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Avoid woolly thinking on Communion
SIR – Elizabeth Price (Letter, April 20) suggests that “Protestant denominations have it right in opening their communion table to any who wish to receive and are communicant members in their own churches,” citing Jesus: “Other sheep have I not of this fold.” She adds that “sheep of other flocks can be loved enough by the Lord for Him to wish them to be ‘one fold and one shepherd’ ”, asking if “any shepherd, purporting to act in Christ’s name”, is “really right in turning away a hungry sheep owned by the same landlord, but who usually grazes in another field?”.
And yet viewing Communion as a sign of fellowship that does not actually exist shows how little it is truly valued. Anyone could take Communion in such parishes; indeed, a Catholic concealing a mortal sin could take Communion in their own parish – but only if they believed that it doesn’t matter; in which case, why bother?
The Eucharist was not instituted so that people could err in comfort. Any human could think up the idea of a fellowship meal, but the Eucharist is a sacrament God-given but also God, divinely instituted by Jesus, who told His disciples that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood they could not be His followers (John 6:51-58). Like “the word of God”, the “Word made flesh” given up for our salvation is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thought and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Jesus came not to bring peace but a sword (Matthew 10:34; Luke 12:51), but this does not mean that we want to wield the sword against dissenters, or “view other denominations as heretics” – we simply wish to maintain our belief in the Eucharist as the sacrificed flesh and blood of God on which our very faith is built. We should demonstrate our belief by our reverence, in the knowledge that thousands of men and women have sacrificed their lives for this belief. If we give the impression that it doesn’t matter, we suggest that they died in vain. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but if non-Catholics really believe in the Eucharist they would do better to join us in the same fold rather than trying to snatch a mouthful through the fence. The Church must tell the truth rather than resorting to comforting but woolly phrases that merely succeed in muffling the word of God.
Woodford Green, Essex
How I resolved my pastoral dilemma
SIR – I’m most grateful to your correspondents for their contributions (Letters, April 13). This is about what the Ecumenical Directory really says, not about any personal agenda.
It’s not only about preserving the integrity of the Church (we are not to distribute Holy Communion indiscriminately), it’s about the good of souls. The Christian people need the sacraments and sometimes can’t approach their own ministers.
The Directory doesn’t give a final and exhaustive list of every such circumstance; how could it? It says that there are moments when Communion for other faithful Christians is not only permitted but also commended.
It says it is for local bishops to decide, and if they don’t, the general guidelines of the Directory are there to be followed. And we are those who have tasted the generosity of God. We have it on good authority: “freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
“Jill” really was in great need of the supreme solace and comfort of sharing in the Paschal mystery with her husband at the end of their life together. There was no dilemma at all.
Fr Bob Eccles OP
SIR – I would take issue with the terminology used in Jon Anderson’s cover story of April 13. He incorrectly states that “intercommunion is possible with the Orthodox”.
Intercommunion is an agreement whereby members of one Church may freely participate in another’s Eucharist. No such agreement exists with either the Eastern or Oriental Orthodox Churches, even though our commonality with the Orthodox is so profound “that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord’s Eucharist” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 838). The Catholic Church does, however, allow properly disposed individuals access to the sacraments on a case-by-base basis. In the case of Communion this is usually termed “Eucharistic hospitality”.
As Pope Benedict XVI taught in Sacramentum Caritatis: “We hold that Eucharistic Communion and ecclesial communion are so linked as to make it generally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive the former without enjoying the latter … [but] for the sake of their eternal salvation, individual non-Catholic Christians can be admitted to the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. But this is possible only in
specific, exceptional situations and requires that certain precisely defined conditions be met.”
SIR – Fr Rolheiser’s description of heaven (The Last Word, April 13) as a place where time stands still while we simply adore God terrifies me. I know that it is beyond the comprehension of my human brain and that is why I expect to be overwhelmed by the thought of it in this life. I know also that when we contemplate God, we see all things in Him. But that still leaves us in a very passive state. What has happened to our humanity?
We are promised a new heaven and a new earth. Jesus took pains after his Resurrection to assure his followers that his body was a real body which could eat and speak and be touched, albeit it was a Resurrection body with
different attributes to our ordinary human bodies.
Yes, we shall see God and be lost in his infinite beauty, truth and oneness. But will we not also be able to share in his creative passion, and contribute somehow to this heavenly world? Do we not bring our gifts with us?
In the Apocalypse, John recounts different phases of being – a certain rhythm – even certain sequences of events. Could we liken heavenly life to a heartbeat or a breath … in one direction, adoring the Trinity and all that is within it; in another direction, turning inside out and pouring out love and joy to all that is somehow still around us? How else could the saints and others help those still in this world?
Pray for Ireland
SIR – The referendum on the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution – the part of that document which provides protection for the unborn – is to be held on May 25. At present polls indicate that a vote to abolish the amendment may well be carried. May I ask for the prayers of your readers that right will prevail and that the amendment will be retained?
The Republic of Ireland is one of only a few countries in Europe in which abortion is forbidden, except in rare cases. If the amendment is removed then the Republic will almost certainly join Britain and France in having a permissive abortion system.