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A Simple Statement of the Present Position
(references are to the norms of the 1993

Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism)

In general the Catholic Church allows access to communion only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. In certain circumstances, by way of exception. and under certain conditions, access may be permitted, or even commended. for other Christians ( 129).

Circumstances of need:

Danger of death has long been identified as a situation of possible need, in which Catholic ministers can admit to communion so long ascertain conditions are present (130). The Directory also identifies mixed marriages between baptized Christians as a possible situation of need. because the partners share the sacraments of baptism and marriage (160). (Catholic bishops or episcopal conferences are also able to make additional norms identifying other possible circumstances of need (130): e.g. die French episcopal conference has identified "some long-lasting ecumenical groups".)

Conditions for admission:

Where there are recognized circumstances of need, admission is by way of exception, so that in each case the conditions for admission have to be verified by die Catholic minister (131). These are- a spontaneous request; Catholic eucharistic faith: proper dispositions. (The other condition, the unavailability of a minister of his/her own church is always fulfilled in the case of interchurch families, since their need is recognized as the need of the couple to share communion.)

A couple who ask for communion have made their request. The Catholic minister needs to discover: is there a real need in this case'? is the eucharistic faith of the other partner adequate? is lie/she properly disposed to receive the sacrament*?

Since the above was written, Pope John Paul 11 has given us an even simpler statement, in speaking of his 'joy that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer ... the eucharist ... to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive (it), freely request (it) and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to (this sacrament). (Encyclical letter Ut Unum Sint of the Holy Father John Paul /I on Commitment to Ecumenism. 25 May 1995 (46).


Because the Association has inadvertently put out information which may have been misleading, we should like to make the following points.

  1. The AIF leaflet "Sharing Communion" is misleading when it says: "Until the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has issued guidelines. a decision is up to the local bishop - or perhaps priest". What the bishops/episcopal conferences are required to do when they establish guidelines is to establish norms for judging situations of need. and for verifying the conditions for admission (130). If they have not done this, "Catholic ministers will judge... according to the norms of this Directory." Episcopal guidelines can include additional norms identifying other circumstances of need. but they cannot say that mixed marriages between baptized Christians is nor a possible situation of need, since the Directory has identified it as such. It is the Catholic minister who is to judge particular cases.
  2. The January 1994 editorial in Interchurch Families is misleading when it refers to "exceptional occasions". Nowhere does the Directory speak of occasions or of occasional eucharistic sharing (apart from reference to the wedding: 159). It speaks of exceptional sharing, pointing out that in each case the conditions for admission have to be verified. It seems therefore to refer to exceptional cases (i.e. couples with a need to share communion) rather than to exceptional occasions on which admission is possible. Clearly in many cases of mixed marriages between baptized Christians admission to communion would not be appropriate or desired. (This interpretation was suggested in an AIF paper in March 1995. mid seems to be borne out by the encyclical's reference to "certain particular cases".) The needs of particular couples will be different. and the Directory seems to allow a large degree of flexibility to the pastoral minister.


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