The Symrnaeans 8, AD 107). Only validly ordained bishops and priests in Apostolic Succession validly celebrate the Holy Eucharist and consecrate the bread and the wine so that they become the True Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only validly ordained bishops and priests have the power, authority and commission of Christ conveyed through sacramental ordination to act in the Name and Person of Christ in His Church (in persona Christi capitis) 'in the person of Christ Head of the Church' and thus validly to confect the sacraments according to Christ's institution. No genuine bishop, no genuine priest, no genuine priest, no genuine Eucharist. The essence of the Church and her sacramental life rest in that which guarantees the ongoing ministry and work of Christ in His Church, the Apostolic Succession. This is a hard saying for many, but it is true, and we must speak the truth and act upon the truth in love for our Christian brethren. The lack of valid Orders in protestant communities means we should not approach the sacraments in these ecclesial bodies.

Although receiving an invalid sacrament may not directly harm our souls and render us in a state of sin, such an act can nevertheless make a wrong statement about our faith and that of the community in which we worship, and it can bear witness to something that is not true, in this case, the purported validity of the sacramental act in question. We should always bear witness to the truth and act accordingly. This delicate situation affords us an opportunity to exercise Christian virtues and lovingly to profess of our faith by our actions.

Here is how I try to answer the question.Why can we not receive communion together with those in different ecclesial bodies?, we may ask. Even if we do agree with other Christians, say for example, Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox, on sacramental doctrine, why can we still not receive Holy Communion in those Churches? We should long for the day when all Christians can receive Holy Communion together. It should cause us deep sorrow that we cannot receive communion from non-Catholics, or the Blessed Sacrament even from other Catholic Churches at this time, but our discipline rests on important theological principles. When we come to the Eucharist, this is not simply an isolated act in which one individually approaches and receives Our Lord. We come to Holy Communion as members of the Church, members of a corporate society, a family of believers. We are never alone in our Communions, but are with all others who profess the same Faith and Tradition. Making our Communions expresses the totality of one's whole Christian faith and one's full life of church membership. Lack of intercommunion is a painful reality, but the effect of Christian division is very real indeed. Christians are divided and belong to separate bodies. We seek for unity with all Christians, but we have a long way to go. So long as we are separated, it is not realistic for Christians to celebrate or receive Holy Communion together. This is because the Eucharist expresses the total unity in faith and dogma of the Church and our solidarity as members of one family.

If our faith is different and we belong to separated bodies, it is therefore untruthful for us to engage in intercommunion. The reception of Holy Communion is not a means to an end, not a means to create unity, even as many well-intentioned Anglicans mistakenly believe. The Holy Eucharist is the expression of that unity we now possess in faith and doctrine, a gift of catholicity and apostolicity from God Himself. Until our God-given unity is fully expressed, we have to accept the truth that we should not practice intercommunion with those who not have the Faith and Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. To practice intercommunion before its time would not be truthful nor realistic to facts of our separation.

'Communion' literally communio, union with, communion with the Catholic Church in her Apostolic doctrine, Apostolic fellowship, Apostolic sacramental practice, and Apostolic worship (Acts 2.42). The Eucharist is not an act of hospitality, nor is it a free-for-all, but rather, it is the supreme sign and manifestation of that unity of faith, doctrine, moral teaching, and ecclesiastical fellowship which already exists. The Eucharist does not create unity; rather, it reveals and demonstrates that unity which is already given to the Church by her Head and Lord.

Each Catholic Church possesses her own discipline of the Sacraments, and each member of each jurisdiction is bound to one's particular discipline. Only Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome may receive the Eucharist in the Papal Churches. Only chrismated Orthodox may receive in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. In Anglican discipline, only those baptised into Christ, sealed with the gift of the Holy Ghost in Confirmation received from an Apostolic Bishop, and properly disposed, that is, in a state of grace, can properly and fruitfully receive Holy Communion in our jurisdiction. No Catholic Churches permit their own members to receive communion in protestant bodies. As children of the English Church, we are called by the Lord to obedience to our own discipline.

May the Lord Jesus Christ, King of Saints and Martyrs, bless you in this Holy Week!

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