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This article was published in the Summer 1999 issue of The Journal.


A Response From an Interchurch Point of View

One Bread One Body is a document of great importance for interchurch families in Britain and Ireland. What follows is a considerably shortened version of a commentary which appears in One in Christ 1999 no.2. This is a personal contribution by the secretary of the Association of Interchurch Families (England). It is not about "intercommunion", generalised eucharistic sharing between members of different churches. It is about what is possible now for interchurch families, in terms of the exceptional admission to communion authorised in the Roman Catholic Church by the Code of Canon Law (1983) and the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome(1993). Much of the criticism directed at One Bread One Body seems, quite unrealistically, to expect local bishops to go beyond the general law of the church.

One Bread One Body, published on 1st October 1998 by the three Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, Ireland and Scotland, offers, as its sub-title states, both "a teaching document on the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and the establishment of general norms on sacramental sharing". 

A comparison

Different diocesan bishops and episcopal conferences have responded differently to the reference in the 1983 Code (can.844, 5) and the 1993 Directory (130) to their producing their own norms on admission to the sacraments. In 1983 The French bishops issued a Note on Eucharistic Hospitality, which they said needed no updating after the appearance of the Ecumenical Directory in 1993. At Easter 1995 the Archbishop of Brisbane issued an attractively produced 8-page booklet entitled Blessed and Broken: Pastoral Guidelines for Eucharistic Hospitality. In February 1997 the German bishops issued a short text on Eucharistic Sharing in Interchurch Marriages and Families. In January 1998 the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a Directory on Ecumenism in Southern Africa in the course of which they established their norms on sacramental sharing.

One Bread One Body establishes norms on sacramental sharing in the final section (17 pages) of an 80-page book that sells at £4.95. Here I shall compare it with these other documents, and also with the shorter draft for establishing norms sent out for limited consultation by the bishops of England and Wales in 1996.

The background

Work on establishing norms in response to the 1993 Directory has been going on in England and Wales for a long time. A first draft was prepared by the Bishops’ Committee for Christian Unity and sent to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for comment. The Council sent back a copy of the French Bishops’ document of 1983 as a better example of the kind of text required. That was in 1994. A second draft was ready by the beginning of 1996. It was expected that the Low Week meeting would approve it; instead it was sent out for limited consultation and deferred until the November meeting. (Parts of this document were used in One Bread One Body.) 

At this stage the Association of Interchurch Families in England offered to become involved as a national body in the process. AIF wrote to all the bishops of England and Wales before the November 1996 meeting with two specific requests, and suggested a meeting of interchurch families and bishops. (The requests were that the bishops acknowledge that the Directory had identified interchurch marriages as in possible need of eucharistic sharing; and that they recognise that in some cases that need might be on-going, not occasional).

In February 1997 eight members of interchurch families and two of the bishops on the drafting group, with the two secretaries respectively of the Bishops’ Committees for Christian Unity and for Marriage and Family Life in England and Wales, had a two-hour meeting. The interchurch families were told that the bishops were starting on a new text and that the process might take two years. They were able to appreciate more directly the problems of the bishops in coming to a common mind on a subject that aroused diverse and deeply felt responses among themselves. They were able to express their own experienced need for eucharistic sharing on a continuing basis, for the sake of strengthening their marriages and family life. They felt that they received a sympathetic hearing, although they would have liked time to discuss with the bishops how the norms might be applied to allow this. There was no suggestion then that the task of establishing norms would be undertaken on a wider basis than that of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales. So far as I know interchurch families in Ireland and Scotland were not consulted when later the other episcopal conferences joined in the work.

A teaching document

The 1996 draft was short. It introduced the norms on sacramental sharing established by the 1993 Directory and stated the norms that the bishops of England and Wales derived from them.

One Bread One Body has a wider intention. Its "primary purpose is to present the teaching of the Catholic Church on the mystery of the Eucharist." (2) Its second purpose is "to establish the norms to govern sharing of the sacraments between Catholics and other Christians in our countries" (8); norms that "can be developed and changed over time". 

The bishops express their "keen desire to safeguard the integrity of the Eucharist" (8); they are concerned that when someone receives a sacrament he or she should understand what the Church means by it. They focus particularly on "the intimate connection between the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the Eucharist."

