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.