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Admission of Other Christians to 
The Eucharist in the Catholic Church:
documents and notes

VATICAN II Decree on Ecumenism, 1964

n.8 As for communicatio in sacris (common worship, sacramental sharing), it may not be regarded as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of unity among Christians. Such communicatio in sacris depends chiefly on two principles: it should signify the unity of the Church; it should provide a sharing in the means of grace. The fact that it should signify unity generally rules out communicatio in sacris. Yet the of a needed grace sometimes commends it.

The practical course to be adopted, after due regard has been given to all the circumstances of time, place, and personage, is left to the prudent decision of the local episcopal authority, unless the Bishops' Conference according to its own statutes, or the Holy See, has determined otherwise.

Note:
1 The discriminate use of communicatio in sacris is linked to the restoration of Christian unity.
2 The bishop is to make a practical decision, unless the episcopal conference or the Holy See has done so.
(For full documentation on the period 1964-1983, see Sharing Communion, ed. Ruth Reardon and Melanie Finch, 1983, included in AIF's Sharing Communion Pack, price L5+Ll p/p.)

CODE OF CANON LAW, 1983

Can.844,4 If there is a danger of death or if, in the judgement of the diocesan Bishop or of the Episcopal Conference, there is some other grave and pressing need, catholic ministers may lawfully administer (the Eucharist) to christians not in full communion with the catholic Church, who cannot- approach a 'stir of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the catholic faith in respect of (the Eucharist) and are properly disposed.

5 ...The diocesan Bishop or Episcopal Conference is not to issue general norms except after consultation with the competent authority, at least at the local level, of the non-catholic Church or community concerned.

Note:
1 Danger of death is a situation of need; a bishop or episcopal conference can identify others.
2 The previous qualification "for a prolonged period" of the "cannot approach a minister of their own community" has been dropped by the Code; there can thus be an identification of a group or couple need.
(The French bishops identified "some foyers mixtes and some long-lasting ecumenical groups in 1983.)
3 It is the Catholic minister who is to make the decision on admission, in cases of danger of death or in any other circumstance of need identified by the bishop or episcopal conference.
4 The bishop or episcopal conference is to consult the leaders of other churches whose members are involved.

DIRECTORY for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism 1993

129. Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression. At the same time, the Catholic Church teaches that by baptism members of other Churches and ecclesial Communities are brought into a real, even if imperfect communion with the Catholic Church ... It is in the light of these two basic principles, which must always be taken into account together, that in general the Catholic Church permits access to its Eucharistic communion ... only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. For the same reasons, it also recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to (the Eucharist) may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.

130. In case of danger of death, Catholic ministers may administer (the Eucharist) when the conditions given below (n.131) are present. In other cases, it is strongly recommended that the diocesan Bishop, taking into account any norms which may have been established for this matter by the Episcopal Conference or by the Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches, establish general norms for judging situations of grave and pressing need and for verifying the conditions mentioned below (n.131). In accord with Canon Law, these general norms are to be established only after consultation with at least the local competent authority of the other interested Church or ecclesial Community. Catholic ministers will judge individual cases and administer (the Eucharist) only in accord with these established norms, where they exist. Otherwise they will judge according to the norms of this Directory.

131. The conditions under which a Catholic minister may administer the Eucharist to a baptized person who may be found in the circumstances given above (n. 130) are that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, manifest Catholic faith in this sacrament and be properly disposed.

160. Because of the problems concerning Eucharistic sharing which may arise from the presence of non-Catholic witnesses and guests, a mixed marriage celebrated according to the Catholic form ordinarily takes place outside the Eucharistic liturgy. For a just cause, however, the diocesan Bishop may permit the celebration of the Eucharist. In the latter case, the decision as to whether the non-Catholic party of the marriage may be admitted to Eucharistic communion is to be made in keeping with the general norms existing in the matter both for Eastern Christians and for other Christians, taking into account the particular situation of the reception of the sacrament of Christian marriage by two baptized Christians.

161. Although the spouses in a mixed marriage share the sacraments of baptism and marriage, Eucharistic sharing can only be exceptional and in each case the norms stated above concerning the admission of a non-Catholic Christian to Eucharistic communion must be observed.

Note:

  1. Bishops and episcopal conferences are urged to identify situations of need and to spell out the conditions laid down for admission.
  2. Before doing so they are to consult the leaders of other churches and ecclesial communities involved.
  3. Catholic ministers are to judge individual cases according to the norms of the Directory, if there are no episcopal guidelines spelling out the norms.
  4. A wedding in the case of a marriage between a Catholic and a baptised Christian of a church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church is identified as an occasion for admission for the other partner, although a Eucharist is not recommended because there may be problems over eucharistic sharing for non-Catholic witnesses and guests.
  5. For those who share the sacraments of baptism and marriage eucharistic sharing is exceptional and in each case the norms for admission are to be observed. (These are that a request is to come from the other spouse, who is to manifest Catholic eucharistic faith and be properly disposed. Since the need is recognised as that of the coupleto share communion, the condition of no access to his/her own minister is always fulfilled).
  6. A marriage between a Catholic and another baptised Christian has been specifically identified as a possible situation of need (the only one besides danger of death which has been specifically identified at world level); not all partners in marriages of this kind will experience a need, but there will be exceptional cases to whom the conditions for admission are to be applied by the Catholic minister.
  7. Apart from the wedding, no occasion of need is identified at world level; the Directory speaks of cases. (In the Brisbane guidelines, the Archbishop has given examples of possible occasions of need for interchurch families, but has also said that in certain cases a spouse in an interchurch marriage "could well experience a serious spiritual need to receive communion each time he or she accompanies the family to a Catholic Mass".)
  8. The legislation is permissive not prescriptive. In certain situations, exceptionally and under certain conditions, admission may be permitted; however, in some cases it may even be commended

ENCYCLICAL LETTER UT UNUM SINT, 1995

46. It is a source of joy to note 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 these sacraments.

Note:

  1. Pope John Paul II sets this passage in the context of his burning desire that all Christians may join together in celebrating the one Eucharist of the Lord.
  2. He uses the words "great desire" rather than "grave and pressing need".
  3. He does not mention the condition of having no access to his/her own minister.
  4. He expresses his personal joy that Catholic ministers are able to admit to communion in certain particular cases.
  5. In 1982 he expressed his understanding of the relationship of mixed marriages between baptised Christians to the ecumenical pilgrimage: "You live in your marriage the hopes and difficulties of the path to Christian unity.

COMMON DECLARATION by Pope John Paul II and the Archbishop of Canterbury, 5 December 1996
We urge our people to make full use of the possibilities already available to them, for example in the Catholic Church's Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993)