"Our Catholic Faith"

Nearly 40 pages, or half of the book – is devoted to a presentation of Catholic eucharistic faith. This work is a real service to ecumenical understanding, and should be widely studied and discussed in ecumenical groups. It should help other Christians to get inside the Catholic perspective, and to see why from that perspective eucharistic sharing is not normally allowed. 

It is not possible even to outline this very rich section of the document here, but I should refer to one point that is particularly relevant to interchurch couples. One of the conditions for admitting the other Christian partner to communion is that he or she should "manifest Catholic faith in the eucharist". Some spouses have been told that they cannot receive communion in the Catholic Church because they do not believe in transubstantiation. This word (an unnecessary source of confusion today, and widely misunderstood by Catholics as well as by other Christians) has been relegated to an explanatory footnote (105) and belief in the eucharistic presence of Christ is expounded without using it.

"Our Catholic Faith" explains to other Christians who ask for communion in the Catholic Church what "manifesting Catholic faith in the eucharist" means (114). Other episcopal statements establishing norms on sacramental sharing have tried to do this more briefly. The French bishops in 1983 asked for "an unambiguous faith in the sacrificial dimension of the memorial, in the real presence and in the relationship between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion." The German bishops explained the Catholic faith in the eucharist necessary for admission to communion as follows: "namely that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ gives himself to us in person in the eucharist as Giver and Gift in bread and wine and so builds up his church." The same three elements of sacrificepresence and eucharist/church relationship are present in both the French and German statements. 

The Southern African bishops noted the "crucial distinction between the substance of the faith and the way it is expressed." They say that "due cognisance must be taken of those ecumenical agreements that display the existence of a substantial agreement in faith. One example of such an agreement is that which was reached by the Anglican and Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC) regarding the eucharist. In the light of that agreement, members of the Anglican Communion may be presumed to share the essentials of eucharistic faith with us." 

The ARCIC statement of 1971, confirmed in 1994, dealt with the same three aspects of the eucharist which are identified as essential to Catholic faith by the French and German bishops: the church/eucharist relationship ("The identity of the church as the body of Christ is both expressed and effectively proclaimed by its being centred in, and partaking of, his body and blood"); the eucharist and the sacrifice of Christ; and the presence of Christ in the eucharist.

The British and Irish bishops start with a welcome section on "The Eucharist and the Word of God", before they go on to "The Eucharist as Memorial of Christ’s sacrifice", "The Eucharist and the presence of Christ", and "Holy Communion and Full Communion" (on the eucharist/church relationship). They finish with a reference which gives the impression of being added at the last minute, but is important, when they say that the celebration of the eucharist commits us to the poor and should flow into social action.(67) The section on "Holy Communion and Full Communion" is of particular concern to them (8).

Holy Communion and Full Communion

For our purpose two sentences seem very important. The bishops say: "We believe that when a person receives Communion at a Eucharistic celebration, he or she should be expressing a deep unity of faith and love with that particular community, and with the wider communion to which that community belongs. Normally when people receive Holy Communion at a Catholic celebration of Mass, they should be saying: ‘We are in full communion with the Catholic Church, united with the bishop of this local community and with the Pope’" (62). What do they require here from Christians of other communions who ask for communion in the Catholic Church? Surely they are asking for a recognition that it is not normal for the Catholic Church to grant such a request; and that where it is granted there needs to be a "deep unity of faith and love" both with the particular Catholic community in which the eucharist is being celebrated, and also with the wider Roman Catholic Church. This is part of what is meant by "manifesting Catholic faith in the eucharist".

This passage is encouraging for some interchurch families, who may well feel it describes their position. The other Christian spouse cannot say: ""I am in full communion with the Catholic Church, united with the bishop of this local community and with the Pope", because he or she is a loyal member of a Christian communion for which this is not true. Normally he or she would expect to receive eucharistic communion within that ecclesial communion. But in marriage, which is "an intimate community of life and love" (Gaudium et Spes 48) the partners remain different persons but not separate persons. They are brought sacramentally into the one-flesh relationship that represents so close a communion of love that it can be taken as an image of the relationship of love between God and his people, between Christ and the church. 

