Main Menu  


Occasions or Cases?


I have been moved to put my thoughts on paper in part because of a recent article in one of our Canadian Catholic papers, The Prairie Messenger, in which a good article on interchurch marriages was referred to as concerning "interfaith" relationships. Clearly, there is still a great need for education and growth in awareness as to the difference between the two. That aside, however, the main point that persuaded me to write was the fact that, at the workshop which was being reported, people were asking that the bishop should outline occasions or events at which a non-Catholic could receive communion.

I am somewhat concerned that this question should arise in that format. I doubt if any bishop would, or even could, provide such a list, other than, for example, the occasion of a wedding between a Catholic and someone from another Christian tradition. That is not my main concern. Rather it is that I believe such a question is reflective of a cloudy understanding among Catholics of the whole question of admission to communion.


Such a question asks for a listing of occasions or events. Yet clearly the 1993 Ecumenical Directory does not speak of these, but rather of "cases". I am not totally clear about the meaning here, but my thoughts are that the case in question is that of the couple, rather than the occasion or event in which the couple find themselves. As such, it makes sense that eucharistic sharing be exceptional. Unless and until the case of the couple is such that it meets the conditions specified, there can be no admission to eucharistic sharing. 

One of the conditions for eucharistic sharing is that there be a grave need. It is unfortunately true that many couples, even those who share the same Catholic faith, do not experience a grave (i.e. "weighty", "heavy") and pressing need to share the eucharist. How then could a list of occasions or events be given in which eucharistic sharing is allowed, when there is no evidence of need?

(I would like to share here a thought which comes from my Anglican wife Fenella, and which I believe warrants real attention. She had clearly been upset with the use of the word "case", and I could not understand why. As we shared our thoughts, however, the reason became obvious. She was rightly seriously concerned that the use of such a word tends to make us the problem, or the people with a problem. Further, it dehumanizes us, making us something less than we are, and therefore something easier to deal with or to disregard. Unfortunately that is, in the present state of the Church's development, the word we live with and so, having expressed that serious misgiving, I will continue.)

At the same time, if I use Fenella and myself as an example, we do find that in our case we experience a grave and pressing need to share the eucharist together. In fact, at those times when she has chosen, for whatever reason, not to receive, I find it profoundly difficult to go up myself to receive. It is extremely difficult for me to receive the sacrament of unity when I know that, for whatever reason, my wife and I are not able to be united at the table. I find myself in the excruciating situation of having one sacrament of unity stand in the way of another, and make the second impossible to be fully lived.

The conditions

This would not be so bad or so difficult if it were not for the fact that the conditions for admission are so patently met in my wife:

1 she is unable to have recourse to a minister of her own church at this celebration (I emphasise this because, even if she could immediately go down the street to "her own" church, the fact is that we are here, now, in this celebration of the eucharist);

2 she would freely come forward to receive (i.e. "ask") of her own initiative; and

3 she clearly manifests Catholic faith in the eucharist, and is properly disposed.

Enter into dialogue

Yet, until such time as we believe there is a reasonable hope of having our case heard and favourably responded to, we will not ask permission. It is, after all, much harder for someone to back-track on a decision incorrectly made than to make the correct one in the first place. And so, until we have reasonable assurance that permission would be granted if requested, we will not ask, but simply live with the struggle, choosing to receive together when we believe it is appropriate.

Included in this judgement of appropriateness is not only satisfaction of the three conditions given above. (There may, after all, be times when we sense no grave and pressing need to receive together.) There are also factors such as whether the liturgy (the songs, the prayers, the Scriptures, the homily) evidences an openness, a welcome to us both. And so, we find ourselves listening with a far greater awareness to the liturgy. This has itself been a though sometimes a difficult one, as we come to discover that at times we Catholics have not made the liturgy a true sign of welcome to the people.


I would like here to add something which I think is critically important, namely that in deciding to receive without permission, we are to some extent stepping outside the rules of the Church. We recognize we must take responsibility before God for our own decisions. We do so, however, believing that in each case where we do receive there is good and sufficient reason to justify the action, not that it is simply something we do at whim. And, we recognize that we could be wrong.

For the moment, however, let us put aside Fenella's and my particular circumstances. If my understanding of the word case is correct (i.e. to be seen as the couple rather than the occasion), then we should be able to encourage interchurch couples truly to search their hearts, to see if there is reasonable cause to believe that their case meets the conditions, and, if so, to enter into dialogue with their pastor and ordinary, until such time as there is reason to believe permission might be granted if requested.

Until then, let us not ask for a list of occasions, but rather act according to the results of our own search, in honesty and integrity before God.

Ray Temmerman