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This article was published in the January 2001 issue of The Journal.

INTAMS review

The Assistant Editor of INTAMS review, Thomas Knieps-Port le Roi, himself a Roman Catholic married to a Lutheran, has done good service to interchurch families by editing a special number of the review devoted to them (6, 2 Autumn 2000). (INTAMS stands for the INTernational Academy for Marital Spirituality.)

‘All the effort and art of married life is required to reconcile differences and to attain to a new togetherness that is constantly on the watch for renewal’, he writes. ‘When spouses are from different Christian churches and would consciously like to maintain their confessional allegiance, they are confronted by an additional demand. … There is still an anxious concern among church leaders and theologians that such couples might be taking on a task that is beyond their powers. This is entirely understandable if we restrict ourselves to the areas of theology and discipline. … But in marriage as it is lived many interchurch couples have coped better than many church leaders and theologians could have anticipated. Could this not be connected with the fact that "unity in diversity" must be practised and lived in marriage in a manner with which churches as big organisations are not familiar? There are grounds to believe that marriage – which Vatican II defined as a "domestic church" – is in many ways exemplary for the understanding and life of the Church of Christ. Marriage certainly has an exemplary role in the quest and striving for unity. … Many interchurch couples show in the inner love and life community of their marriage that the unity of Christians is possible and that it has to some extent already become reality. … Pure togetherness does not grow overnight; it is a dogged lifelong process; and it is not a matter of the enjoyment of secure possession, it is a matter of lasting threat, because of which we must pray for a unity that we cannot create ourselves.’

There are two short statements by Cardinal Cassidy, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Dr Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. In explaining why interchurch spouses cannot share the eucharist ‘on a regular basis’, Cardinal Cassidy writes: ‘There is for each partner a question of faith involved. If each is convinced of the faith of the Church or Communion to which he or she belongs, then that partner cannot obviously be convinced of the faith of the Church or Communion to which the other partner belongs.’ Does he ‘restrict himself to the areas of theology and discipline’ here? He continues: ‘If there is no question of faith involved, then the two partners must obviously reflect on the reason for the two belonging to different Christian denominations.’ Here is a challenge (a theological as well as a practical challenge) to interchurch couples to reflect on and to articulate more clearly their deep reasons for remaining two-church families in the present state of church divisions. If they can do this in a convincing way they will serve ecumenism well. The thinking of Konrad Raiser that ‘interchurch marriages shape an ecumenical space’ will be familiar to our readers from his address to the World Gathering of Interchurch Families at Geneva in 1998 (Interchurch Families, 7, 1 January 1999, pp.9-13).

Martin Reardon situates mixed marriages in the modern ecumenical movement, and Ruth Reardon looks back over thirty years of the Association of Interchurch Families. Their writing will again be familiar to the readers of this journal, as will that of Canadian Ray Temmerman, who with his wife Fenella contributes an article entitled ‘Revealing the Holy’. For them a crisis point was finding Fenella (an Anglican) refused communion in the Roman Catholic parish where she had previously been made welcome. Yet ‘God has nourished us in our hunger, and that nourishment has in turn increased our hunger, and our energy. We have found our relationship with each other deepening as we share together not only in the exclusion and misunderstanding, but especially in the gift of richness and diversity with which God had blessed us as an interchurch couple. … We believe that as individuals and as church, our ecumenical work is about developing the capacity to see and recognise the profound unity that exists, and the tools to roll away the stones in our hearts and in our churches which keep us separated from that unity in Christ.’

Professor Michael Lawler’s research at Creighton University with a view to pioneering better marriage preparation and support for interchurch couples is also familiar to our readers. A large part of his article here is on ‘Shared Communion’ as ‘the neuralgic pastoral question for many interchurch couples’. This includes a critique of the norms proposed for eucharistic sharing in One Bread One Bodyissued in 1998 by the Episcopal Conferences of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. ‘The Bishops adopt two interesting strategies. While acknowledging the general norm which allows shared communion in exceptional circumstances … of grave and pressing spiritual need (n.77), they introduce a shift from the category of need to the category of pain.’ Taking away the pain will not of course heal the brokenness of the Body of Christ. But ‘the point on which all the discussion of shared communion turns is the more radical "serious (spiritual) need" felt by interchurch spouses who already share communion in baptism, communion in marriage, and, above all, communion in the intimate partnership of live, love and faith. … When unfulfilled, that inter-spousal need causes pain, as unfulfilled hunger causes pain. But it is the need not the pain, as it is the hunger not the pain, that must be satisfied. It is not palliative but authentic pastoral care that is required. …The second strategy the Bishops adopt is … the transposition of the exceptional case to the exceptional unique occasion, "a one-off situation which will not come again"(n.109). … A marriage which lasts as long as life lasts is certainly a unique event in the modern world, but it is ongoingly unique. ... A marriage is not a one-off wedding; it is a partnership of the whole of life. … If married people allow the one-off, unique event interpretation to stand unchallenged, there can be no exceptional but ongoing sharing of communion, though [other] norms interpret such ongoing exception as possible because of ongoing "serious (spiritual) need".

‘Oneness for all couples, all churches, all nations is a challenging goal; it is a goal that takes time. It is also a goal towards which many interchurch couples are now mapping out the way’, concludes Michael Lawler. And Fr René Beaupère, OP, concerned in France with pastoral care for interchurch families since 1962, ends his article with the hope that ‘our beloved old churches may be able to seek healing for their ecumenical arthritis in the rejuvenating waters of interchurch marriages’.

Single copies of this number are available from INTAMS, Steenweg naar Grote Hut 156 A/1, B-1640 Sint-Genesius-Rode (Brussels) Belgium, price 15 Euro or 600 BF.