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After 25 Years

Two AIF couples look back - and forward


David is Anglican; Irene is Catholic. David is British; Irene is French. Our wedding in December 1960 took place in a Catholic church amid warnings of the priests and the bare signs of celebration and sacrament allowed us. We knew we were black sheep, but our love for each other was deep, nurtured by five years of waiting and letter-writing which was often about the problems that we could foresee in our allegiances to separate Christian denominations. But we didn't allow them to spoil our joyful day.

Once he had accepted to 'sign his children away', as his family put it at the time, David has always been supportive, insisting that the family must worship together weekly; therefore Anglican communion service for him, Catholic mass for everyone, including him. When Irene was unable to go to mass he still took the children, and as they grew up, when questions and arguments on the Christian way of life came up, they turned to him also for answers. So did Irene, who gradually came to think of David no longer as 'a Christian, but...', but as 'a better Christian than I am'.

Irene decided not to send the children to a Catholic school where there was little talk of ecumenism; would the school realise that David was a Christian too? However, we both ensured that they would be taught the Catholic faith by taking them to catechism classes on Saturdays and helping them with their La Retraite correspondence courses throughout their growing years and our moves as an RAF family.


For many years we felt a common basic faith, but were also very aware of separateness. We were often hurt by each other, and by other Christians. At that time we had no ecumenical aim; we just dealt with situations as they arose. Christening, first communions, and confirmations were tinged every time with sadness and pain because David, as committed a Christian father as any, even on those occasions could not receive Our Lord in the eucharist with the rest of us.

One Catholic priest who did fully recognise David as a Christian had his parish about fifteen miles from our home. So our family traveled there to mass on Sundays, where Irene no longer felt like a second-class Catholic and where David was on the readers' rota. Over this eight year period, it was no wonder that this priest became our family friend and that we grew in trust with each other's differences.

Then came our Marriage Encounter weekend; we felt ourselves renewed as a couple, and were deeply touched by the blessing given to David at the mass in lieu of communion. This gave us an experience of the love of the church for our couple. After our weekend, we realised that the concept of the domestic church gave us the unity denied us by the official churches, and such was the effect of this that we both were inspired to involve ourselves much more in church affairs and pastoral commitment. At about this time, Irene started attending David's church services with him; and as we were gradually accepted by both church communities as a couple and felt more united, it was strange that the pain of separation at communion became more acute.

The visit of the Pope to this country was a time of deep joy and thankfulness for us. Another great source of inspiration was a French Catholic priest who is ecumenical officer in his own diocese. His vision of our couple as a vehicle towards unity rather than a handicap has been life giving to us.

Soon after, we joined the Association of Interchurch Families. It filled our need for mutual support of similar couples. We share a lot, mainly of sadness, of love for both our churches, and of how we suffer for and through our spouse; also of our impatience with what seems to us to be man-made rules and regulations. Again and again, never being allowed to witness at the Lord's table to the unity we live, gives us a share of the pain of Christ in his churches which are separated. We love and respect the Catholic Church and don't want to break its rules, but we long for some sign of reconciliation, some demonstration of the progress made in the last few years, something that the normal Catholic can appreciate and understand. At the same time we see how we are blessed to be witnesses of Christ's possible unity in diversity. One way we have found for daily sharing is in the few minutes spent on Bible study together, using the booklet of the Bible Reading Fel1owship.


On our 25th wedding anniversary we hoped for a really symbolic occasion. David asked our Catholic parish priest, with some diffidence, to receive communion at a celebratory mass. Without offering any promise, he told us that it might be possible, but permission would have to come from the bishop. We both got very excited, and hopefully enquired every Sunday if an answer had been received. When it did come, the reply was devastatingly negative.

The very next weekend, we went with downcast hearts to the Spode conference of Interchurch Families. There, a Catholic bishop gave us over an hour of his time and love in talking out our disappointment. He suggested a mass at which David's Anglican priest would distribute the reserved sacrament at the same moment as the Catholic priest gave communion. We took to this idea immediately, as it would demonstrate most vividly the separateness as well as the partial unity of the Body of Christ. He did us good.

So we obtained an interview with our bishop, and he listened with fatherly concern to our longing for our 25th wedding celebration to be an opportunity for a gathering of Christians worshipping as fully together as the Catholic Church would allow. It was decided to hold the mass in the hall of the local Catholic primary school. We sought to achieve a balance of David's Anglicans, Irene's Catholics, our common Christian friends from Chippenham, encountered couples, our Interchurch Families group, and family, both French and English.

We chose the Mass for the Unity of Christians, and included our choice of readings and hymns. We decided that the collection would be shared between Christian Aid and CAFOD. Our three youngsters, as time went on, were amazed to witness our excitement and involvement; they had never see us like this, especially not David! They gladly accepted to do the readings and serve on the altar.

