Sharing the Eucharist implies prerequisites. Readers may be surprised to hear this involves not just one portion: faith in the Lord’s presence in the sacrament. Pope John Paul II reiterates the traditional threefold understanding:
- apostolic communion
- the nature of the sacraments
- placed within the visible hierarchy
All of these visible aspects must be in place. First, that the Eucharist is shared in a way consistent with the practice of the Apostles. There must be a shared grounded faith in the nature of the sacraments. And union with Rome.
With non-Catholics, the last is the obvious stumbling block. We should be clear, and I’m sure Pope John Paul’s experience with eastern Christians and reformed communities informed him, that whole branches of Christianity accept traditional sacramental theology as well as adherence to apostolic form.
35. The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order. The profound relationship between the invisible and the visible elements of ecclesial communion is constitutive of the Church as the sacrament of salvation. (Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 4: AAS 85 (1993), 839-840.) Only in this context can there be a legitimate celebration of the Eucharist and true participation in it. Consequently it is an intrinsic requirement of the Eucharist that it should be celebrated in communion, and specifically maintaining the various bonds of that communion intact.
There are exceptions to this in extraordinary individual cases. And in one positive way, it also calls to mind the nature of a marital union. If a non-Catholic baptized Christian shares “one flesh,” a sacramental union with a Catholic spouse, then what is the state of repair in the Body? Pope Benedict once referred to such couples as laboratories for Christian unity. It’s a good question for us to consider: when sacramentality and apostolicity are not issues, when does the supposed lack of communion with Rome become superceded by another theological consideration? Or does one take the stance that Rome is more essential than anything else?
Any discussion on this today? We will return to this point sometime next week.