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The documents:

Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism 1964
Code of Canon Law 1983
Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism 1993
Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, 1995
Common Declaration of Pope John Paul Il and the Archbishop of Canterbury 1996


in certain circumstances of serious spiritual need (Code, Directory)
of great desire (UUS)
by way of exception in particular cases
under certain conditions

What are the CIRCUMSTANCES where there may be serious need /great desire?

those in danger of death (Code)
those who share the sacraments of baptism and marriage (couple/family need added by Directory)
bishops can identify others

By way of exception in certain CASES

always applies to particular cases
pastoral application to particular people

(RC tradition of epikeia and other pastoral principles)

Under certain CONDITIONS

cannot ask own minister for communion
there must be a request
manifest Catholic faith in the eucharist
be properly disposed

WHO IS TO DECIDE on admission?

Episcopal Conferences/diocesan bishops are to prepare guidelines (after consultation with other churches)
Catholic minister decides in particular cases (in accordance with bishops' guidelines or the Directory where there are none)


The French Bishops, 1983 (following the Code)
The Archbishop of Brisbane's Pastoral Guidelines, 1995 (following the Directory)
The German Bishops' Ecumenical Commission, 1997 (repeated in Austria by the Archbishop of Vienna for his archdiocese, 1997)
The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference: Ecumenical Directory, 2003

The New Testament Legacy

1 What did Sharing Communion mean in the New Testament?

The English word 'communion' is found in only three verses in the New Testament Authorised Version (I Cor. 10: 16; 11 Cor. 6:14, and 13:13). However, the Greek wordkoinonia and its cognates, translated as 'communion' in these three texts, occurs in 35 other places in the New Testament.

The word koinonia can be translated by many different English words (community, communion, sharing, partnership, participation, fellowship, solidarity). Its root in both Greek (koinos) and Latin (communis) means 'common', 'shared', 'public', as distinct from 'private', 'individual'. (The same word was used by the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in a letter sent out in 1920 proposing a 'League of Churches' to parallel the League of Nations.)

What or who in the New Testament is being shared in koinonia?

1 . Fundamentally God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is sharing himself with us. I Cor. 1:9 (God called you into the koinonia of his Son); 11 Cor. 13:13 (The grace of Christ, the love of God and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit); Phil. 2:1 (The koinonia of the Spirit); I John 1:3 (Our koinonia is with the Father and with Jesus Christ); 11 Peter 1:4 (We are koinonoi, sharers, in the divine nature).

2. If we have koinonia with God, we cannot have it with evil (I Cor. 10:20; 11 Cor. 6:14; Eph. 5:11; I John 1:6; Rev. 18:4) and this means avoiding false teachers (11 John 11; 1 Tim. 5:22).

3. Koinonia in the Gospel (Phil. 1:5); to share in its blessings (I Cor. 9:23); koinonia in grace (Phil. 1:7; koinonia of your faith (Philem. 6).

4. Koinonia in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3: 1; 1 Peter 4:13; Rev. 1:9), and in the sufferings of disciples (11 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 4:14; Heb. 10:35) so as to share his glory (I Peter 5:1).

5. Koinonia with fellow Christians (II Cor.8:23; Gal. 2:9; Philem. 17; 1 John 1:3 and 7; Acts 2:42). In Luke 5: 10 it refers to the business partnership between Peter, James and John.

6. Koinonia includes sharing possessions (Acts 2:44, and especially through Paul's collection from Gentile churches for poor Jewish Christians - Rom. 12:13 and 15:26; 11 Cor. 9:13; Phil. 4:15; 1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 13:16).

7. Koinonia in the body and blood of Christ in the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 10: 16). (The Latin translation of this text is communicatio, not communio, hence modem Roman Catholic usage of communicatio in sacris, sacramental sharing.)

II Eucharistic Communion

The fact that there is only one unequivocal usage of koinonia that refers to the eucharist should not make us think it is unimportant, or a late development The First Letter to the Corinthians was probably written in its present form before all the other texts quoted above (AD 55). It should however show us that eucharistic communion is only one aspect of communion. We can still see this today when we speak of 'the communion of saints' and 'the Anglican Communion'.

