The following resource was developed by the Western Diocesan &
Eparchial Coordinators of Ecumenism (WDECE), a Canadian Roman Catholic and Ukrainian
Catholic association of ecumenical officers. The WDECE developed this and other resources
at its regular meeting in October 1998 at Muenster, Saskatchewan.
This resource is offered here for the use of any who find it helpful.
Please feel free to adapt the material as necessary. Send us your experiences and
suggestions to assist in the development of future resources. Contact the WDECE at .
A review of our reality - past and present
- Statement on the historical Church divided
- Statement on the historical Church in process of healing
- Concern for our personal, family and community divisions and healings
- Where to from here? Our response to these divisions and healings
1 - An historical Church divided
Somehow, in spite of Jesus' prayer that we all be one, the Church has always faced
divisions, schisms, both in theological interpretation and liturgical practice, beginning
even with the Apostolic community. Examples: Council of Jerusalem and subsequent Councils;
Arian and other heresies; East-West split; Reformation, etc. This has always entailed a
great deal of pain and genuine soul-searching.
2 - An historical Church in process of healing
Along with the divisions there has always been a movement of genuine concern, positive
steps taken to really implement and live Jesus' prayer. Examples: Conciliar reform; quiet,
unofficial conversations and attempts at union; Vatican II Council; official inter-faith
dialogues; Catholic participation in World Council of Churches, inter-Church covenants,
The expression "already, but not yet" used in the title is a common
expression in ecumenical circles to describe the unity of the church experienced at the
present time. Under the grace of God, we are one as Christians and as a church. There is
only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." And yet, paradoxically we are divided.
Is this merely a human division that has no meaning in the light of divine grace? Is
visible unity unnecessary? The Catholic Church has always held firmly that God desires the
visible unity of the church.
3 - Our concern: with personal, family and community divisions &
In view of our overall dealing with Eucharistic Hospitality, we are not so much
concerned with the official aspects of this topic, as we are of the practical problems and
attempted resolutions as they affect the daily lives of individuals, families and
We will approach our subject, not through principles and directives, but through some
contemporary typical examples and personal stories, to situate in a living context, the
many concerns facing us.
We are all familiar today with many individuals and families who have experienced pain
and frustration arising from different Church practices, particularly in the area of
shared Eucharistic [in]hospitality.
We may know of inter-Church marriages in which dedicated Christians, while comfortable
with their own individual practices, cannot share a common Eucharist as a family.
When Christians of various denominations gather for common events at which the
Eucharist is celebrated, there is often an atmosphere of dissatisfaction and embarrassment
on the part of both the ministers and the faithful.
Common celebrations can and often do provide the participants with a desire and
commitment to re-evaluate their own understanding of the Eucharist.
4 - Where to from here?
- Inter-Church families: In many cases, where sharing the Eucharistic Table is often a
cause of divisiveness, frustration and serious conflict, the family involved may seek
varying solutions to resolve the dilemma.
- Can the "easy-way-out" provide a solution, i.e. gradual loss of all Faith
- Can the family involved come to terms with these tensions and embrace them as an
ecumenical challenge leading to a deepening of Faith?
- Liturgical celebrations: Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations, Weddings, Funerals,
Anniversaries, etc., are deep and personal moments of family life. When such moments are
celebrated within a Eucharistic context, families are torn between that which unites them
and that which divides them.
- Are families aware of existing norms concerning reception of the Eucharist by
- Can these moments be fully meaningful without reception of the Eucharist?
- Can one participate in the Eucharistic celebration without sharing the table?
- Other public gatherings, e.g. meetings, workshops, civic celebrations, retreats,
Marriage and Engaged Encounters, etc., may have the Eucharist celebrated. Such occasions
may also demonstrate great pain of division.
- Should the Eucharistic celebration be included in such occasions or be replaced with
other reverential forms of worship?
- Should any kind of announcement be made concerning the sharing of the Table? If so, by
whom and in what form?
- Could such occasions be opportunities for simple evangelization concerning the
Eucharist, respectful of the various traditions of the participants?
In all of the above situations several attempts at resolution of the difficulties
encountered have been exercised in practice:
- no Eucharist at all to avoid difficulties
- 'open-wide' Eucharist at which all are invited
- restricted sharing of the Table
Goal of this session:
To review the historical and canonical divisions and healings in relation to
1. Welcome & Opening Prayer
Facilitator welcomes the people and asks them to introduce themselves. A brief time of
prayer should follow. Throughout the reflections that follow, a prayerful attitude is
essential. Take care in the development of the prayers for opening and closing.