The Day

Suddenly, (or so it seemed) relatives arrived from France to stay, and the big day brought its last-minute tasks and panics. Then we were at the school door welcoming friends and acquaintances from near and far. Then we were sitting waiting, then both priests entered (Irene's priest had just accepted the presidency of our local council of churches and David's was the vice-president) and an inner calm came over us as we both concentrated on participating to the full. Our first hymn was 'This is the day that the Lord has made'. Our congregation entered into the service as though they all worshipped there together each week. There were about 170 participants with a good mix of all denominations, but the love and acceptance of one another slowly became tangible as the mass progressed. We had two sermons: one on unity, one on marriage. The highlights were the renewal of marriage vows when all the couples stood with us to repeat those well-known phrases, and the sign of peace when the priests of our two parishes gave each other their hands. Communion time expressed what we meant it to.

All too soon it was over, and it was apparent that we were not the only ones to have felt the touch of the Holy Spirit that afternoon. As they shared the refreshments after mass, the openness and friendliness of the people, many of them strangers to one another, was obvious.

Looking back, we feel a sense of achievement. We find ourselves strengthened through this celebration, as if anointed, more at one with each other and as a little church. Nevertheless, we feel chastened at how slow our own progress along the path towards unity has been over 25 years. This reminds us how tolerant we must be towards those who seem indifferent to christian unity.

We know that it was not only through us, but through the love, acceptance and prayer of those taking part that the service became the true corporate worship, reflecting Christ's wish that they may be one in him. We were surprised, and felt humble at how much feedback followed, and how richly people interpreted the celebration in the light of their particular gifts. We have learned a lot about people and about the Holy Spirit, and are starting to wonder what form our ruby wedding anniversary will take - in the year 2000.

Produced by the Association of Interchurch Families, England

Eucharistic Sharing for Interchurch Families
Some applications of the Code (1983) and the Directory (1993)

The French Episcopal Conference, through their Commission for Christian Unity, 1983 
(following the Code, which gives one example of a circumstance of need: danger of death)

Circumstances of need:

Where there is a real need, a proven spiritual desire
deep and continuing bonds of fraternal communion with Catholics
(as lived in certain interchurch families and some long-lasting ecumenical groups)

The conditions:

unambiguous faith in the sacrificial dimension of the eucharist,

the real presence, and
the relationship between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion

an active commitment in the service of the unity which God wills

Who decides?

decisions taken locally to be communicated to the bishop or his ecumenical officer.

The Archbishop of Brisbane: Pastoral Guidelines, 1995 
(following the Directory, which specifically identifies those who share the sacraments of baptism and marriage as in circumstances of possible need)

The spiritual need (where this is for occasional admission):

examples: partner at nuptial mass, parent at baptism, confirmation, 1st communion;
family at funeral
with each case considered on its merit

The spiritual need, (where this is for regular admission):

where each partner lives devotedly within the traditions of his/her church,
making a significant contribution to the ecumenical movement
spouses can experience serious spiritual need each time they are with the family at mass


a request without any kind of pressure
Catholic belief in the eucharist
appropriate dispositions

Who decides? (when the need is for occasional admission)

the presiding priest asks a few simple questions to see if these conditions are met

Who decides? (when the need is for regular admission)

requests should go through the parish priest to the Archbishop or auxiliary bishops

The German Episcopal Conference through their Ecumenical Commission, 1997
(repeated in Austria by the Archbishop of Vienna for his archdiocese, 1997)

The spiritual need:

separation at the Lord's table:
may lead to serious risk to spiritual life and faith of one or both partners
may endanger the integrity of the bond created in life and faith through marriage
may lead to indifference to the sacrament and distancing from family worship and so from life in the Church


to ask of own accord
to be rightly disposed
to manifest Catholic faith in the eucharist - that the crucified and risen Christ
gives himself to us in person in the eucharist as Giver and Gift in bread and wine
and so builds up his Church.
(Commitment to Christ calls also for commitment to his Church)

Who decides?

the need is to be ascertained in pastoral dialogue by the minister with the couple
in some cases "full sharing in the eucharist" will be granted to the non-Catholic partner

The Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference: Directory on Ecumenism, 1998

The spiritual need

since their need is unique (baptismal unity in Christ sealed by sacramental marriage)
both may experience a real need whenever they are together at a eucharistic celebration


the initiative is to come from the person who desires communion
the condition of inability to receive communion from his/her own minister is fulfilled when spouses in a mixed marriage attend a eucharistic celebration together
manifest Catholic faith in the eucharist: this requires unity in the substance of the faith (e.g. in the light of the ARCIC agreement on the eucharist members of the Anglican Communion may be presumed to share the essentials of eucharistic faith with us)
proper dispositions for a fruitful reception

Who decides? (where attendance at mass together is infrequent)

both may receive if it is the spontaneous desire of the non-Catholic partner to do so
(the priest does not have to ask the bishop)

Who decides? (where attendance at mass together is regular)

the non-Catholic partner approaches the Bishop through the parish priest for permission to receive communion every time he/she attends mass with a spouse

(It is assumed that the non-Catholic lives devotedly within his/her tradition. Cases in which the only church the non-Catholic partner attends is the Catholic church are to be referred to the Bishop through the parish priest.)