How did eucharistic communion develop in the church? Jesus and his disciples were Jews. The Old Testament was their Bible. In that, hospitality at meals was a vital expression of fellowship. Thus Genesis 18 (see Rublev's ikon); contrast Psalm 41:9 and 10. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the worshipper ate from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as it were with God. This was particularly true of the Passover (Exod. 12; Lev.7:15), but eating the blood was not allowed (Lev. 17:10-12). In the New Testament Jesus is known for having table fellowship with people (Luke 5:30; unlike John the Baptist, Luke 7:33, 34 and 15:2).

Whether or not the Last Supper was at Passover, it clearly was a fellowship meal to which Jesus intended to impart new religious significance. The two earliest recorded accounts mention a (new) covenant in Jesus' blood, which the disciples are to drink (contrast the Old Testament), and use the words "This (is) my body", "This (is) my blood" (Mark 14:22-25; 1 Cor. 11:23-26) over the bread and the wine. Only I Corinthians mentions the instruction to do it regularly in memory of Christ. Jesus broke bread with the disciples at Emmaus (Luke 24:30, 35), and Acts 1:4 may refer to Jesus eating with the disciples. It is clear that, however the eucharist developed in those early days, it was very important for holding local churches together, and Paul in particular emphasised this (I Cor. 11: 17-22; Gal. 2:11, 12). The rules agreed at the Council of Jerusalem were probably formulated to maintain eucharistic communion (Acts 15:19,20).

Martin Reardon June 1998

ADMISSION TO COMMUNION: brief soundings taken from a small number of AIF members who were asked in preparation for the meeting with Bishops on 6th February 1997:

What have been/are your particular needs for admission to communion as a couple?

How far have your needs been met?

What is the main point you would like to make to the Bishops about admission to communion?

1 What have been/are your particular needs for admission to communion as a couple?

To take communion together always.

Constant need to express in the eucharist the oneness we share in our marriage and family relationships: occasions such as wedding, baptism, first communion particularly difficult.

We need to share worship.

To communicate with one another at our local parish.

We have asked on special occasions - after a bereavement, on our 25th wedding anniversary.

To keep the vision alive and nurture the unity of a Christian marriage and family.

As a couple who are united in the sacramental bond of marriage we are in communion with each other in every conceivable way - apart from one. We have an urgent desire to complete our own communion by sharing together in the sacramental communion.

We feel a serious spiritual need to affirm our unity in Christ by receiving communion together; to be separated is hurtful for us as a couple and painful that we show an example of disunity to our children.

All through our married life (22 years) we have needed communion together to offer our commitment to our marriage and family in its fullest expression, and to receive the spiritual nourishment it gives us to continue that commitment. At times of stress in married and family life, and times of great joy, participation together has been especially necessary, and often poignant.

10 As a married couple we need to worship together as often as practicable, and we do not feel "together" in worship if only one of us is admitted to communion.

11 When we are together at mass.

12 Separation at communion contradicts the oneness in Christ we should always have in marriage: we dread the day we shall have to explain this to our children. We need to receive communion together at least on family occasions (birthdays, anniversaries) and major feasts, with the full knowledge and understanding of the Christian community in which we live.

13 We need to receive communion together to build up the unity of our marriage and family life - being unable to receive together put a great strain on our marriage and family life. Yet the closer we got as a family, the more painful separation became and a thick cloud hung over our perception of Christ's love for us. When after 14 years we were able to receive on odd occasions the cloud thinned but the uncertainty was stressful - we need to celebrate our love together, in union with Christ, not occasionally on the quiet, but in our ordinary living.

14 On 6th January 1975 it was unexpectedly offered by a friend and priest - we didn't know how much we needed it until knowing its reconciling power.

15 Our particular need is to receive together as a family whenever we attend Mass together.

16 We need to share as a practising couple.

17 Regular admission to communion as a couple.

18 To receive communion together regularly.

19 The joy of participating as a family at the table of the Lord is something we long for - it hurts that at a moment of family unity we are divided.

20 To worship together as a family and to take full part in the Mass without one parent being excluded at communion.

21 We would benefit from joint communion on every occasion as we always feel very separated at this point in the Mass. The children, from an early age, were aware of the division and found our attempts at an explanation bewildering. We certainly feel the need for shared communion at moments of "heightened awareness" such as anniversaries.