It is the experience of some couples that sharing in that communion of life and love they grow into a "deep unity of faith" as well as of love. Some express this in relation to the "particular (local) community" of their Catholic partner by undertaking ecclesial functions within that parish – in the ministry of welcome, as readers at mass, as members of the choir or music group, as catechists … . Some would say that in sharing the whole of their lives they have come to share a "deep unity of faith and love" not only with their Catholic partners but with the whole Roman Catholic Church; indeed, they would happily become Roman Catholics if this could be understood in an inclusive and not an exclusive way, if it did not mean cutting themselves off from their existing communion

"Together yet divided" – a linking section

A 10-page section under this title links the eucharistic teaching with the norms set out by the bishops. It is far more problematic from an interchurch family point of view. There are two parts: "The pain of our brokenness", and "Spiritual need: personal and ecclesial".

There is a welcome statement that Catholic teaching allows exceptional eucharistic sharing "when strong desire is accompanied by a shared faith, grave and pressing spiritual need, and at least an implicit desire for communion with the Catholic Church" (77). Certainly some interchurch spouses believe that they fit this description. But while appreciating and welcoming a great deal of what the bishops say, many interchurch families will be utterly dismayed by some of the practical applications which the bishops seem to draw from their statements. 

The pain

They talk of the pain of our brokenness, felt particularly when we cannot share eucharistic communion. Taking away the pain does not in itself bring healing (76), and the pain can stimulate us to put our energy into the real healing of our disunity (77). The Catholic bishops in Britain and Ireland "do not judge the celebration of the Eucharist at an ecumenical gathering or event to be a situation in which sacramental sharing might be considered as appropriate in our countries" (78). It would indeed be astounding if they did! Nobody who has tried to get inside the current Catholic position on sacramental sharing would expect them to do so. It would be going beyond anything envisaged by the Code or the Directory. 

What the Catholic Church allows and commends is a pastoral response to the expressed serious spiritual need of particular persons. That need may arise not only because an individual Christian is physically unable to have recourse to his or her own minister; it may arise because of shared bonds of communion with Catholics so strong that they need to be expressed in shared eucharistic communion. In 1983 the French bishops identified "some long-lasting ecumenical groups" as well as "some interchurch families" as in need of sacramental sharing. The 1993 Directory for the first time in any Roman document specifically identified mixed marriages between baptised Christians as a circumstance of need for possible eucharistic sharing (159, 160) – the only additional example given at world level to that of danger of death given in the 1983 Code. 

"Long-lasting ecumenical groups" are different from "an ecumenical gathering or event". They are more like interchurch families, if the members share a long-term commitment to one another, if they live together or at least meet together on a continuing basis, if they share in the work of the church together. It is not the pain felt by interchurch families if they cannot receive communion together which is the reason for allowing, even commending, eucharistic sharing in some cases. It is their serious spiritual need. This may be felt as pain, but is a much deeper reality; their need springs from the nature of the marriage commitment itself. "The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage. … In this sacrifice of the New and Eternal Covenant, Christian spouses encounter the source from which their own marriage covenant flows, is interiorly structured and continuously renewed" (Familiaris Consortio, 57). A number of interchurch families experience this reality, and the serious spiritual need that goes with it. 

Mixed marriages

The bishops have strong words to say on the unity of marriage (82). "Inspired by such a vision" they say, quoting a passage from Tertullian, "a couple in a mixed marriage may well have a strong desire to receive Holy Communion together, to be fully united at the Lord’s table"(83). But I think this is to turn things the wrong way round. It does not seem to me that usually the vision comes first, and inspires the desire to share communion. Usually the actual experience of sharing in marriage comes first. Because of that lived experience of sharing everything else the partners increasingly recognise their real and genuine need to share Holy Communion – that they simply cannot make Christian sense of their marriage without it.

It is only later, when some interchurch families read Familiaris Consortio, for example, that they say: yes! this explains our experience. I remember the amazement of a Methodist wife when she first happened upon Familiaris Consortio: "But if this is what the Roman Catholic Church really believes about marriage how is it that Catholics can’t see we need to share communion?". 