"Mixed Marriages and their Christian Families" 

Cardinal Willebrands' speech to the Synod of Bishops, 1980

(This text is crucial for an understanding of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law of 1983 on admission to communion (Can.844 dropped the phrase "for a prolonged period" from the condition that the non-Catholic Christian could not have recourse to a minister of his own church) and of the pastoral application of the Code in the Directory issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 1993.)

The Instrumentum Laboris rightly draws attention to the need for a sincere dialogue with Christian families themselves (n.90). Among Christian families there are many which are joined in what we usually call mixed marriages. This is why it is necessary for the Synod also to bear in mind another dialogue, namely the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and other Christian Churches and ecclesial Communities.

Two Joint Commissions - one with the Anglican Communion, the other with the Lutheran and Reformed Churches - have dealt with the Theology of Marriage and the Problems of Mixed Marriages. Both Commissions have prepared reports. From these it is clear that these Churches are already in agreement with us on many elements of the fundamental doctrine concerning marriage and the Christian family: -

a) In particular it is clear that, although these Churches do not call matrimony a sacrament of the New Law, they do acknowledge it to be a sacred reality, a state instituted by the Creator and renewed in Christ as a mystery of the new covenant in Christ with the Church; indeed they admit that it is promised a special grace by Christ. They certainly do not regard matrimony as a merely civil matter.

b) It is also clear that they admit the principle of indissolubility, as taught by Christ our Lord, even though their practice in difficult cases, especially regarding divorce, is very different from ours.

The Orthodox Churches are in total agreement with us about the sacramentality and indissolubility of marriage, although, for different reasons, they admit in certain circumstances the possibility of divorce and so of a new marriage.

Furthermore it is clear from our dialogues that the social and moral problems that beset the Christian family today are felt equally by all Christian Churches and Communities. The Synod should be able to speak of these problems in such a way as will make it easier for other Christians to join their voices with ours to give a common witness to these values which are so endangered today.

It is in light of all this that we should give careful attention to mixed marriages (The more so since such marriages are explicitly treated of in only one paragraph, n.90, of the Instrumentum Laboris). l am speaking of the marriage of a Catholic with a baptized member of another Church or ecclesial community, and particularly of those mixed marriages in which each partner is professing and living the Christian faith in such a way that both are striving to foster 'the unity of their conjugal and family life, a unity which ...... is based on their baptism too' (Matr.Mixta n.14). We know that not every mixed marriage attains to this "ideal" (and we must admit with sorrow that this has to be said of' many marriages between Catholics too). It is hoped that this Synod will not content itself with stating the well known difficulties involved in mixed marriages, but that it will fulfil its pastoral duty in a positive way by addressing to them an evangelical message that will give them new heart and new hope.

We have already seen that the number of mixed marriages is very large. Throughout the world one in every twelve of the marriages solemnised in the Catholic Church is celebrated with a dispensation either from the impediment of mixed religion or from that of disparity of cult. In many countries and dioceses at least one in two marriages of Catholics are with a baptized member of another Church or ecclesial Community.

The Church teaches that every valid marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament which gives rise to 'a certain communion of spiritual benefits' (Matr.Mixta, Proem.). The difference between such marriage and one with a non-baptized person is far from being a merely juridical one; it rests upon a fundamental truth of Catholic doctrine concerning baptism. So it is that the Instrumentum Laboris, especially in its doctrinal section, can speak primarily of the Christian family and has only more rarely to restrict its teaching to the Catholic Christian family. Therefore it can be said of the marriage of two Christians who have been baptized in different Churches, as it is of a marriage between two Christians, that their union is a true sacrament and gives rise to a 'domestic church'; that the partners are called to a unity which reflects the union of Christ with the Church; that the family, as a family, is bound to bear witness before the world, a witness based on that 'spiritual union ...... which is founded on a common faith and hope, and works through love'. Thus 'the family itself, as a little church, is somehow called, in a similar way to the Church itself, to become a sign of unity for the world' (Instr.Lab. 85.).

