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This article was published in the Summer 2000 issue of the Journal.

The new Southern African Guidelines for Eucharistic Sharing

In January 1998 the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a Directory on Ecumenism for Southern Africa. We printed the text of the sixth section, "Sharing Sacramental Celebrations", and of the seventh, "Interchurch Marriages", together with other points of interest to interchurch families (on baptism and burials) in Interchurch Families vol.6, no.2, Summer 1998, pp.6-7.

The section on sharing sacramental celebrations came under close scrutiny following objections from Catholics in the United States when President Clinton was admitted to communion at a mass he attended in Soweto. An unfortunate impression was given that the Southern African Directory had simply said that eucharistic sharing was permissible at ecumenical events, which it certainly had not. However, the matter rapidly escalated into a controversy over the Directory. At the Interchurch Families World Gathering in Geneva in the summer of 1998 Bishop Duprey explained that the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity had been drawn into it, and was suggesting to the Southern African Bishops some small points where they might clarify their guidelines. In January 2000 the Bishops’ Conference published a revised Directory. We give here a comparison between the Directory of January 1998 and that issued in January 2000.

Re-organisation of Sections 6 and 7

The most obvious change is a re-organisation of the material. The original Section 6 on sacramental sharing was interspersed with references to spouses in a mixed marriage (those "bound to each other as they are by the sacraments of baptism and matrimony"). In the second version of the Directory these references have been removed, and transferred (with some changes) to a much longer Section 7 on Interchurch Marriages. (It looks as though the intention was to put everything related to interchurch marriages into Section 7, although this is not quite consistent: the references to baptisms and burials in interchurch families remain where they were in Sections 4 and 5. There is an oddity in the new Section 7. 12 which says that "special consideration should be given to spouses in an interchurch marriage who may wish to approach these sacraments together". This is incomprehensible unless the reader refers back to 6. 5. 2 of the earlier Directory and sees that "these sacraments" refers to the sacrament of the sick and of penance.)

Sections 1 to 5 remain almost unchanged. There is an additional reference to the 1993 Ecumenical Directory from Rome in Section 3, and an explanation in Section 4 that "the Catholic Church understands itself as having deeper bonds of faith and sacramental structures with the Orthodox Church than with Christian communities issuing from the Reformation". Following this explanation, however, the Southern African Bishops repeat their encouragement of theological reflection on how far the distinction should be kept between Eastern Orthodox Christians who are able to be official sponsors at a celebration of baptism, and other Christians who are allowed to act as witnesses. A reference to "diocesan norms" has been added to the section on burials. However, Sections 6 and 7 are reorganised, considerably longer, and contain far more direct quotations and explanations taken from the 1993 Ecumenical Directory. These quotations can often be understood as backing up what the Southern African Bishops said in their earlier guidelines.

Section 6 on Sacramental Sharing

There is no change of substance in the revised version of these sections of the Southern African Directory. However, the language is much more careful. It sticks more closely to that of the 1993 Directory; for example, the word "advisable" is no longer applied to eucharistic sharing, and this becomes "commendable" in certain circumstances (6.3.2). "Commend" is the word used in the Decree on Ecumenism (n.8) and in the 1993 Directory (130). "When such sharing is justified" becomes "when a grave and pressing need justifies such sharing" (6.3.6). Situations of "grave and pressing need" are referred to in the code (c 844,4) and the Directory (130).

There appears to have been a great effort to bring all that the Bishops want to say more explicitly within the conceptual framework of the 1993 Directory. The 1998 Southern African Directory could be misunderstood as saying that the Catholic Bishops regarded interchurch marriages and special events as creating ipso facto situations in which eucharistic hospitality could be extended to other Christians. The Bishops were actually trying to make the point that those situations were the sort of ones in which a serious spiritual need could arise. This has become much clearer in the second version. For example, "a special need can be said to exist on occasions when Christians from other churches attend a eucharistic celebration for a special feast or event" has become: "a grave and pressing spiritual need can very well arise for a Christian from another church or ecclesial community when attending a eucharistic celebration for a special feast or event" (6.5.3).

This stress on the spiritual need of the individual is matched by a stress on the eucharistic faith of the individual. The 1998 Directory refers to the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission’s agreement on the eucharist; because of this "members of the Anglican Communion may be presumed to share the essentials of eucharistic faith with us". There is a reference to ecumenical agreements in the second version of the Directory, but "in the final analysis what is required is that the individual requesting admission to the eucharist must personally manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament"(6.3.8).

Where reciprocity is concerned, the second version of the Directory contents itself with repeating the statement that Catholics can receive the eucharist only "from a minister in whose church the sacrament is valid or from one who is known to be validly ordained according to the Catholic teaching on ordination." The statement that, "as regards the churches arising out of the divisions that occurred in the West at the time of the Reformation, the matter, from a Catholic perspective, is not so clear", has been dropped (6.5.5).