Most couples who experience a need for eucharistic sharing find it difficult to express this in words. Their need seems so self-evident to them that they cannot understand why their pastors, in many cases, find it so difficult to grasp. Hence some of the anger, dismay, disappointment, which has greeted the publication of One Bread One Body. This has come particularly from couples who have been experiencing eucharistic sharing, to the great benefit of their marriage and family life, and fear that this necessary support will be withdrawn from them, or will not be available more widely for others. So it is vital for pastors to try to grasp the intensity of the need (not just the pain) which some couples experience, and to understand that this will be expressed in very different and often inadequate ways.

The need

It is the German bishops who have given the most detailed guidance to pastors seeking to discern whether a particular couple is experiencing a real need for eucharistic sharing. They write: "Since pastorally the establishment of objective criteria for "serious need" is extremely difficult, ascertaining such a need can as a rule only be done by the minister concerned. Essentially, this must become clear in pastoral discussion. Does the couple concerned (and any children) experience being separated at the Lord's table as a pressure on their life together? Is it a hindrance to their shared belief? How does it affect them? Does it risk damaging the integrity of their communion in married life and faith?" In more general terms they speak of the need of interchurch couples in this way: "Being separated at the Lord's table may lead to serious risk to the spiritual life and the faith of one or both partners. It may endanger the integrity of the bond that is created in life and faith through marriage. It may lead to an indifference to the sacrament and a distancing from Sunday worship and so from life in the Church. Married partners who are seriously striving to base their married life on religious and spiritual foundations are precisely those who suffer by being separated at the Lord's table."

I think that some interchurch families in our countries would like to ask our bishops to think again about the kind of need for eucharistic sharing they experience. It is far deeper than a question of pain relief.

Exceptional cases or exceptional occasions?

In One Bread One Body it is good to see that the bishops quote a text from the 1993 Directory (160) that was never quoted or even referred to in the 1996 draft. It is a crucial text for interchurch families. It reads: "Although the spouses in a mixed marriage share the sacraments of baptism and marriage, Eucharistic sharing can only be exceptional, and in each case the norms stated above concerning the admission of a non-Catholic Christian to Eucharistic communion, as well as those concerning the participation of a Catholic in Eucharistic communion in another Church, must be observed."

Regrettably, however, the bishops stop their quotation after the word "exceptional". (83) This gives the impression that the text refers to eucharistic sharing which is "exceptional" in the sense of "occasional", and this is what is picked up later when the bishops establish their norms, and speak of "unique occasions". The Directory itself never refers to occasions, nor to occasional eucharistic sharing. It speaks of admission to eucharistic communion as being permitted, or even commended, "in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions" (129). It is at the very least a legitimate reading of the text in n.160 to refer the "exceptional" to the "cases" which follow, when it would mean that eucharistic sharing for spouses in a mixed marriage is possible in exceptional cases where the conditions for admission are fulfilled. Here "cases" is taken to refer to couples, that is, to persons and not to "occasions". Clearly this is not the only possible reading, since the bishops seem to have taken another one. We must also accept that the provisions of the Code and the Directory are permissive, not prescriptive. 

What I am saying is that it is the British and Irish bishops’ choice to speak of "unique occasions". It is not necessary to speak in terms of "occasional" eucharistic sharing for interchurch families. In terms of the need experienced in interchurch marriages it is a very restrictive reading. Other episcopal conferences have decided differently, recognising that in some cases (obviously not in all) couples have a continuing need for eucharistic sharing. The Brisbane guidelines envisage that a spouse in an interchurch marriage "could well experience a serious spiritual need to receive holy communion each time he or she accompanies the family to a Catholic Mass"; this kind of need can be met by the Archbishop. The German bishops envisage continuing eucharistic sharing in some cases: "When full sharing in the Eucharist is granted to the partner who is not a Catholic, care must be taken that an individual case such as this does not become a general precedent." The Southern African bishops write: "A unique situation exists as regards spouses of a mixed marriage who attend Mass together in a Catholic Church. The uniqueness consists in the fact that their baptismal unity in Christ has been still further sealed by the sacramentality of their marriage bond. Hence both may experience a real need to express that unity by receiving Holy Communion whenever they attend Mass together." This need can be met in particular cases, whether couples "attend Mass together only infrequently" or whether they "attend Mass together virtually every Sunday". 

All these episcopal conferences follow the Directory in speaking of "need" rather than of "pain". I hope therefore that as our bishops come to understand the continuing need of some interchurch families for eucharistic sharing, rather than focusing on their "pain", we shall gradually see in some cases a moving beyond "unique occasions" to a continuing eucharistic sharing officially allowed and commended. 