There are many foundations for such witness. The partners are one in believing marriage to be holy in Christ and in the Church, and therefore indissoluble; in their family life they profess the value of the Christian virtues. Both partners have rights, and duties regarding the religious education of their children, as Pope Paul Vl reminded us inEvangelii Nuntiandi when he said: 'Families resulting from a mixed marriage also have the duty of proclaiming Christ to the children in the fulness of the consequences of a common baptism; they have moreover the difficult task of becoming 'builders of unity' (Ev.Nunt. 7I). The family is also called to help their neighbours in their need, and to do so for Christian motives. Their family life should be nourished by truly Christian prayer, by meditation on the Word of God, by a spirituality which runs through their whole family life.

Such spiritual communion, an outstanding feature in many mixed families too, eventually affects even sacramental life and prompts the partners to ask permission to approach the Holy Eucharist together. For this is a moment at which they keenly feel their division, and also feel keenly their need for the spiritual nourishment that is the Eucharist. In the dialogue with other Churches and ecclesial Communities we have spoken of doctrine about the Eucharist and the Church, and of the relationship between the mystery of the Eucharist and that of the Church. This dialogue is not yet complete, but the differences seem to be less, particularly between Catholics and Anglicans. Christian life in marriage and in the education of children can lead towards unity. Therefore I wish to ask whether the time has now come to study afresh the possibility of admitting the non-Catholic partners in mixed marriages to Eucharist Communion in the Catholic Church, obviously in individual cases and after due examination. The Catholic Church, in the Instruction of June 1972, has already recognized the possibility of such admission as long as a number of conditions are fulfilled: it is required that the non-Catholic Christian should profess a eucharistic faith in conformity with that of the Catholic Church; that he should ask for Communion of his own accord; and that he should experience a real need for this sacrament. This need is described in the following terms: - 'A need for an increase in spiritual life and a need for a deeper involvement into the mystery of the Church and of its unity' (IV,2: AAS LXIV 523a.) It seems to me that these conditions are often fulfilled in mixed marriages. But there is a fourth condition: it is required that the non-Catholic Christian be able for a prolonged period to have recourse to a minister of his own Church. To my mind this condition is less closely connected with eucharistic doctrine and faith. Such a study will also need to study the pressures for 'reciprocity' (that is, allowing the Catholic partner to approach the Eucharist of another Church): the Catholic Church cannot grant such reciprocity in the case of those Churches which we believe, 'especially because of the lack (defectus) of the sacrament of Orders, have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery' (Unit.Red. 22). This is a serious difficulty, but it should not prevent the undertaking of this study.

Between the Catholic Church and other Churches the degrees of communion vary. The Orthodox Churches 'are joined to us in a very close relationship' (Matr.Mixta, 'Proem) and this 'almost total communion' had found initial expression in the legislation of the Decree Crescens Matrimoniorum. The Churches that take their origin from the Reformation are established in a real, though not perfect, communion with the Catholic Church (cfr.Unit.Red. 3). This communion should find expression in our pastoral practice regarding family life. The Catholic Church cannot acknowledge mixed marriages to be the ordinary means for the restoration of unity among Christians (Instr.Lab. 90), but it should show a real 'solicitude' for mixed families. For a mixed marriage that is inspired by a Christian spirit can do much to further the unity of Christians.

Over and above the witness given by families themselves, we should also consider the common witness that Christian Churches and Communities should give on behalf of Christian marriage and the Christian family. As I have already said, our dialogue has shown some convergences in doctrine; and, despite serious differences on some moral issues, on others there is no disagreement between us. The way is thus open to a common witness on behalf of Christian marriage, a witness already called for by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury in their Common Declaration of 1977 (AAS LXIX 287-8).

An important way of giving such witness is through the pastoral care, wherever possible the joint pastoral care, of mixed marriages. This has been widely accepted in principle (a principle stated in norm 14 of Matrimonia Mixta), but much remains to be done to put this principle into practice, particularly as regards preparation for marriage and also the provision of proper help in the first years of family life. It is to be hoped that this Synod will urge priests to take this duty very seriously and to seek suitable collaboration with ministers of other Churches. Above all, the parish communities from which mixed marriage partners come can give them enormous help in strengthening their family unity and in making their own contribution to the life and unity of the Church. Pastoral care, skilfully given, can help to allay the unnecessary suspicions and friction which can arise in this connection.

Finally, you will note that the words 'unio' and 'communio' occur on almost every page of our Instrumentum Laboris. As is obvious, these refer first and foremost to the unity of the family itself. But when we find these words in the context of mixed marriages we may also see a reference to the overall quest for Christian unity. 'The family can respond to the desire of the Lord "that they may be one".' (Instr. Lab. 52).

