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Our readers asked:

Can I receive communion as a Catholic in a “high Anglican” church if they hold the same beliefs about the Eucharist that Catholic do?

Thomas Ryan, CSP Answers:

Question:  I went to a “high Anglican” service and was told that they believe the same thing about the Eucharist as we do.  Is it OK therefore for me to receive communion here as a Catholic and if not, why does the church say that I shouldn’t receive here?

The Anglican and Catholic International Dialogue Commission, in a 1981 document entitled The Final Report, claimed in the sections relating to the Eucharist “to have attained a substantial agreement on eucharistic faith.” This, however, does not resolve the question of intercommunion. The reason is that, while both churches may have a common understanding of what is happening at the Eucharist, the significance they attribute to sharing in the Eucharist together is different.

For the national churches that make up the world-wide Anglican Communion, sharing holy communion with members of other denominations is a way of growing together in unity. For the Catholic Church, sharing in eucharistic communion = ecclesial communion. “Ecclesial” means “church.”  So communion in this sense takes on an expression of church unity.  In what does ecclesial communion consist? Vatican II’s document Constitution on the Church sees four bonds: professed faith, sacraments, ecclesiastical government, and fellowship.

As Anglicans and Catholics are still working out issues relating to authority (ecclesiastical government),  the mutual recognition of ministry (sacraments), and our fellowship is sporadic at best, from the Catholic Church’s point of view, it’s not yet “honest” for us to invoke together the consummate sign of unity in faith and life.

That said, the Catholic Church’s Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms Concerning Ecumenism, “recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments (eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick) may be permitted or even commended for Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities” (129)…  “The conditions under which a Catholic minister may administer these sacraments . . . are that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own church…, ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, manifest Catholic faith in this sacrament, and be properly disposed” (131).

You will not fail to notice here, I’m sure, that the situation envisioned is one in which a member of another church is present at the Catholic eucharist and wishes to receive communion, and not vice versa. In situations of pastoral need, Catholics have the approval of their own Church to receive the eucharist only in the Polish National Catholic Church, the Syrian Church, and in Orthodox Church, though the latter has not given a corresponding approval so the door is really not open there.

As you can see, the situation is both complex and painful. There will be a redemptive aspect to the pain, however, if it raises awareness that something is broken here and needs repair; if it spurs us on to become actively involved in the work for restoring visible unity among Christians. In the meantime, we’re expected to be faithful to the eucharistic discipline our own church asks of us in light of its theological understanding.

Fr Thomas Ryan, CSP is the Director for the Paulist Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs.

The Author : Thomas Ryan, CSP
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in Washington, D.C.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Reed

    Anglican Orders are Null and Invalid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.boru.18 Brian Boru

    I often wonder why the Nicene creed can’t be the basis of membership in the Christian church, rather than communion. Surely the apostles had disagreements. Does this mean they stopped sharing bread together? Besides, I bet they would not even know the difference between consubstantiation and transubstantiation. These are medieval concepts.

  • Bob Dowell

    The question is : does the Anglican priest have the power to turn the bread and wine into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. If not, they are false heritics leading people astray. Right?

    • Aly

      If anyone can turn bread and wine into actual flesh and blood, they need to call Ripley’s ASAP.

  • Mark SEMINN

    In the book of Galatians 3 26:28 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. for all of you who were babtized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, FOR YOU ALL ARE ONE in Christ.

    This leads me to believe the UNITY was desired and driven by our Lord and with the Episcopal belief in the Body and Blood of the Eucharist we share the same belief.

    This also leads me to wonder is then not my Marriage with the presence of my Catholic Priest and Episcopal Priest then not valid because it is not in Union with the Catholic Church?

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