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Sharing Communion

This pack contains documents, stories and reflections on sharing communion in interchurch families. They are arranged in roughly chronological order. The documents cover the period from the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council (1964) to the publication of One Bread One Body by the three Episcopal Conferences of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland (1998); further documentation is added as it becomes available. The stories and the reflections come mainly from the experience of interchurch families who have shared with one another their hopes and fears, joys and disappointments, within the fellowship of the Association of Interchurch Families over three decades.

Particularly since the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism was issued by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome in 1993, with its very welcome identification of those who share the sacraments of baptism and marriage as in possible need of eucharistic sharing, AIF has at various times tried to set out the Roman Catholic position on eucharistic sharing in interchurch families (see: Sharing Communion:AIF leaflet 1993, AIF Fact Sheet March 1995, A Simple Statement June 1995, The Roman Catholic Position in Outline Summer 1998, and A Presentation for the AIF Annual Conference 1998). We have revised our statements as changes have occurred or new information has come to light, and tried to improve our terminology as further reflection has shown the inadequacy of some of the expressions we used earlier. As an Association we have tried never to underestimate the complexity of the subject of eucharistic sharing for interchurch families, nor have we entered into the debate about "intercommunion" in the sense of more generalised eucharistic sharing between members of separated churches.

The publication of One Bread One Body: a teaching document on the Eucharist in the life of the Church, and the establishment of general norms on sacramental sharing lifeof the Church, and the establishment of general norms on sacramental sharing on 1st October 1998 by the Episcopal Conferences of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland, has put us in a new situation in these islands so far as eucharistic sharing for interchurch families is concerned. It is the first time that it has ever been recognised at the level of any of the three episcopal conferences that eucharistic sharing is permissible for interchurch families in particular cases and under certain conditions; it is the first time that the relevant sections of the Directory and of the encyclical Ut Unum Sint have been officially quoted. This is to be warmly welcomed, in spite of the apparent limitation of need to "unique occasions" that has caused distress to many interchurch families. Even here, however, a careful analysis of the text shows that the door has been left open for further developments. In the meantime, the pastoral situation on the ground continues to be very uneven, and any generalisations are unwise. The Association will continue to monitor developments, as well as to offer a forum in which interchurch couples can share their very diverse experiences and views, so helping each family to find its own way forward.

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