The facilitator invites the participants to silently reflect on the following
- What does Eucharistic sharing mean to you?
- What impact does sharing the Eucharist together have on your family? Your
- What impact does not being able to share the Eucharist have on your
relationships with family and friends?
Allow ample time between questions for participants to write down or silently reflect
on their answers. There should be no group discussion on the answers.
3. Presentation: Historical and canonical aspects of Eucharistic hospitality
A presentation should be made using material from the appendices, particularly Appendix
A on the current principles and norms for Eucharistic hospitality in the Roman Catholic
Church. Some groups may want to include material from Appendix B on the Eucharistic
hospitality policies of other Christian churches.
If you include the material in Appendix B, it should be noted that this does not imply
reciprocity, and that the Roman Catholic Church has a policy on the reception of the
Eucharist by Catholics when in other churches. This policy does not normally allow
Eucharistic sharing, except under certain conditions in the Orthodox churches and the
Polish National Catholic Church. (Cf. CIC, can. 844, 2) Catholics should respect the
discipline of the Orthodox churches that do not ordinarily share the Eucharist with
members of other churches.
4. Discussion of case studies in small groups
Small groups should discuss the material in section 4 above, entitled "Where to
from here?" After discussing the case studies, the small groups should explore the
questions below. The small groups will not be reporting to the large group.
- In your circumstances, individual, family and community, what have been your
- How have you begun to address these issues?
- What can be done in your situation[s] to help resolve the pain of division to
and recognize as well as encourage the healing taking place?
Take a few minutes at the end of the meeting to reflect on the following questions in
the large group.
- What did you learn that you wanted to know?
- What did you learn that was a surprise?
- What did you learn that you did not want to know?
Close with a prayer or hymn of your choice.
Appendix A: A Pastoral Commentary on the Relevant Canon Law
(Note this appendix was prepared by the WDECE conference in October 1998
at Muenster, Saskatchewan. This appendix could be replaced by the more recent draft
guidelines on Eucharistic hospitality prepared by the CCCB ecumenical commission, or
similar material developed by other bishops' conferences.) See appendix C for a list
of important documents relevant to Eucharistic sharing.
The Church has changed its perspective on Eucharistic hospitality over the past years.
The Church recognizes that there are two complementary principles relating to Eucharistic
sharing; that the sacrament is a celebration of the unity that we manifest as the
Christian community, and that the sacrament draws us into unity with Christ and with each
other and thereby gives birth to the unity which we desire. The first principle requires
that we not share the sacrament with church communities with whom we do not share a unity
of faith. The second principle sometimes commends us to share the Eucharist with others.
"The conditions under which a Catholic minister may administer the sacraments
of the Eucharist, of penance and of the anointing of the sick to a baptized person ... are
that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his
or her own Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her initiative,
manifest a Catholic faith in this sacrament and be properly disposed." (DAPNE, n.
131; cf. CIC, can 844; CCEO, can. 671)
The Ecumenical Directory (1967, rev. 1993) and the Code of Canon Law (1983) list two
general conditions, and four specific conditions for the admission to the Eucharist:
- a baptized Christian
- a grave and pressing need
- unable to seek the sacrament within their own church community
- an understanding of the sacrament that conforms to that of the Catholic community
- ask of their own desire to receive the sacrament
- properly disposed
The Code of Canon Law and the Ecumenical Directory distinguishes the special
circumstances of Eastern churches and those who have maintained the sacramental order as
recognized by the Holy See. Members of these churches may receive the sacraments if they
ask for them of their own desire and are properly disposed. (CIC, can. 844, 3)
"Grave and pressing need" is to be determined according to guidelines
established by the diocesan bishop or the Bishops' Conference. Generally, danger of death
is recognized as a time when a person may have a grave and pressing need. Further
consideration is being given by the Bishops' Conference to include:
- interchurch couples and families: when a marriage is celebrated in the context of the
nuptial Mass, the baptism of a child which takes place at a Mass, first communion or
confirmation of a child when the partner has taken an active part in the parish
preparation programme, wedding anniversaries, retreats or marriage encounters.
- the funeral of a relative or close friend which takes place in a Catholic church.
