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This article was published in the Summer 1997 issue of The Journal.

Personal reflections 

From a report of a meeting of interchurch families addressed by Cardinal Basil Hume

It seems to me that the session left us with two specific challenges. 

1 Personal reflections 
It seems to me that the session left us with two specific challenges. Catholic faith in the eucharist The spiritual need recognised by the Directory is the need of the married couple to share communion. The main focus of the Cardinal's interest was one of the conditions which must be met by an individual who seeks admission to communion in the Roman Catholic Church, once such need is recognised as genuine. The Cardinal particularly drew our attention to the question of eucharistic belief, and to the Catholic understanding that eucharistic faith implies faith in the church which celebrates the eucharist - and the Roman Catholic Church is the "Petrine Church" as he expressed it. Those baptised Christians who belong to other churches and ecclesial communities in particular need of admission to the eucharist are asked to "manifest Catholic faith in the eucharist". This is usually taken to mean belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the eucharist. But in the Catholic perspective it means more than this. It is also an affirmation of faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the church which celebrates the eucharist - in this case the Roman Catholic Church. 

Clearly the baptised person who asks for admission cannot affirm his or her faith in the Roman Catholic Church in any exclusive way, since he/she is and remains an Anglican or Free Church Christian. But there must be a real desire for communion with the Roman Catholic Church, as it exists concretely at the present time, as well as in its potential for future development. This is asking for something more than a desire for unity with a spouse - though the motivation may well start there. It means also embracing the ecclesial communion of the spouse. I do not think that this is to make acceptance of the Pope's position in the Roman Catholic Church, as it may be represented at this or that specific time in history, a criterion for admission to communion (although some who listened to the Cardinal may have taken what he said in this way and therefore have been very disturbed by it). Indeed it cannot mean this, since members of the Eastern Churches, with whom "there is still a very close communion in matters of faith" (but not agreement about the papacy!) are not asked for any affirmation of eucharistic faith if they are in need of admission to the eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church; the conditions are simply that they ask "of their own free will and are properly disposed" (122, 125). Nor can it mean that more is asked of the individual who seeks admission than is required of a Catholic. 

However, it seems to me that it does mean an acceptance of the significance of the role of the Bishop of Rome as servant and symbol of the unity of the church on the world level and a willingness to explore this significance further, as indeed all Christians have been invited to do in Ut Unum Sint. This is to accept a duty, as well as to ask a privilege. 

It is not easy to formulate what this means. But there is an underlying requirement here which interchurch families can perhaps understand out of their own experience of married life. 

In our commitment to one another we accept and love our partners as they are, with all their faults and failings as well as all the good things about them which we appreciate, with all their potential for growth. I think there is a clue here to the sort of commitment to the Roman Catholic Church which is required of those other Christians who, in their need, ask for admission to communion. If we are asked to love our spouse (our nearest neighbour) as we love ourselves, maybe we are called to love our partner's church in the way we love our own. I think too that this is the sort of love and commitment which many interchurch partners belonging to other churches and ecclesial communities do actually demonstrate in the way in which they participate in the concrete life of the Catholic community of their spouse. In marriage the two partners are mutually committed to one another in a total way. Each embraces everything fundamental to the other. This goes for church-belonging too. Some interchurch partners experience and practise a mutual commitment not only to their partners but also to the churches which have nurtured and continue to nurture them in the one faith in Christ. It is surely this reality which has made it possible for the Roman Catholic Church to identify mixed marriages between baptised Christians as a possible situation of need for eucharistic sharing (the only specific identification of need, besides that of danger of death, which has yet been made at world level in application of the 1983 Code of Canon Law). 

It is not easy to spell out what "to demonstrate Catholic faith in the eucharist" actually means. The French bishops, with specific reference to members of the Reformed Churches seeking admission to communion, 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" (as well as "an active commitment in the service of the unity which God wills"). There is thus a clear reminder in the conditions they laid down of the eucharist/church relationship, without a specific reference to any particular element in the life of the church (Note sur l'hospitalite eucharistique, 1983). Certainly if the issue of the authority of the papacy as centrally exercised in the limits of the present moment of history were to be used as a test of Catholic faith in the eucharist, this would raise as many questions as another which (alas) is sometimes put to Christians seeking admission to the eucharist in the Roman Catholic Church as a test: "Do you believe in transsubstantiation ?". The Council of Trent never insisted that transsubstantiation was the only way to describe Christ's presence in the eucharist. 

2 Practicalities 
The second challenge is a difficult one in practical terms: how can the deeply felt needs of certain particular couples be met without obscuring the witness of the Roman Catholic Church to the inseparable link between eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion? This is a real problem in a country like England where there are so many "mixed marriages" and a great fear of "opening the floodgates". We should not minimise the difficulty. But, if a genuine spiritual need is identified, once we move to the level of "practicalities" (and this is the word the Cardinal used) a way must surely be found. 

We insist and we insist and we insist Couples have to go on laying the deep needs they before our pastors. If we feel a real spiritual need, this is our duty to our marriages and to our families, and we can never give up (however hard it is to keep going, and however much we may be tempted to do so). Certainly unity in the Spirit is the fundamental unity which binds us together. But because we are creatures of flesh and blood we need the signs which assure us of that unity and at the same time help us to grow in unity. 

Certainly interchurch families can, and many do, value very highly the receiving of a blessing, as a sign of our desire for fuller unity. But after many years this can sometimes be experienced as a rejection a rejection of us as a couple rather than as a welcome. So interchurch families have to go on saying to their Catholic bishops and communities: "Please understand that in some cases a sacramental is not enough. We need more. It is a sacrament which binds us in our marriage, and we continually need the sacrament of the eucharist to sustain, build up and deepen the unity of our marriage and family life." 

That is why we too have to go on insisting and insisting and insisting …

Ruth Reardon



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