Johannes Cardinal Willebrands

Produced by Association of Interchurch Families, England

First Communion

Since the early part of this century the practice of the Roman Catholic Church has been to admit children to First Communion at an early age: at seven or even earlier. There is a tendency in large families for the age to become earlier with each child, as the older children teach the younger and as these aspire to share the status and privileges of the older. The practice has proved spiritually very fruitful: there can be a real grasp by young children of the meaning of Communion, which then becomes for them a focus for the development of a personal christian life. There has been some movement in the same direction in the Church of England, as many in that Church have come to favour an earlier age for First Communion. The matter reached debate in the General Synod, but there was not sufficient support for a change in the rule. So the general Anglican practice, with the equivalent in the Free Churches, remains that First Communion and communicant status follow Confirmation in the early teens.

One result of the Roman Catholic practice is that there are no separate Children's Services in church while the adults celebrate the Sunday Eucharist. Children share their parents' worship, are gradually acclimatised to the celebration of the eucharistic liturgy, and can have it progressively explained to them. They ask questions! Sometimes there are Children's Masses, not only in schools but in parish churches.

A further result is that for Roman Catholic children their First Communion, carefully prepared for and splendidly celebrated both in church and in the family, is a golden moment of childhood clearly remembered all their lives; it is their great moment of personal initiation, their first commitment. The result is that Confirmation is reduced in importance, is less of an occasion, and cannot be experienced as 'the moment of personal commitment'. The First Communion leads immediately to subsequent Communions, to a growing understanding of the Church's liturgy, and to commitment repeatedly renewed within this growing understanding. So commitment is experienced as a process of continual growth rather than as a specially prepared personal decision at some turning-point in life.

A final consequence of Roman Catholic practice is that an interchurch couple have to choose for the children, willy-nilly, whether they are to make their First Communion in the Roman Catholic Church, even if in principle they would prefer to give the children some choice in the matter themselves. It is a choice that cannot be made in a vacuum; it does not come upon the parents out of the blue and cannot be sprung suddenly on the child. Rather is it a choice that will grow out of all other choices the parents have successively made; about baptism, about family practice of public worship, about schooling.

It is perhaps worth mentioning in passing that the Roman Catholic parish priest has the responsibility of seeing that the baptised children of his parish make their First Communion. Hence he has the responsibility of seeing that they are properly prepared for it. But that is not to say that the parish priest has the right to say when a child is or is not psychologically ready for Communion. Only the parents can really know this and so, if one is to talk of rights at all, then this decision rests with them. But it can be a matter where some tact and delicacy is required, and where good personal relations with the parish priest are needed. In general, the more the parents in the parish are concerned about the religious upbringing and the First Communion of their children, the less will the parish priest need to concern himself or take any initiative.

With the spread of Roman Catholic primary schools there has developed the custom of having First Communion classes where all the children of the same age are prepared together, and this leads up to the day when they make their First Communion together. This then tends to be more a school event than a family event, or at least to be a peer group event since it matters to children to be together with their friends. But efforts are always made to involve the parents and the whole family as much as possible. The whole procedure, however, may cause difficulties for the interchurch couple. They may have reason to be anxious about the exclusivist nature of the teaching given. And it is inevitably a one-church operation leading up, as things still stand, to the exclusion of the non-RC parent from receiving Holy Communion on this very special occasion with his or her own child and perhaps other children. One can only urge that interchurch couples should keep up an unremitting plea, and an increasing one, that the present discipline should be changed to one that is sympathetic to their spiritual need. They should not be discouraged even though several years of effort have so far produced no result. The 'problem' must be seen to increase rather than to go away.

The real preparation of any child for Holy Communion is in the whole life of the family, and schools know very well that their proper task is to build on the basis provided by the family. So, because of the difficulties indicated, it must be a real question for the two-church couple, if the child is to make First Communion in the Roman Catholic Church, whether they should not undertake the particular preparation themselves. And perhaps the ideal might be that this preparation should lead up to First Communion at a house Mass.