"Proper disposition" is the same condition that all Catholic communicants are
required to manifest.
Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and
that this presence is more than a spiritual presence or remembrance. [There is no
requirement that the person use or accept the term "transubstantiation." In
particular, the Eastern churches and some Western churches who have developed an
ecumenical convergence statement on the Eucharist manifest this Catholic understanding.
Anglicans and Lutherans have already issued such a statement in dialogue with the Roman
Inability to ask for the sacrament from their own minister may occur:
- during the confinement of the individual in a health care facility, a prison, or some
- in rural areas, where the minister of their own Christian tradition is absent for a
period of time, or at considerable distance.
- when the person cannot ask for the sacrament due to moral impossibility. This occurs
when a person is unable to approach their minister due to a very serious breakdown in
their pastoral relationship.
It is essential that the person freely asks of their own desire, without undue
influence. There must be no pressure or attempt to persuade. Even a general invitation can
be a subtle form of pressure.
Appendix B: Policies on Eucharistic Hospitality of other Christian Churches
The Anglican Church of Canada has a formal policy on Eucharistic sharing. This policy
extends an invitation to all baptized Christians who normally receive the Eucharist within
their own church.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada invites all baptized Christians to receive
the Eucharist. The issue of children at the table is left to a congregational and parental
The Lutheran Church Canada has a closed communion table. Only members of the LCC
(or Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) may receive communion in LCC congregations.
The Presbyterian Church in Canada has an open table. On the Reformed principle that it
is Christ's table, not the church's or the individual minister's, the PCC invites all who
are baptised and desire to receive the sacrament to receive. In many congregations, it is
an active issue whether children should be at the table. There is no church-wide policy on
this, it is left to the individual church session (church council) and the parents of the
The United Church of Canada has an open table. On the principle that it is
Christ's invitation, not the church's, the United Church considers the decision
to receive communion to be a matter of personal conscience. Although at one time the
United Church required that all communicants be baptized, this is no longer universally
The Mennonite Church (a union of the General Conference of Mennonite Churches and the
Mennonite Church) leave the matter to the decision of the individual congregation. Many
congregations invite all who desire the Lord's Supper to the table. Baptism
(particularly adult or believer's baptism) is no longer required by many
The Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches also leaves the matter to individual
congregations. It is however quite common that the table is restricted to Mennonites. In
some cases, the Lord's Supper is restricted to members of the Mennonite Brethren
church, or to the particular congregation.
Eastern Orthodox churches all understand the Eucharist to be a sign of the unity of the
Church. As such communion is restricted to Eastern Orthodox. In danger of death, or other
times of grave need, Roman Catholics may be permitted to receive the sacrament. The priest
must always be consulted in advance.
Oriental Orthodox churches have a similarly strict policy on Eucharistic sharing.
Individual clergy should be consulted on their personal policies.
Appendix C: Important documents relevant to Eucharistic sharing
Vatican II's Decree on ecumenism, November 21, 1964.
Encyclical by Pope John Paul II on ecumenism, May 25, 1995.
- The Code of
Revised in 1983, this is the official code of law for the Roman Catholic
- The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches
The new code of canon law developed for the Eastern Catholic churches in
- The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on
Ecumenism (The Ecumenical Directory). Revised in 1993, the directory is
published by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. See also the Analytical Index to the DAPNE.
- Three documents from the years immediately following the publication of the first
ecumenical directory (1967 & 1970). These are surpassed by the new ecumenical
ces derniers temps
(Declaration by the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity on
the celebration of the Eucharist in common by Christians of different confessions, January
quibus rerum circumstantiis
(Instruction by the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity on
admitting other Christians to Eucharistic communion in the Catholic Church, June 1, 1972)
(Note by the Vatican's Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
Interpreting the "Instruction on admitting other Christians to Eucharistic communion
in the Catholic Church", October 17, 1973)
ecumenical dimension in the formation of those engaged in pastoral work
Issued in 1995 by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian
reception of the holy communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful
Issued in 1994 by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Bread, One Body
The 1999 teaching document from the Catholic bishops' conferences of England
& Wales, Scotland, & Ireland.
- The Directory on
Ecumenism for Southern Africa
A teaching document and policy by the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference. This
document has received "recognitio" by the Holy See.
- Pastoral letter on the Eucharist
A pastoral letter by Archbishop Thomas Collins, Archdiocese of Edmonton,