Section 7 on Interchurch Marriages

We give below the Recommendations of this section; they incorporate material on eucharistic sharing in interchurch families which was previously in Section 6 (7.13 is based on 6.5.3.2 of the earlier version). In the second version they are preceded by lengthy quotations from the 1993 Ecumenical Directory (143-148, and 159-160), which were not given before.

There is no change of substance, but what was explicit in the earlier version has become implicit. There are two particular changes to note. First, in the earlier version it is stated that "both [spouses] may experience a real need to express that unity by receiving Holy Communion whenever they attend Mass together." This has become "a spouse in such a marriage could well experience a serious spiritual need to receive holy communion on occasions when he or she accompanies the family to a Catholic Mass". Thus, the need of the couple has become the need of one spouse (the other Christian); this is in line with canon law, which sees exceptional eucharistic sharing as a pastoral response to the need of individuals (cut off from their own ministers). The 1993 Directory identifies those "who share the sacraments of baptism and marriage" as in possible need of eucharistic sharing, but it never actually speaks of the need of both spouses. In terms of the law, Catholic ministers have to ask themselves whether this particular individual (the other Christian spouse) has a real need for communion, not whether the couple experiences such a need as a couple. This is how it is usually understood by interchurch couples – the need is "our" need. The earlier version had picked up on this experience in a pastoral way, but so far as conformity with the law is concerned, it is not relevant. The law recognises the grave and pressing need of individuals.

Second, the statement that "the non-Catholic party may approach the local Ordinary through the parish priest for permission to receive Communion every time he or she attends Mass with his or her spouse" has been dropped, and in the quotation given above the "whenever" has become "on occasions". What was explicit in the earlier version has become implicit. Certainly there is nothing of the flavour of the "unique occasions" of One Bread One Body here, and it could be read as "on all occasions", but the earlier explicit reference to "whenever" was very welcome to some interchurch families. The sense of having a continuing need to share communion is very sharply experienced by some interchurch spouses, and an explicit reference to the possibility of meeting that need was much valued.

We give the text of the recommendations below; DE refers to the 1993 Directory on Ecumenism, and FC to Familiaris Consortio.

The Recommendations

7.9 Catholics and members of other Churches who are entering into the covenant of marriage must be adequately prepared to make an ecumenical partnership of their marriage, as envisaged by the Post-Synodal Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, while respecting the responsibilities of the Catholic partner regarding the practice of the Faith and the education of the children (FC 78; cf. DE 150-151).

7.10 Full use should be made of the opportunities for the granting of a dispensation from the canonical form of marriage for a just and reasonable cause.

7.11 Pastors should make the full use of opportunities afforded for ecumenical celebrations for mixed marriages, taking note of the following: 'One must keep in mind that, if the wedding is celebrated with a dispensation from canonical form, some public form of celebration is still required for validity. To emphasize the unity of marriage, it is not permitted to have two separate religious services in which the exchange of consent would be expressed twice, or even one service which would celebrate two such exchanges of consent jointly or successively' DE 156.

7.12 Special consideration should be given to spouses in an interchurch (i.e., mixed) marriage who may wish to approach these sacraments together, if their situation justifies it [i.e. sacrament of the sick and penance: see Reorganisation of Sections 6 and 7 above].

7.13 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, a bond that of its very nature seeks to be expressed and deepened by the unity of the couple at the Eucharistic table. Hence a spouse in such a marriage, now commonly called an interchurch marriage, could well experience a serious spiritual need to receive holy communion on occasions when he or she accompanies the family to a Catholic Mass. Requests for this kind of Eucharistic hospitality should be referred by the parish priest to the local Ordinary. However, this must be linked to 6.3.5.

7.14 It is against freedom of religion and the dignity of women that a wife should be expected to join the Church of her husband or that pressure be put on either spouse to convert, on the pretext of achieving unity of faith.

[6.3.5 referred to above reads: The pastoral advisability of permitting sharing the sacraments depends both on the general situation of the local worshipping community and on the conditions to be met by the individual persons concerned.]

It may be that nothing in the original version of the Southern African guidelines would have been called into question had President Clinton not received communion at Soweto, and had this not resulted in complaints to Rome from Catholics in the United States. Clearly a great deal of time and thought and effort has gone into this re-writing, which tries to express exactly where church discipline stands at the present time, in a way which nobody can complain about, while making a particular application of the law. It is very instructive to see how the matter has been dealt with. Without any change of substance, the Southern African Bishops have been able to say what they wanted to in terms that are more strictly in line with the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and its application in the 1993 Directory. So far as the law is concerned, interchurch families will have to live with an uncomfortable situation for a long time, since law does not change quickly. However, it is possible for pastoral understanding and developments to move faster, whether at local or national level, and prepare the way for such eventual change.