Before Vatican II Holy Communion and preparation for it tended to be considered in an over individualistic way. And one has to admit that the provisions for eucharistic hospitality indicated at Vatican II and developed as a discipline in subsequent documents still look no further than the spiritual needs of individuals. They have not reckoned with the spiritual needs of ecumenical families or other ecumenical bodies. Yet by and large Vatican II recaptured the vision of the Eucharist as essentially corporate in nature, and subsequent liturgical reform has emphasised this and made it part of everyday experience. You are the Body of Christ, St Paul was able to say. And for many centuries (until the western mind got busy with its distinctions) the church in East and West held firmly to the deep and mysterious unity between the bodily self and the risen Lord, the community of baptised and believing Christians, and the mystery-body (or body in 'the mysteries') of the Lord in the Eucharist. They are one mystery-reality of God's self-gift to men, which our understanding will not exhaust and should imply receive in faith. It brings us up short when Augustine can say in an instruction to catechumens: when the priest administering Communion says, 'The Body of Christ', you say 'Amen', meaning 'Yes, we are' (That is a paraphrase.) 1t is because you are the Body of Christ by baptism that you can and do celebrate the Eucharist. Well, if we are to take seriously Vatican II's saying that the family is the domestic Church, this surely has its application to the two-Church family. They are the immediate reality of the Church, the Body of Christ, for this child. They have a claim, which cannot simply be set aside, to be the christian community in which the child should be prepared for and should celebrate the Eucharist.

All the questions with which two-church parents have wrestled tend to converge at this point of First Communion; questions about dual loyalty or dual membership, both of the parents and of the children. They can only be briefly indicated here.

If the child receives Communion in the Roman Catholic Church, is this with the intention that he or she should then also communicate in the Church of the other parent? As a communicant member of the Roman Catholic Church the child falls within the theoretical rules of Anglican and Free Churches about admitting communicant members, and it may cause considerable difficulty to the minister to admit a Roman Catholic child when he does not communicate children of that age in his own Church. So to avoid any embarrassment. the matter will need to be handled personally with the minister.

Nor, of course, can such an arrangement simply be sprung on the child. It would have to be led up to, and be expected and welcomed, in the light of previous patterns of church-going.

What, in effect, has been the meaning of the child's baptism? This is not a legal question about the way the child was baptised, but a substantial question about the child's upbringing.

One appreciates that at the time of baptism it matters greatly to the parents that the baptism should be shared as fully as possible by both their two Churches; if possible that both should regard the child as a member. The theological understanding that many AIF parents have preferred is that the child should be baptised into the One Church of Christ as it exists in the two Churches of the parents. But often at the point of baptism parents have to a greater or lesser extent been disappointed about securing the co-operation they would have liked, and it has seemed appropriate to say to them; 'Never mind; what really matters to the child is the way he or she is brought up to regard and to experience both the Churches.'

So, do you think that dual loyalty or 'dual membership' is theologically meaningful, and desirable, and practicable? AIF parents have to some extent differed in their answers to these questions. Some have thought that a child of seven cannot psychologically have a dual loyalty; others that the children easily accept the attitude of their parents as something entirely normal, when this is conveyed to them without strain. It may be worthwhile to look back at the questionnaire and appended comments published for and discussed at the Spode House meeting in September 1978. The comments on questions of dual membership were very diverse and rich in insight, and could not easily be summarised. But it seemed to appear that the more loosely the idea of dual membership was interpreted, the more parents found it meaningful and important, so that a considerable majority were in favour of it both for parents and for children.

As will be apparent, these reflections raise questions rather than provide answers. They are intended to help reflection and discussion between parents or in groups. Holy Communion is at once a sharing with the risen Lord and a sharing with the human community in which he dwells. So for children as well as for parents any real sharing in and with the christian community will press for sharing in the Eucharist, both to celebrate the bond of unity that is already there and to deepen it.

John Coventry, S.J.

Produced by the Association of Interchurch Families, England

An Interchurch Family First Communion:
Our Crisis Point

Enormous division

It took us a long time to decide to get married. How could we hope to have a united family life when one of us was a Roman Catholic and the other a member of the Church of England? Our churches are divided. They have been divided for hundreds of years, with a history of mutual persecution and bitterness behind them. In 1960 it seemed an enormous divide to bridge.

We were already both committed to working for Christian unity. In fact it was in planning a service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that we came very close together and realised with a real sense of shock that we had "fallen in love". But that did not necessarily mean that we should marry one another. There were far too many obstacles in the way. We both had firm denominational loyalties as well as our commitment to Christian unity. In those days both partners in a mixed marriage had to promise to bring up any children they might have as Roman Catholics, in order to have their marriage recognised by the Catholic Church. Martin could not make such a promise in conscience, and Ruth could not enter into a marriage not recognised by her church.

God's calling to marriage

Yet over the following few years we came to feel a strong sense that it was God who was calling us to marry one another. We didn't then have the language to express it, but now we would recognise it as, in the words of a Catholic theologian, a "baptismal con-vocation " - a call from God to weave together our baptismal lives in marriage. It was a call to live together as an image of the church, loving one another as Christ loves the church, sharing in the love with which the Father loves the Son. We knew we were fundamentally united in baptism - this great re-discovery of the Second Vatican Council was in the air - and the more we explored our faith together and prayed together the more we felt strongly united in our baptismal faith. We had endless theological discussions, sometimes heated ones. We began to see that often things which, on the surface, appeared to be mutually contradictory were either complementary or even different ways of expressing the same reality. We realised that far from being any threat to our faith, marriage would necessarily lead to a deeper understanding of our own as well as of the other's tradition.