Spiritual need: personal and ecclesial

The section on spiritual need does not mention interchurch couples at all. The concern of the bishops is to stress that "spiritual nourishment is always ecclesial; it involves the visible community of the Church. … Our communion with one another is an essential dimension of our communion with the Lord. What, then, do we mean by a spiritual need to be admitted to Holy Communion?"(92) In their answer to this question the bishops quote from the Instruction on admitting other Christians to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church, issued by the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity in 1972: it is both "a need for an increase in spiritual life and a need for a deeper involvement in the mystery of the Church and of its unity". The stress is that a need for personal spiritual growth is not enough; it must also be a need to enter more deeply into Christ’s Church. 

I would like to point to the use that Cardinal Willebrands made of the same quotation from 1972 when, speaking for the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, he addressed the 1980 Synod of Bishops. He asked them "to study afresh the possibility of admitting the non-Catholic partners in mixed marriages to Eucharistic Communion in the Catholic Church, obviously in individual cases and after due examination." He pointed out that the Catholic Church "had already recognised 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 in the mystery of the Church and of its unity’. It seems to me that these conditions are often fulfilled in mixed marriages." He went on to say that the fourth condition, that the non-Catholic Christian is unable for a prolonged period to have recourse to a minister of his own church, was less closely connected with eucharistic doctrine and faith. For interchurch families it was crucial that the "for a prolonged period" was dropped by the 1983 Code; this opened the way for the French bishops to identify "some interchurch families" and "some long-lasting ecumenical groups" as in possible need of eucharistic sharing. 

My point here is that our bishops are using the same phrase to describe what they mean by spiritual need, as the one that Cardinal Willebrands used in 1980 to describe the need experienced in some interchurch families. 

General Norms and Commentary

The last quarter of One Bread One Body is devoted to the norms established by the three episcopal conferences

The bishops stress that eucharistic sharing "can only be ‘by way of exception’. The Codes of Canon Law and the Directory do not allow regular reception of Holy Communion by Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church." (101) This links up with what they have said earlier: "Whatever exceptional sharing may be possible, only the full reconciliation of Christians can make normal the full sharing together of the Sacrament of Unity." (93) 

Certainly in the Catholic perspective it can never be "normal" for divided Christians to share eucharistic communion when they are not in ecclesial communion. It cannot be "regular" in the sense of following the rule; it is always going beyond what is normal. That does not mean however that in some particular cases of need it cannot be frequent, continual, on-going. Other episcopal conferences have shown that in the case of interchurch families it is legitimate to allow for continuing need in some cases. But admission is always to be understood as exceptional, even when it happens frequently, is on-going, "every time the couple is at mass together".

NORM ON THE ADMISSION of Christians from other faith communities

106 Admission to Holy Communion and to the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick may be given to baptized Christians of other faith communities if there is a danger of death, or if there is some other grave and pressing need. This may at times include those who ask to receive them on a unique occasion for joy or for sorrow in the life of a family or an individual. It is for the diocesan bishop or his delegate to judge the gravity of the need and the exceptional nature of the situation. The conditions of Canon Law must always be fulfilled. The exceptional nature and purpose of the permission should be made clear, and appropriate preparation should be made for the reception of the sacrament.

References are given to the Code and the Directory, and the reader might be forgiven for thinking that the whole of this norm is part of the general norms of the Catholic Church. The sentence I have italicized is not. It is the British and Irish bishops’ own interpretation of the norms. There is no reference to "unique occasions" in the Code or the Directory; these documents do not speak of "occasions" at all (except for a reference to a mixed marriage wedding, Directory 159). 

"Unique occasions"

It is the reference to "unique occasions" which has particularly distressed interchurch families who are aware that other episcopal conferences have shown themselves ready to meet continuing need in particular cases. They can feel driven to despair by the spelling out of a "unique occasion" as "an occasion which of its nature is unrepeatable, a ‘one-off’ situation at a given moment which will not come again", but "may well be associated with the most significant moments of a person’s life, for example, at the moments of Christian inititation (Baptism, Confirmation, First Communion), Marriage, Ordination and death" (109). 

I quote from two reactions to the idea of "unique occasions".

