|ROME, 30 MAY 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: My cousin will be ordained this summer as a priest in the Episcopal
Church (High Church). At her first mass, may I receive communion from
J.L., Silver Spring, Maryland
A: Pope John Paul II answered this question in his encyclical "Ecclesia
de Eucharistia," No. 30:
"The Catholic Church's teaching on the relationship between priestly
ministry and the Eucharist and her teaching on the Eucharistic Sacrifice
have both been the subject in recent decades of a fruitful dialogue in
the area of ecumenism. We must give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for
the significant progress and convergence achieved in this regard, which
lead us to hope one day for a full sharing of faith. Nonetheless, the
observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which
arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated
from the Catholic Church remain fully pertinent: 'The Ecclesial
Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which
should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the
lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and
total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they
commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they
profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await
his coming in glory' (Vatican II, 'Unitatis Redintegratio,' No. 22).
"The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious
convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the
communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an
ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail
in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth. This would result in
slowing the progress being made towards full visible unity. Similarly,
it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday Mass ecumenical celebrations
of the word or services of common prayer with Christians from the
aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own
liturgical services. Such celebrations and services, however
praiseworthy in certain situations, prepare for the goal of full
communion, including Eucharistic communion, but they cannot replace it.
"The fact that the power of consecrating the Eucharist has been
entrusted only to bishops and priests does not represent any kind of
belittlement of the rest of the People of God, for in the communion of
the one body of Christ which is the Church this gift redounds to the
benefit of all."
From this it is clear that while one may attend a relative's ordination
as an Episcopal minister, a Catholic should refrain from receiving
communion. If this ceremony were to take place on a Sunday, it would not
substitute for Sunday Mass.
For a Catholic, participating at Mass and receiving Communion should be
the zenith of life in the Church toward which all other activities are
ordained and from which they receive their strength.
Receiving Communion expresses the Catholic's union of heart, mind and
soul to Christ and his Church.
Our "Amen" before receiving Christ's Body affirms our belief in all that
the Church teaches with respect to this sublime mystery. It also affirms
our belief in Christ's incarnation, passion, death and resurrection
which is the Eucharist's foundation. Christ's Church makes the
Because it is such a strong statement of faith, we could say that a
Catholic is never more Catholic than when receiving the Lord. And this
is why we can never partake of the Eucharist in another ecclesial
community which does not have the fullness of the Eucharist and the
* * *
Follow-up: Episcopalian Eucharist [6-13-2006]
Some readers of our May 30 column, on communion at an Episcopalian
ordination, asked why I did not simply affirm that the ordination was
A specific mention of this fact would have been moot as I assumed that
both the original questioner, and ZENIT readers in general, are
sufficiently well formed to know that the Church could never recognize
the sacramental validity of the ordination of a woman to Anglican
The question, therefore, had to do with why it was not correct to
receive communion at such a service. Since Pope John Paul II had
authoritatively answered this precise question, I considered it best to
use his very words in reply.
Another reader, a priest from Winnipeg, Manitoba, broached another
point: "You mentioned recently that 'one may attend a relative's
ordination as an Episcopal minister.' I've always appreciated the old
practice of not attending an invalid marriage because of the witness
value of attending. Since an Episcopal ordination does not produce a
valid priest, would the attendance of a Catholic imply an approval of
some sort? And if not, perhaps if the person submitting to the rite is a
lapsed Catholic, it would be better if the Catholic did not attend."
I do not believe the two situations are perfectly parallel. Attending a
ceremony involving an invalid marriage can signify approval for a couple
entering into an objectively sinful state.
Attending, for a just cause, an Episcopalian ordination or analogous
installation ceremonies for Protestant ministers does not imply any
recognition of their sacramental validity and is simply a gesture of
friendship or family ties.
I agree, however, that some particular circumstances, such as the
ordination of a lapsed Catholic, would make it inadvisable for a
Catholic to attend such a ceremony. No matter how much respect we may
have for the sincere faith of other Christians, no Catholic could
approve or view positively a person's publicly abandoning the Catholic
faith, which we believe to be the fullness of Christ's Church, by
becoming a minister in another Christian community.
Finally, a reader from Paris asked: "I'd like to know whether a
Protestant can receive Catholic Communion or not, especially if he/she
accepts the Catholic meaning of Eucharistic Communion."
We have addressed this issue in our column of Dec. 2 and 16, 2003.