We came to feel that we really were called by God to share our lives together as married partners, totally committed to one another in love for the rest of our lives. But to become partners is not the same thing as becoming parents. Parents are far more responsible for the faith of their children, when they are young, than spouses are for one another's faith. How could we possibly decide in which church to bring up any children we might have? There seemed to be no solution. And yet the sense of being called to marry one another persisted.

When we married we hadn't solved the problem. But we were immensely fortunate. With great pastoral sensitivity Cardinal Suenens, Archbishop of Malines in Belgium (in whose diocese Ruth was living at the time) decided that Martin need make no promise about the upbringing of any children we might have, although this was at the time required by canon law. Martin simply made a statement explaining his position and also saying that he would do nothing to cut Ruth off from her church. (Nobody ever suggested that Ruth should make any promise either; it was simply assumed that she would want to share her Catholic faith with any children.)

Parents and partners

It was only the experience of being married, committed to one another in love, worshipping together in both our churches week by week, that helped us to see that a child could perhaps come into this unity which was growing and deepening between us all the time, and be brought up in both our church communities. Our son was born on the very day in 1970 that a motu proprio from Rome was published on mixed marriages. It made the seemingly revolutionary change that no longer was a promise necessary from the non-Catholic partner, while the Catholic partner was to do all that he or she could for the Catholic baptism and upbringing of any children. It was an acknowledgement that both parents are responsible for the religious upbringing of their children, and that a decision on how this is to be done should not be enforced unilaterally. Again we were fortunate. "I don't see how it will work", said our Catholic parish priest when we told him that we intended to bring up our little son within both our church communities. "I don't think it's a good idea. But if that's what you've decided, I shall do all I can to support you in it. "

It was not easy to arrange our little son's baptism. The problems cast a shadow over the second half of Ruth's pregnancy and the first months of his fife. Yet facing those very problems together may well have helped us to grow in unity as a couple during that vulnerable period when we had to begin to learn to be parents as well as partners. In the end we celebrated his baptism with great joy in the way that we had hoped. It had been worth the long wait. Ministers of both our churches took part and we had baptismal certificates from our two churches to reassure us that in some sense both had accepted responsibility with us for our son's Christian upbringing. Two years later when our daughter was born it was all much easier -as measured by the way the baptismal robe was cut down to fit her!

Our pattern of church-going continued - if inevitably in a more haphazard way - when there were children to share in it. We still knew it was very important for us to be together at the eucharist, but church-going twice on a Sunday did not always seem the best way to build up our family life when young children were involved. So it was often a case of being together as a family in one church, with one of us receiving communion and the other sitting with the children or going up with them to receive a blessing at the time of communion. The one who had not been able to receive communion when we were together, went off alone to another service. It didn't seem right - but after all our churches are not in communion with each other, and we had decided to stick with them both. It seemed inevitable. The Reformation divide goes deep. Happily there were occasions when we found we could receive communion together, but they were rare and it never happened in our local situation, week by week, which was where we needed it.

First communion: crisis point

The great crisis point for our family came when our children were due to make their first communion in the Roman Catholic Church. This was at an earlier age am was normal in the Church of England - our son was eight and our daughter six - but we felt that they were ready. They were well prepared at their Catholic school, and we shared in the process as much as we could.

The children were happily absorbed in the preparations, and we shared in their joy, but for us the prospect was daunting. We had managed to keep a balance between our two church communities until now, sharing in the fife of both as much as we could, but now wouldn't our family begin to feel lop-sided? And how would we feel if Martin could not receive communion on this special day for our family? Encouraged by what seemed to be a sermon from our Catholic curate, Ruth tentatively (and unwisely) broached the subject with him. She was reduced to tears by his look of shocked horror and his total incomprehension of what sharing communion on this special day would mean to us as a couple and family. Anger at this complete lack of understanding mingled with the pain of feeling totally rejected. The children tried to comfort her without knowing what it was all about. Martin was away a lot at the time.

The Vatican II Decree on Ecumenism (1964) had said that sacramental sharing was sometimes to be commended, and that the concrete decision with reference to circumstances of time, place and person was to be made by the local bishop. So Martin wrote to our local Catholic bishop asking if he could join his wife and children in receiving communion on that special day. We waited in trepidation for a reply, not daring to hope too much, but determined not too despair too quickly. The bishop was away. It seemed a very long wait. Eventually the answer came. No, he could not give permission. He felt that there had been many such cases over the years and if one started making exceptions now, it could be very much a thing to upset people. We thought it was a strange reason for refusing.