22 The other partner to be allowed to receive communion when attending mass.

23 Our son's first communion in 1995 when we asked and were refused was painful for us all. Anglican mother was admitted at Easter 1996 - another particularly painful time.

2   How far have your needs been met?

On the occasion of our children's First Communion in June 1994.

2 Not at all at parish or diocesan level.

3 Our needs are met by the Bishop/Parish Priest allowing communion together on special and other occasions of need - perhaps 10 times a year.

4 We appreciate being allowed to communi together at the local parish. It means keeping a low profile and not wearing a clerical collar. The results for our married life have been enormous.

5 Our needs have not been met. The p.p. writes: the C of E's decision to ordain women contradicts Scripture, the classical tradition of Anglicanism does not consider Marriage a sacrament; a sizeable number of our Catholic people are unable to receive - in irregular marriages or divorced - allowing non-Catholic spouses to receive would be a source of scandal to them. "Perhaps you could explain why you are not in communion with the Holy See?

On Advent Sunday 1995 our p.p. wrote in the newsletter that he was admitting the Anglican spouse because of the encyclical of 25 May 1995. The local press contacted the bishop who told the p.p. to say it was not allowed: "quotations from UUS and the Directory have been taken out of context". The p.p. explained in the newsletter that he had made his decision on the basis of information from AIF; diocesan authorities had told him it is incorrect and must not be followed. He apologised to the couple.

A lot has changed for the better. From blank refusal in our early days together we have experienced loving understanding of our needs and a willingness to go towards meeting them.

On rare occasions. Priests generally show no awareness of our pastoral needs as a couple/family.

For the past 15 years our priest has accepted the non-RC partner to communion, which we appreciate, but it is made clear this is not to be broadcast. We wish we didn't have to keep our heads down because of possible "scandal"; we could be more involved in the church if we felt more accepted.

10 For the last two years our p.p. has allowed (the husband) to receive when we come to communion together. He has asked us not to draw the attention of other parishioners to the fact.

11 Our needs have never been met.

12 Our priests and community are sympathetic and understanding and the Anglican is always offered a blessing which is very helpful, especially to the children (3 and 1). On our 5' wedding anniversary this year the Bishop gave permission for the Anglican to receive communion. Our p.p. explained the circumstance fully to the congregation who were all delighted and offered prayers and congratulations. It gave us a wonderful feeling of togetherness in Christ as a family and a longing to feel that every week - like anormal family would.

13 Our needs were totally disregarded for the first 14 years. Then, until more recently, the sufferance under which we were admitted to communion together made us feel less than welcome in the Catholic community. Now we are warmly welcomed in the eucharist and experience great joy in the richness of Christ's love. No longer do we feel spiritually starved and stunted but are experiencing rich spiritual growth which we enjoy sharing with our religious communities as we work for greater unity in Christ.

14 We had the enormous blessing of living near a parish where the priest admitted the Anglican to communion - impossible to describe the effect.- layers of prejudices disappearing, mind set changing. Now, in a new parish, permission not granted, it's very painful to listen to the words of the mass.

15 At present our p.p. has said he will admit the Anglican to communion on "special occasions". This has resulted in an absurd game where we assess various occasions: Easter, Christmas, family anniversaries, for their importance and ask as rarely as possible so we don't drive him to say "no".

16 We feel increasingly frustrated - meanwhile seeing "occasional" visitors at e.g. First Communions joining in fully - we're not against that but it seems wrong from our point of view as our p.p.s agree.

17 We have asked every Easter and have not been refused. We have been trying to identify with our Bishop other suitable occasions when permission could be granted. We agreed, in principle, that Christmas, Easter, Pentecost and our wedding anniversary were such occasions.

18 Not well in our local churches, but when we are on holiday and unknown. Locally we share communion at Christmas, Faster and other "major" occasions. Also in Teams of Our Lady we have a very understanding chaplain and he gives the Anglican communion at any house mass we have.

19 Our needs are only met in an imperfect way in the receiving of a blessing.

20 The Methodist has only received on one specific occasion, with the express knowledge and permission of the priest, in 25 years of marriage. The children cannot understand why a loving church should exclude their mother from the sacrament.

