A reader alerted me to an article in US Catholic suggesting that Catholics can receive “communion” in Lutheran (read: Protestant) services.
Sound right to you?
Good… thought not.
Let’s have a look with my comments and emphases.
Should you pass on communion at a Lutheran church or participate fully?
You are at the wedding of a beloved family member or friend, which is taking place at a Lutheran church. You gladly accepted the invitation to celebrate this happy day with the bride and groom. But then there is a call to come to the table of the Lord’s Supper, to receive communion. This is the awkward moment you knew was coming.
Can you, and should you, a practicing Catholic, accept the invitation? [This is where you are to say, “No. Of course not.”]
According to the Code of Canon Law, receiving communion in a Protestant church is generally not permissible. [generally?] According to canon 844, “Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments to Catholic members of the Christian faithful only and, likewise, the latter may licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers.” [Hmmm… isn’t there actually a bit more text to that canon?] The key term here is licit. If a Catholic receives communion from a Protestant minister, it is generally considered “illicit” or unlawful. [Not to mention it a blasphemous act of idolatry. We are not talking a here about an ancient and apostolic Church with valid orders and sacraments, such as an Orthodox Church. Protestants have “ecclesial communities”, but not Churches, as the clear document from the CDF teaches. They have no valid orders or Eucharist. They have an entirely and heretical notion of the Eucharist. Reception of their “communion” is wrong.]
The reason for the Catholic Church’s general rule against sharing in the Eucharist with other churches is that a person can only be in full communion with one church. As a Catholic, the core of one’s union with Christ is union with the church. The center of this union lies in the reception of the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass, which is both a confession and embodiment of unity with the Roman Catholic Church. [There is a bit more to it than that, but let that pass. And it is always fascinating to see how some people reduce doctrinal points to “rules”, when “rules” are actually based on doctrine.]
But canon 844 includes an exception to the rule “whenever necessity requires or general spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided.” [A situation might develop when a Catholic cannot approach or be visited by a Catholic minister of a sacrament. It is possible to receive a valid sacrament from a non-Catholic validly ordained minister in an emergency. Protestants could give advice and comfort, but no valid Eucharist or absolution.]
The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism said that, as a general rule, [there’s that language again] common worship and eucharistic and other sacramental sharing should “signify the unity of the church.” But it acknowledges that such sharing can also be seen as advancing unity. In fact, according to the decree, “the gaining of a needed grace sometimes commends” it. [squish…splat…]
Still, within the confines of canon law, the exceptions to the rule are rather limited, and receiving communion from a Lutheran pastor during a wedding would normally be seen as “illicit” for Catholic wedding guests. [I think it would be seen as the sin of blasphemy. Blasphemy involves words or gestures, also thoughts, which show contempt for God or dishonor God regardless of whether the person intends that contempt or dishonor or not. Blasphemy is against the virtue of religion and a mortal sin.] At the same time, some Catholics would like to, and do, receive communion on these rare occasions. [And they are wrong to do so.]
These Catholics, after a careful examination of their conscience, [Huh? Is he psychic?] find compelling reasons to “gain a needed grace” by receiving communion in a Protestant church.  And it is also true that eucharistic sharing has occurred at the highest levels of the church. Even Jesus occasionally broke the religious law of his day, though he did so to fulfill the “spirit” of the law. [Ahhh…. I seeeeee…. the old “what would Jesus do?” argument as a way to justify something just plain wrong.]
So it is possible that one could follow Jesus’ lead. In our example a compelling reason might be to demonstrate one’s deep love and commitment to nurturing the relationship of the newly married couple. [In other words, do something blasphemous to make them feel good?] Intercommunion could be a “yes” to God by witnessing to God’s presence in the marriage and committing to God’s work of salvation in their lives. [And treat a piece of bread and sip of wine as if they were God.]
In the end, this may be fulfilling the “spirit” of canon law while going against the letter.
By Kevin Considine, a Ph.D. candidate in theology at Loyola University in Chicago. This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 76, No. 10, page 46).
Mr. Considine is perhaps just trying to be too clever by half in engaging in this kabuki dance with law and ecumenism.
I don’t think he is being purposely duplicitous by not giving his readers the full benefit of the text of canon 844.
The second paragraph of canon 844 states,
“Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ’s faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, may lawfully receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.”
Note that last little phrase “in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.”
Validity matters. The community, or Church the minister belongs to matters.
Protestant ecclesial communities (they are not Churches, properly understood – cf. HERE.) lack valid ordination, correct theology and intention, and therefore cannot validly consecrate Eucharist for their communion. They are therefore excluded by can. 844.
Canon 844 is really about our separated brothers and sisters of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Polish National Catholic Church, pre-Calcedonian Churches and so forth. These are the Churches, fully and properly so-called. They have valid orders and Eucharist.
Can. 844.2 says that it is morally and canonically proper for a Catholic to receive the Eucharist from (and to confess to and be anointed by) a priest, deacon or bishop of one of those real Churches.
Can. 844 cannot pertain to Protestant groups, such as Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, etc. They lack valid orders and lack a sacramental theology consonant with that of the Catholic Church.
Considine has pitted the Church against Christ, with the notion that we must “break the religious law of the day” to “fulfil the ‘spirit’ of the law.”
I hope he was just trying to be clever and creative.
Thanks, US Catholic, for another reason to spend our subscription budget money on The Catholic Herald and The Wanderer.