This comes from an Anglican wife: "I keep thinking about this ‘unique occasions’ phrase, and from a practical point of view I believe that every time my husband and I go to mass together is a unique occasion. The document speaks of occasions that cannot be recaptured, that cannot come again. No Sunday can be recaptured, surely? Every Sunday has its own readings and character liturgically, every Sunday is an occasion when as a couple we are trying to live out our vocation as servants of Christ in two churches. We’ve put effort into preparing for church, we’ve taken part in the service – it is unique, it cannot be recaptured. To say that only the ‘rite of passage’ type of occasions are special and unique enough for our needs to be recognized is to trivialize the special nature of the Eucharist and the liturgy, and to trivialize the vows of marriage we try to keep day by day, and which (like every married Christian couple) we need the support of the community to keep. I feel almost as though we have been aligned with the ‘hatch, match, dispatch’ worshippers, who only go to church at all on those occasions deemed to be unique. What, then, is the value of our perseverance all the rest of the time? Paragraph 110 says ‘it is envisaged that a mixed marriage will usually be celebrated outside Mass’. We assume that the paragraph should read that a mixed wedding will take place outside of Mass. Sadly, the way it reads is almost too true – our mixed marriage – which is life-long, not the work of half-an-hour – does seem to have to find its sustenance and its celebration outside of Mass."

The second quotation comes from a Catholic husband. In recent years there have been very happy occasions in some Catholic parishes where an interchurch couple have been able to celebrate a wedding anniversary in a very public way with full episcopal approval for eucharistic sharing. Happy as these occasions are, however, this Catholic husband points out that they do not meet the need of some interchurch couples for continuing eucharistic sharing. He writes: "I find it difficult to accept that the unity of my marriage to my wife should be measured by the quality of our anniversary celebrations. There is a sense in which this focus is appropriate; it is on occasions such as weddings, anniversaries, family gatherings, etc., that the sign value of our marital unity is most clear and vivid. The temptation, however, is to see these visible and vivid occasions as the criteria, rather than as signs pointing to a sacramental reality. This must not be allowed to happen, as the sign cannot be separated from the sacrament. Our Catholic bishop pointed out that, were he to ask a married couple what their marriage was like, they would not focus on the quality of their anniversary celebrations. Rather, he said, they would tell him of their commitment to each other, their care for their children through good times and bad, their mutual love and respect lived out on a daily basis."

Continuing need

The drafters assure us that it is not the intention of One Bread One Body to be more restrictive than the Directory. At first this seems hard to believe, when we read what other episcopal conferences have written, and how they have specifically allowed for continuing eucharistic sharing in certain particular cases. However, a comparison with the 1996 draft is illuminating. The 1996 draft read: "The sacraments of Penance, Eucharistic Communion and the Anointing of the Sick may be given to those who ask to receive them on a unique occasion for joy or for sorrow in the life of a family or of an individual." A "unique occasion" was spelled out as "an occasion which of its nature is unrepeatable (eg a wedding or a funeral)." 

One Bread One Body, however, states that "other Christians may be admitted to the sacraments of Holy Communion, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick "if there is a danger of death, or if there is some other grave and pressing need. This may at times include those who ask to receive them on a unique occasion for joy or for sorrow … " (106). The words italicized here are an addition to the norm that are of the greatest significance. They show that admission need not necessarily be limited to unique occasions. There is a further significant change to be noted. The 1996 draft read: "The Directory envisages that in certain cases of mixed marriages a grave and pressing need might on occasion be experienced." It is significant that in One Bread One Body the "on occasion" is omittedIt is quite possible for a bishop, therefore, to envisage a continuing need in the case of some interchurch families. He will still be within the norms of One Bread One Body in doing so. We hope that bishops and their delegates will increasingly come to understand the pastoral need of some couples. 

