POPE FRANCIS has advised non-Roman Catholic Christians who wish to receive communion with their RC spouse during mass that they should “talk to the Lord” before reaching a decision informed by their conscience.
After a visit to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rome, the Pope was asked by a female member of the mostly Swiss-German congregation about whether she and her RC husband, who she said were “hurt” by their religious differences, would be able “to finally participate together in communion”.
In his answer, the Pope told her that admission to holy communion was a question that “must be responded to on one’s own”, in the light of a sincere conscience and whatever personal theological knowledge a person had.
He said: “I can only respond to your question with a question: What can I do with my husband that the Lord’s Supper might accompany me on my path? It’s a problem that each must answer [for themselves].
“But a pastor-friend once told me that ‘We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present’; you believe that the Lord is present. And what’s the difference?
“There are explanations, interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism — one faith, one baptism, one Lord: this Paul tells us; and then consequences come later.”
The Pope continued: “I would never dare to give permission to do this, because it’s not my own competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord, and then go forward. And I wouldn’t dare — I don’t dare — say anything more.”
The Pope’s comments appear to contradict RC teaching on the eucharist, and also the recommendations of the Synod on the Family held at the Vatican last month (News, Comment, 30 October).
The Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church prohibits non-RCs from receiving the sacrament, except in cases of “grave or pressing need”, or “danger of death”, and where there is a spontaneous request from the person.
The prohibition led to Tony Blair, while still an Anglican, being reprimanded by the late Cardinal Basil Hume in 1996, after he presented himself repeatedly for communion while he was attending Roman Catholic mass in north London with his wife, Cherie, and their children, who were all RCs.
A proposal to relax the ban was inserted into the working document of the Synod on the Family. It recommended that “a baptised person who is not in full communion with the Catholic Church, yet shares the Church’s faith in the eucharist, be allowed to receive the eucharist when their pastors are not available, and taking into account the criteria of the ecclesial community to which they belong.”
Even while the synod was in session, the proposal was publicly opposed by the RC Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Revd Bernard Longley, who is the RC co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, because it did not meet the demands of either the Code of Canon Law or the Ecumenical Directory.
Archbishop Longley said: “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 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’.”
The final document produced by the Synod rejected the proposal and asserted the status quo, stating that “even if the spouses of a mixed marriage have the sacraments of baptism and marriage in common, the sharing of the eucharist cannot be but exceptional, and, in every case, the regulations which have been laid down are to be observed”.
Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church believe in transubstantiation, by which the host is changed by the actions of the priest at the consecration to become the body and blood of Christ.