What should we do? The very act of asking had given us hope, and the waiting for a reply had made it more important to get a yes, not less. Ruth couldn't stop thinking about it. After all, it was something which deeply affected our married unity, and the problem was coming from her church, so she felt especially responsible. A thought came. What if we delayed our children's first communion until we were in a situation where we could all receive communion together - of those rare occasions we mentioned before - maybe celebrating in the context of a meeting of interchurch families, which would make a lot of sense to us.

But would it make sense to the children? After all, a great deal of their preparation for first communion had taken place in a group, with their peers, and they would want the celebration to take place in the context of that group. If our needs and the children's conflicted, theirs must take precedence.

Consulting the children

In the end, after much anxious heart-searching, we decided to ask them what they wanted. Was it too much of a burden to put on them? We didn't know for sure; we could only do the best we could in the circumstances. We decided to share with them something of our sorrow that our churches are not in communion with one another; we stressed, too, that we as a family shared a real communion in Christ in our home, and we were enriched by our belonging together in two different Christian traditions -just as they already had two different sets of friends because of it.

We explained that they could decide to celebrate their first communion with the group with which they had gone through all the preparations, or they could wait until Daddy could have communion too, and we could be a family together. We tried not to put any pressure on them; just to explain that they couldn't do both.

They decided differently. For our daughter, the most important thing was that she would receive her first communion with her best friend - they were rarely apart if they could help it. She was sorry about Daddy, of course, but her choice was clear, and she looked forward to receiving communion as a family later on. Our son's choice was clear too. He said that he didn't want to receive his first communion unless his father could receive with him. So it seemed settled for a time.

But it wasn't really. Ruth got more and more anxious. She felt the tension that was building up, as our son realised that he would be the only one of the group not receiving his first communion. He was clearly feeling the strain. And what about the following months when he would have to watch his younger sister receiving communion and he wouldn't yet be able to do so? How would we survive that situation, especially at a time when Martin was away such a lot?

A way through

One day Ruth was in the kitchen. Suddenly it was like a shining light from heaven, which illuminated the whole situation and cut through all the tensions. In an instant everything was settled. We would arrange a pre-first communion, when we could all receive together as a family, and then afterwards the children could celebrate together with all their friends, receiving communion with them too when they celebrated their first communion.

And that is how it was. We set off early on Sunday morning, a week before the first communion celebration was to take place on the Saturday, the children bearing home-made gifts for the priest-friend who was to give them their first holy communion - an egg-cosy, a book mark. It was a startlingly bright spring day, with daffodils in full bloom. The day matched the joy in our hearts. We were celebrating together, as a family should. The little community we joined sang all the songs the children were familiar with. They felt thoroughly at home. They could grasp the meaning of the short sermon. We all received communion under both kinds (very important for Martin) - and that was something not allowed at the official first communion.

The day cast its lingering brightness over the week, including the following Saturday. Ruth thought she should explain the situation to tile sisters at school - in case they heard a garbled version from our excited daughter which they wouldn't understand. To her relief they thought it all perfectly normal. "But", they said, "it would be better not to mention it to the parish priest; he might be disturbed." (He was elderly and conservative.)

Learning from experience

Looking back now, twenty years on, we feel an enormous sense of gratitude to our eight-year old son. If it hadn't been for his decision, we wouldn't have had that experience which was a transforming one for our whole family fife. Because after that, we couldn't go back. It was an Emmaus experience. We had to find a way to continue to receive communion together as a family - and we did, with considerable difficulties and ups-and-downs, in different parts of the country and in different Catholic parishes, right up to the time when our children went to university. That experience convinced us that this was the right thing to do. We knew too that for balance in our family it must go both ways. With less difficulty, but with considerable pastoral adaptation to the needs of children younger than those normally receiving communion in the Church of England, we were able to receive together as a family there too.

Because of our son, we had learned that we must accept our responsibility as parents to do what we decided was best for our family.' We learned that there are some decisions which cannot be left to other authorities, and that when the communities to which we belong and which we love seem to be pulling us in different directions, we must not allow ourselves to be divided as a family or as a couple. We rejoice that over the years which have passed since our children's first communionthe rules in the Roman Catholic Church and the attitudes in all the churches have changed enormously. It is our deep desire that, in the short term, a growing number of interchurch families will be able to affirm and deepen their unity as domestic church by receiving communion together much more freely and openly than we have been able to do. In the long term we pray that our churches will grow together into one family, one church, celebrating together the foretaste of the Lamb's marriage supper to which we are all called, to which all humankind is invited.

Ruth and Martin Reardon