Recently, someone asked me a question I have heard several times before: “Why do we Catholics not allow other Christians to receive communion in our churches?” The answer often given is that non-Catholics do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but this answer brings with it several problems – firstly, there are some non-Catholic Christians, who do have the same understanding of the Eucharist as us Catholics, but, under normal circumstances, we would still not allow them to receive. Another problem with this answer is that it suggests that a correct understanding of the Eucharist is necessary for receiving communion – but if this were so, we would probably have to ban a good proportion of our Catholics from receiving, because their thinking on the Eucharist can be distinctly wobbly at times! Fortunately, when we receive Christ in communion, we receive him with our hearts, not our intellect – and, as Pascal says: “the heart has reasons that reason does not know.” No, the true reason for restricting communion only to Catholics lies elsewhere.
When we receive Christ in the Eucharist, there is not “one”, but “two” communions taking place – one, with Jesus Christ, our Lord, and the other, with the community to which we belong. If communion were only about my one-ness with the Lord, there could be no objection to other Christians receiving communion, but it is because communion is also about my one-ness with my community, that I have to say to other Christians, “I am sorry, but we are not in communion with each other, because we belong to separated communities.” And the same holds true should I attend another Church and they invite me to share communion with them.
This practice is not there to cause division, but to teach a central belief of our Catholic Faith – namely, that we do not first meet Christ and then join a community, but the other way round: we meet Christ in and through the community, we belong to. Thus, they are a part of my communion with Christ – and this does not mean merely the group of people I happen to be worshipping with, but the community I have made a decision to belong to, the one that is committed to me and I to them. It is in that community commitment that I experience Christ’s touch, hear his voice and learn to love him in return. With and through that community, I am inspired to reach out with Christ in love and service to the world – and it is also in and through that community, that I am comforted, healed and lifted up again, when I fail and fall.
This does not mean that we Catholics are in perfect communion with each other, with no quarrels or dissensions – far from it! But we are pledged to journey together! The road we are called to follow is to be moulded into being truly the sons and daughters of God and so this also means that we become brothers and sisters of each other – we belong to each other. Our calling – to love and serve the world with Christ – cannot be done as individuals – we need our community; we need to know that no matter how difficult the road, those we walk with will not turn their backs on us; we need to know we are truly one family, one community, sworn to live for each other all our lives long. It is this togetherness that we also celebrate when we receive communion.
There is an exception to this rule. Should a member of another Church regularly attends Mass with us and shares in our community life, because there is no community of his own Church in that area, then we are allowed to offer, what is known as “Eucharistic Hospitality”. This is because the Church knows that a person needs to belong to a community in order to be one with the Lord, and as, while with us, he enters as far as he can into our community, we are allowed to express this by offering him communion. This exception, however, brings out the same understanding of the Mass that we have spoken of: it is a celebration of two communions – one with Christ and the other with the community – and I must be part of both for my communion to be true.
This practice, therefore, does not imply that we consider non-Catholics to be sinners or not worthy of communion. It shows, instead, that we belong to one Christian community, but a community which is broken – a brokenness that Christ calls on us to work towards healing. Pope Paul VI spoke of the great pain of not being able to share communion with non-Catholics. He said that just as with divisions within a family, we are not allowed to pretend that they do not exist, but truly try to heal them, so also with the brokenness in the family of Christianity, we are not allowed to pretend they do not exist. Only, he said, when we are willing to bear the pain of the separation that exists between us, will we find the strength to truly work for the true communion of communities that is the Will of Christ. It is a way of the cross that must be followed if we are to come to the joy of Easter and to full communion with all our separated brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Octave of prayer for Christian Unity is 21st – 28th January 2011
I stayed in a hotel for a couple of days on my way to Bali. The staff members were pleasant and helpful and the standard of rooms and food etc was as expected, but the overall impression was that the management was only interested in getting as much money out of you as possible. For instance, wifi is now an expected facility in an hotel, but they charged – and at a high rate. Also, any transport they arranged turned out to be rather more costly than was available otherwise. It left a sour taste in the mouth! Somebody once said that people will forgive a priest many things – but not meanness – I suspect that applies to hoteliers also!
We had a great Christmas Eve Mass and party. We were a little late in starting because the traffic – caused by so many visitors, mainly from Java – was horrific. Our singing was a little off, because I had forgotten to provide carol sheets and we had to rely on our memories for the words – which were not as good as they could have been. But that made it all the more of a family occasion, which it most certainly was.
I go into retreat tomorrow in the mountains. I will be remembering you all in my prayers. May God grant you all blessings in the New Year of 2011.