21 We were granted permission for joint communion on the occasions of the children's baptisms and first communions. A wonderful elderly priest spontaneously offered us both communion when we visited his rural church to give an altar talk on behalf of AIF!

22 Not at all. As a high profile member of the music team at the Catholic Church for many years, it is known that I am Anglican and it is not possible to receive "incognito". I go up for a blessing so that our daughter can see that we go up as a family. I was forbade communion even when my daughter was due to receive her First Holy Communion, despite the fact that I share the Catholic eucharistic faith.

23 The pain is increased since the Ecumenical Directory launch-, we now know it is within the bishop's power to act positively, but he chooses to interpret the Directory as "not relevant".

3 What is the main point you would like to make to the Bishops about admission to communion?

That through the sacrament of marriage we are expected to remain as one and yet we are denied the unifying nurture of communion together.

Our marriage makes us one flesh, joined by God. It seems to us theologically inconsistent to then deny us sharing in one body in the eucharist. The church's theology of marriage seems at best underdeveloped. We ask for a generous application of the norms, and support for p.p's as they offer eucharistic sharing - guidelines on preparation for their congregations would be useful.

It is necessary for real coming together for worship, not just on "special occasions" but at "times of need" - these vary for couples. Pastoral care means each couple's needs are established locally and met.

Reconciliation takes place at the eucharist. If we are one in the sacrament of marriage, then why are we not allowed to be one in the sacraments of reconciliation and eucharist?

When the Anglican believes in the Real Presence, and when through the sacrament of matrimony there is already some recognition of a sacramental unity, we find it hard to accept the current Catholic refusal to allow even occasional admission. Could the Catholic Bishops consider further the Directory?

In certain cases it should be possible for a committed Christian partner, who can show a Catholic understanding of the eucharist, to receive communion. It is a sign of unity in marriage, in Christ.

Please have courage to accept the Directory and apply it openly and equally across the country.

Shared communion, in situations where there is a real need and desire and where the couple share the same eucharistic belief, could provide the grace leading to unity as well as being a sign of unity achieved. Communion is above all the sacrament of peace, unity and reconciliation.

The variety of response from priests is distressing. It damages our faith, especially when it affects the children. We would like the rules to be administered more sensitively and consistently. We think it should be made possible for priests to consider couples' and families' needs - they often don't take responsibility for the pastoral care needed to do this - even if the answer is "no" because of their own consciences. We don't want to break rules. We would not receive communion secretly from a priest who we knew would not accept us if asked. But, to deny a couple united in baptism and marriage, united in eucharistic belief, united in the spiritual nurturing of their family, the possibility to receive communion together regularly and to make it necessary for parents to try to explain this to the children without impeding the children's spiritual growth, is like saying they may be married but are not allowed to pray together or kiss each other or patch up a child's hurt knee or tuck them in.

10 Division at the communion table undermines the unity of marriage between committed Christians.

11 At the end of our wedding in 1947 the priest joined his hands over ours and said: "And now you are one". Yet at mass we are separate - why?

12 It's not about occasions (e.g. always at weddings) but about people - their relationships with Christ, with each other, with the church. Receiving in another church is a commitment and a privilege and so each person should be prepared for that. It goes two ways - it is terribly hard to receive communion after seeing your partner receive a blessing. The need to have our oneness in Christ affirmed is acute.

13 Two baptised Christians joined in the sacrament of matrimony have an essential need to be regularly affirmed and confirmed in their unity by frequent admission as a couple to the eucharist, to be spiritually nourished and sustained - particularly in today's society that is so hostile in its values and style to Christian life, marriage and family life. Frequently and regularly (at least weekly) we need deeply to give thanks together for the unity and harmony God has built up in our 35 year-old marriage and for nourishing us so generously through the sacrament of our marriage; we need the strengthening and deepening of our relationship that comes from feeding together upon Christ in the eucharist.

14 The eucharist is a source of grace in marriage. Knowing what grace has been given to us, wondering where we would have been without eucharistic sharing (it carried us through the time when our children were growing up) we implore the Bishops to do all in their power to help other couples whose married love is founded in a shared faith, but which has been divided by history and politics.