Interchurch families, therefore, may not need to be too despondent at the identification of a few examples of "occasions" of need. These include the wedding (110, 111), which is important to some couples, although many others would decide not to celebrate a eucharist at their wedding if eucharistic sharing was not extended to families as well as spouses. It is also envisaged that requests "may come from the parent of a child to be baptized during Mass, or receiving First Holy Communion or Confirmation; the parent or wife of someone being ordained; the intimate family of the deceased at a Funeral Mass" (112). While admission on this kind of occasion has been widely practised in some places for some time, in others it is an enormous step forward to have such occasions identified. Not long ago communion was refused to the great distress of an Anglican bridegroom; "It is not possible", said the bishop. One parent was told by the bishop: "A first Communion is not exceptional enough." In the week that One Bread One Body appeared communion for a Methodist wife was refused at her husband’s mother’s funeral, although previously in her own parish she had been admitted to communion at a mass during which marriage vows were renewed.

The situation is very uneven so far as eucharistic sharing is concerned. The bishops have made a great effort to speak collectively, however, and it is a great step forward that they have all agreed as a body, and at the level of the three episcopal conferences, to examine particular cases, even if on very limited occasions. Those who wish to take a less limited approach are free to do so.

When the conditions for admission are given, following the Code and Directory (114, 115), it is particularly noteworthy that nowhere is it said that the condition about a person being "unable to approach a minister of his or her community for the sacrament desired" is applicable to a spouse in an interchurch family. Since the grave and pressing need for admission is that of the couple, it would indeed seem logical that in the case of an interchurch marriage this condition is always fulfilled. But this condition has been used so often, and so recently, as a reason for refusing interchurch spouses that it is very good to see it is not used in that way in One Bread One Body.

NORM ON CATHOLICS approaching ministers of other Churches and ecclesial communities

116 Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ’s faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister may lawfully receive Holy Communion, and the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, from ministers in other faith communities whose sacraments are accepted as valid by the Catholic Church.

It is not possible to deal adequately with this norm and the commentary on it here, nor with the whole question of reciprocity, although it is of course one that is very important for some interchurch families. 

The Association of Interchurch Families has never asked the Bishops of England and Wales to give permission for reciprocal eucharistic sharing, knowing that they could not go beyond the general law of Catholic Church. The link between reciprocity and ordination which is accepted as valid by the Catholic Church has been repeated in all official documents since the Code. It is no use asking for a permission that cannot be given. The most that the bishops could do is what the French bishops did in 1983, quoting a German text of 1976. They said they could not give their approval, but that they recognized that a Catholic, following his or her conscience, might in a particular situation find that it was spiritually necessary for him or her to receive communion at a Protestant celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

This recognition of conscience is important. Earlier in the document the British and Irish bishops seem to envisage interchurch families when they refer to "Catholics who do not see the difficulty in receiving the Eucharist of another Christian denomination; some have alternated, for example, between receiving communion at Catholic and Anglican Sunday services" (98). For many Catholic partners in interchurch families, however, there is great difficulty in this practice. They know that they are doing something that is forbidden by their church. They may judge that in their own particular circumstances it is something that in conscience they must do, for the sake of their marriage and family life, and they know that Catholic teaching obliges them to follow their conscience. But they also know that they are doing something that will be misunderstood by many of their fellow-Catholics; it is something they feel cannot be done openly in many cases. For some couples there is inevitably difficulty and pain here that needs to be recognized.

It is important too that ministers of other churches, especially Anglicans, recognize the nature and status of the tradition in the Roman Catholic Church which says that a Catholic must follow his or her conscience, even if it leads to disobeying church law. Otherwise with a straightforward Anglo-Saxon approach some can say to Catholic partners (it has happened): "I cannot give you communion because by asking for it you are not in good standing in your own church". The British and Irish bishops have never said that a Catholic who receives communion in another church has, by that act, excommunicated himself or herself.

‘May we all be one’

In a final section the bishops explain the link between their norms and their desire for full visible unity. It is not the norms that cause division; they are the consequence of disunity. (118, 119)

Many interchurch families would want to reaffirm their commitment to full visible unity. They do not believe that continuing eucharistic sharing for some interchurch families would be to the detriment of that greater goal. Rather, it would be a legitimate stage on the way. The final paragraph of the "initial response" of the Association of Interchurch Families to One Bread One Body reads: "We join with our Bishops in their commitment to our common pilgrim path towards reconciliation and full visible unity as Christians. (120) Merely to be able to drop in to one another’s churches for communion would not satisfy those interchurch couples who in their marriages have committed themselves to share everything with each other. Such families pray that their churches will come to a full visible unity comparable to the marriage "partnership of the whole of life".(79)

Ruth Reardon