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 From the January 1998 issue of The Journal

Guidelines from the German Bishops, February 1997

The following text was issued by the Ecumenical Commission ( fthe German Bishops' Conference on J1th Februaty 1997. The German original appears in Una Sancta, 1, 1997, pp.85-88. We give an English translation of the text; then explain the background to its appearance.

1 The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council speaks of two fundamental principles for eucharistic communion: witness to the unity of the church and sharing in the means of grace (URS). These fundamental principles must always be taken together. Eucharistic communion is indivisible and linked to the full communion of the church and its visible expression. At the same time, however, the Catholic Church teaches "that through baptism the members of other churches and ch ch communities stand in real, if not fully realized, communion with the Catholic Church, and that 'baptism forms a sacramental bond of unity between all who through it are reborn, and is wholly directed towards the acquiring of fullness of life in Chdst'. The eucharist is a spiritual food for the baptised..." (Ecumenical Directory 1993, n. 129). From this the "grace to be won" (UR 8) warrants the admission of a Christian who is not a Catholic to communion in particular exceptional cases, in particular cases of "serious need" (CIC, can. 844, 4).

2 Families in interchurch marriages may experience "serious (spiritual) need" in certain situations. Being scparated at the Lord's tablc may for instance lead to sedous risk to the spiritual life and the faith of one or both partners. It may endangcr the intcgrity of thc bond that is crcated in life and faith through mar age. It may lead an indifference to the sacrament and a distancing from Sunday worship and so from life in the church. Married p tners who are seriously striving to base their married life on religious and spiritual foundations are precisely those who suffer by being scparated at the Lord's table. It is essential for the church to meet their special situation with pastoral care. The norms for the admission of a Christian who is not a Catholic to receive communion in the Catholic Church have their foundation in
the firm belief of the Catholic Church. The norms have established "that in certain circumstances, in exceptional cases and under certain conditions" admission to communion of Chdstians of other churches and ecclesial communities may be permitted or even commended (Ecumenical Directory 1993, n. 129). In situations of pastoral need the ma ied partners living in interch ch martiages may bc admitted to receive communion in the Catholic Church under certain conditions.

3 The underlying principles for eucharistic sharing in individual exceptional situations, namely that the eucharist is a sign and source of the unity of the chnrch and at the same time spiritual food, are seen, in the case of interchurch marriages, from a particular theological perspective: according to Catholic belief the valid marriage contract between two baptised partners means the continuing mutual giving of the sacrament of marriage, which is a sign of the unity of Christ with his church.  Above and beyond baptism, the Christian who is not a Catholic takes part, through this ma iage sacrament, in the sacramental reality of the church. Of further service too, is the point which Pope John Paul II unfolds in his teaching in the encyclical "Familiaris Consortio". In this the Christian family is to bc seen as "embodiment of the church" and shares in the ministry of the church. For the parent who is not a Catholic this sharing is equally true.

4 Neither a refusal for all, nor a permission for all partners in interchurch marriages who are not Catholics to share in the eucharist would be appropriate. There may be problems arising from difference in belicf. Nor would it be appropriate in the current situation of ecumenical dialogue. Nevertheless, Ch stians of other denominations may exceptionally receive Holy Communion on the following conditions: it is not possible for them to go to a minister of their own denomination, a situation which can arise in real situations for different reasons. They must of their own accord ask for communion, be rightly disposed, and manifcst Catholic faith in thc eucharist (CIC, can. 844, 4, Ecumcnical Directory, No 131), namely that the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ gives himself to us in person in the eucharist as Giver and Gift in bread and wine and so builds up his church. That is why commitment to Jesus Christ calls also for commitment to his church.

5 Since pastorally the establishment of objective criteria for "serious (spiritual) need" is extremely dffcult, ascertaining such a need can as a ule only be done by the minister concerned. Essentially, this must become clear in pastoral discussion. Does the couple concerned (and any children) experience being separated at the Lord's table as a pressure on their life together? Is it a hindrance to their shared belief? How does it a ect them? Does it risk damaging the integrity of their communion in marTied life and faith? When full sh ing in the euch st is granted to the partner who is not a Catholic, care must be taken that an individual case such as this does not become a general precedent.

The Ecumenical Commission of the German Bishops' Conference is awarc that the painful separation experienced at the Lord's table only becomes a thing of the past when the goal of all ecumenical e orts is reached in thc full unity of faith and church communion. As long as the separated churches and ecclesial communities find themselves in the ecumenical time between setting out and arriving, the Roman Catholic Church is convinced that its responsibility is to grant communion at the Lord's table to Christians of other denominations only in exceptional cases.