15 When we are given permission to receive together there is a deep sense of joy and family unity which is a tremendous boost to our marriage and our faith. When we are refused, the converse is true.

16 We feel we should be welcome positively as a couple; we want to emphasise how it feels not to be, week by week, and how it looks to our children.

17 We have a genuine and serious spiritual need to receive holy communion together in the Catholic Church. Not being able to do so places an additional and unnecessary strain on our marriage. As we share a common eucharistic faith we do not understand why this is a problem. It is vitally important that shared communion is not restricted to occasions like weddings, funerals, confirmations etc.

18 It seems a shame that where we are known (i.e. our local churches) it is difficult to receive communion, whereas in a strange parish or abroad it is not a problem (because it would not cause "scandal" to those who know us).

19 If Christ was officiating at one of our eucharistic celebrations the look on his face when an interchurch family come up for communion and do not receive together would say it all.

20 As a couple we are united in marriage but divided at the communion rail. This has become so painfid that we seldom attend Mass together and gravitate towards the Methodist service which is more welcoming. Families need to worship together to witness to their Catholic faith as well as their other denomination. Permission is required on an on-going basis but must be given openly and must be acceptable to the congregation. This will only happen if endorsed publicly by the bishops.

21 That we need to look again at the reasons why the Catholic Church feels unable to offer communion to other Christians and examine the concept of "scandal" in this context. Recently our local Churches Together has begun to ask more about the "Catholic position" - most other denominations are very ignorant of the reasons - much misunderstanding exists. If at local level dialogue could be more "obvious", misunderstandings could be clarified.

22 We deserve special attention because we are unified by our Baptism and Marriage. We are the complete domestic church. We have the deepest Christian commitment to each other. We sometimes receive communion as one in our house. We support ecumenical projects and an ecumenical prayer group. We are united in helping with the music ministry. We daily pray together as a family, and we are a living unit of unity. It seems absurd to us that we share every other facet of daily living in the Christian faith, but we cannot share communion as a family. Prejudices and insults of clergy and parishioners can be borne in a good interchurch partnership, but when children arrive, it becomes difficult to say 'Daddy is not receiving communion in a Catholic church".

23 We need compassion and love please, not lectures showing a sense of insecurity.

A paper written from a Roman Catholic perspective

Interchurch marriage: a circumstance of need for eucharistic sharing

The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (Rome 1993) has identified mixed marriages between baptised Christians as a circumstance of need for eucharistic sharing (DAPNE159,160). It is the only addition to the single example of a circumstance of need given in the Code of 1983: danger of death (can. 844, 4) - an indication of the importance given to it.

Partners who "share the sacraments of baptism and marriage" (160) are joined together in Christ in a very particular way. The two have become one. In the creation story God created man and woman to become "one flesh" (Gen 2:24). Quoting this text, Jesus adds: "So they are no longer two, but one. What God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mk 10:8-9; Mt 19:6). In Ephesians this "great mystery" is seen as analogous to the relationship of Christ and the church. The mutual self-giving love of the spouses is a reflection of, and a participation in, the love with which Christ loves his church (Eph 5:21-33). One of the pictures of the consummation of all things at the end of time is that of the marriage supper of the Lamb, when Christ receives the church as his Bride (Apoc 19:6-9).

Married partners thus participate in the mystery of salvation in a particular way as a couple. As separate persons they were baptised into the death and resurrection of Christ. As a couple they live their baptismal lives together, reflecting the love of Christ for his church, the same love with which the Son loves the Father, the Father loves the Son, in the Spirit. They are called in their marriage to witness to the nature of that love. They are called to lay down their lives for one another, as Christ laid down his life for the church. They are called to share that same love with their children, with family, friends and strangers who come into their home, their "domestic church".

The church celebrates that self-giving, saving love of Christ in the eucharist. At every eucharist the church looks back with thanksgiving to the death and resurrection of Christ, celebrates the presence of the Risen Christ with his people in the present, and looks forward with joy to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Because this is the context in which married partners are called to live their lives as a couple, it is normal for a marriage to be celebrated in the context of eucharist. It is normal for married partners to want to be together at the eucharist, to share communion. They are not two any more, they are one - one in a unity not of identity but of communion. The sacrament of baptism has united them to Christ. The sacrament of marriage has made them one. They need the sacrament of communion to keep them one. This need is just as great for interchurch couples as it is for Catholic couples -perhaps even more so, because they have the special difficulty of church divisions to contend with.

