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This article was published in the January 1995 issue of The Journal.

Two By Two

When we meet as interchurch families in an international conference (as at Bellinter in 1994) we realise afresh that many such families share the same aspirations throughout the world: to develop our spiritual hfe as a couple, to share the riches of both our traditions with our children, and to help our churches forward on their way to unity.

But these same aspirations are lived out against very different backgrounds. Situations differ so much that it is not surprising that on so delicate a matter as admission to communion the 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, strongly recommends episcopal conferences or diocesan bishops to establish local norms for the application of the general norms given in the Directory (n.130).

Tills is not easy for episcopal conferences. Even within particular countries there is already an extraordinary difference in the way interchurch families are treated where admission to communion is concerned. In England, for example, in some Catholic parishes couples may often be able to receive communion together with the knowledge and support of the parish priest and members of the community, in others this is possible on special occasions, in others it is regarded as impossible, so that if couples deeply need to receive communion together they have to go elsewhere. In one diocese a Catholic bishop is "very happy" to admit to communion on the occasion of a child's First Communion; in another a bishop refuses because he does not think a First Communion is an exceptional occasion in the sense intended by the 1993 Directory. How can we move forward? So far as we know no episcopal conference has yet responded to the "strong recommendation" of th

e 1993 Directory by establishing local norms. The French bishops, however, have pointed out that they do not need to do so, since their 1983 Note on Eucharistic Hospitality had covered the ground. How did they tackle the question in 1983? First, they stated that their intention was to encourage "a just assessment of particular cases". Next, they laid down their conditions. For admission to communion there must be a "real need" experienced and expressed. There must be deep andcontinuing bonds of communion with Catholics - such as are lived in certain interchurch families (foyers mixtes) and in some long-lasting ecumenical groups.

There must be an unambiguous faith with respect to the sacrificial dimension of the memorial, the real presence, and the relation between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion. There must be active commitment in the service of the unity which God wills. Conscientious decisions about admission to communion could be made on a local level, referring these to the bishop or to priests specially appointed by him for ecumenical relations.

The French bishops were writing ten years before the 1993 Directory specifically referred to "exceptional eucharistic sharing" for mixed marriages between baptised Christians. They placed their explicit reference to interchurch families against a wider background of ecumenical commitment. They did not try to establish a list 9f suitable occasions for the admission of interchurch families to communion (any such list would be inappropriate in the case of some mixed marriages between baptised Christians, and unduly restrictive in others). Instead, they concentrated on encouraging a just assessment, made at local level, of the particular needs of particular couples, based on the conditions which they had laid down. The 1993 Directory has vindicated their approach.

In Christian marriage we travel towards the Kingdom two by two. Each couple is unique; each couple has different needs on its journey. Catholic ministers are asked to act justly in response to the real needs expressed by particular couples and families.

This is presumably what the Directory requires when it states that, if there are no norms laid down by the episcopal conference or the bishop, Catholic ministers are to "judge individual cases" in accordance with the norms of the Directory itself (n.130). Looked at in this light, what is now required of interchurch couples who feel the need to share communion, is perhaps not so much that they should look for "exceptional occasions" but that they should stress their "exceptional needs".

Ruth Reardon