A domestic church

The marriage of two baptised persons is itself an ecclesial reality. Marriage constitutes the "little church" of the home. The couple embodies the church in miniature. The church needs the eucharist to sustain its life. That is surely why, at world level, the second identification of a circumstance of need for eucharistic sharing is that of those who share the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

Some interchurch couples and families have been expressing the need they experience to share communion for many years. This need was considered by Cardinal Willebrands, then President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, at the Synod of Bishops concerned with Marriage and the Family in 1980. He was making an invaluable contribution which the body concerned with promoting ecumenism in the Catholic Church could bring to a synod considering the pastoral care of marriage and family life. He pointed out that the requirement then in force that a non-Catholic Christian making a' request for admission to communion should be unable for a prolonged period to have recourse to a minister of his own church "is less closely connected [than the other three conditions] with eucharistic doctrine and faith". The 1983 Code removed the words "for a prolonged period"; thus the way was opened for a positive pastoral response to the spiritual need of interchurch couples.

The identification of those who "share the sacraments of baptism and marriage" (DAPNE 160) as in possible need of eucharistic sharing brings together two insights of Vatican 11. Firstly, because the eucharist involves "sharing in the means of grace" as well as "expressing the unity of the church", eucharistic sharing (although "usually excluded") is "sometimes recommended" (Decree on Ecumenism,8). This positive assessment was repeated in the Directory (129) and strongly reinforced in the encyclicalUt Unum Sint (1995). Here Pope John Paul 11 expresses his "joy" that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer the eucharist to Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church who greatly desire it, freely request it, and manifest Catholic eucharistic faith (UUS 46). (He omitted any reference to the inaccessibility of another minister.)

Secondly, the Council moved away from seeing sacramental marriage mainly as a contract, towards viewing it as a covenant. It was described as an 'Intimate community of married life and love ... established by the Creator ... rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent" (GS 48). The Code repeated this description, declaring that "the marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has, between the baptised, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament" (can. 1055, 1).

A theology of communion

These two insights from Vatican 11 are linked by a theology of communion. In the Catholic perspective eucharistic sharing is possible on the grounds that "by baptism members of other churches and ecclesial communities are brought into a real, even if not fully realised, communion with the Catholic Church" (DAPNE 129). This real, although not fully realised, cornmunion of all the baptised with the Catholic Church is deepened by the sacrament of marriage. Marriage effects "the Christian conjugal bond, a typically Christian communion of two persons because it represents the mystery of Christ's incarnation and the mystery of his covenant" (Familiaris Consortio, 13). "The Holy Spirit who is poured out in the sacramental celebration [of marriage] offers Christian couples the gift of a new communion of love that is the living and real image of that unique unity which makes of the church the indivisible Mystical Body of the Lord Jesus" (FC 19). "The Christian family constitutes a specific revelation and realisation of ecclesial communion, and can and should be called 'the domestic church' " (FC 2 1).

Since Vatican II church teaching has continually drawn attention to "the intimate connection between' marriage and eucharist". In the eucharist "Christian spouses encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows, is interiorly structured and continuously renewed". "In the eucharistic gift of love the Christian family finds the foundation and soul of its 'communion' and its 'mission'; by partaking in the eucharistic bread, the different members of the Christian family become one body, which reveals and shares in the wider unity of the church." (FC 57)

Reflection in this field has been summed up by Carlo Rochetta. He speaks of the sacrament of marriage as a baptismal con-vocation; through it "the spouses participate no longer as individuals, but as a couple, in the paschal event which realises the covenant of Christ with the church; and they accept - in consequence - to be placed, vocationally speaking, in the same dimension of mutual oblation ... In the mutual gift of one to the other, the spouses agree to put into practice a reciprocal donation modelled exactly after that of Christ in the eucharist, and thus they manifest and realise, for their own part, the mystery of the church as the Bride of Christ. The communion with the Kyrios of the eucharist is the constant actualisation of what marriage signifies and produces in the spouses. There is therefore a two-fold relationship: the eucharist is a sacramental manifestation of the essence of Christian marriage, while Christian marriage represents a form of 'realised eucharist' " (Intams Review, 1996, 2,1 p.9).

Pastoral perspectives

There are many different kinds of interchurch couples. Probably only a small minority will express the need to receive communion together. Some have been alienated from the church because they have not received pastoral help in coping with the effect of Christian divisions on their married lives. Some accept division as a fact of life, and live their spiritual lives in isolation from one another. Some choose to live as a couple more within the orbit of one church rather than the other, without denying the other specific Christian identity. Some couples try to relate as couples to both their church communities. Not all strive to "follow a community pattern: the spouses together as a couple, the parents and children as a family, living their service to the church and the world, 'of one heart and soul' in faith" (FC 50). It is those who do who suffer more than others if they cannot share the eucharist. It is good to see, therefore, that the Directory shows a pastoral perspective (following the Code), and that Catholic ministers are asked to respond to requests on a couple-by-couple basis, to see whether there is a real need and whether the conditions for admission are fulfilled in each particular case (DAPNE 160, 130). This needs to be publicly recognised and explained.

Ruth Reardon January 1998


A Simple Statement of the Present Position
(references are to the norms of the 1993

Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism)

In general the Catholic Church allows access to communion only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. In certain circumstances, by way of exception. and under certain conditions, access may be permitted, or even commended. for other Christians ( 129).

Circumstances of need:

Danger of death has long been identified as a situation of possible need, in which Catholic ministers can admit to communion so long ascertain conditions are present (130). The Directory also identifies mixed marriages between baptized Christians as a possible situation of need. because the partners share the sacraments of baptism and marriage (160). (Catholic bishops or episcopal conferences are also able to make additional norms identifying other possible circumstances of need (130): e.g. die French episcopal conference has identified "some long-lasting ecumenical groups".)

Conditions for admission:

Where there are recognized circumstances of need, admission is by way of exception, so that in each case the conditions for admission have to be verified by die Catholic minister (131). These are- a spontaneous request; Catholic eucharistic faith: proper dispositions. (The other condition, the unavailability of a minister of his/her own church is always fulfilled in the case of interchurch families, since their need is recognized as the need of the couple to share communion.)

A couple who ask for communion have made their request. The Catholic minister needs to discover: is there a real need in this case'? is the eucharistic faith of the other partner adequate? is lie/she properly disposed to receive the sacrament*?

Since the above was written, Pope John Paul 11 has given us an even simpler statement, in speaking of his 'joy that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer ... the eucharist ... to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive (it), freely request (it) and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to (this sacrament). (Encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint of the Holy Father John Paul /I on Commitment to Ecumenism. 25 May 1995 (46).


Because the Association has inadvertently put out information which may have been misleading, we should like to make the following points.

  1. The AIF leaflet "Sharing Communion" is misleading when it says: "Until the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has issued guidelines. a decision is up to the local bishop - or perhaps priest". What the bishops/episcopal conferences are required to do when they establish guidelines is to establish norms for judging situations of need. and for verifying the conditions for admission (130). If they have not done this, "Catholic ministers will judge... according to the norms of this Directory." Episcopal guidelines can include additional norms identifying other circumstances of need. but they cannot say that mixed marriages between baptized Christians is nor a possible situation of need, since the Directory has identified it as such. It is the Catholic minister who is to judge particular cases.
  2. The January 1994 editorial in Interchurch Families is misleading when it refers to "exceptional occasions". Nowhere does the Directory speak of occasions or of occasional eucharistic sharing (apart from reference to the wedding: 159). It speaks of exceptional sharing, pointing out that in each case the conditions for admission have to be verified. It seems therefore to refer to exceptional cases (i.e. couples with a need to share communion) rather than to exceptional occasions on which admission is possible. Clearly in many cases of mixed marriages between baptized Christians admission to communion would not be appropriate or desired. (This interpretation was suggested in an AIF paper in March 1995. mid seems to be borne out by the encyclical's reference to "certain particular cases".) The needs of particular couples will be different. and the Directory seems to allow a large degree of flexibility to the pastoral minister.