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Monday, April 12, 2004

Reflecting on Kerry's reception of communion with Protestants

Amy Welborn makes the excellent suggestion of using the Kerry scandal as an opportunity for Catholic education on the nature of the Eucharist:
Further, this is a moment of education as to the nature of Eucharist. What is it? What's interesting is that in these post-Conciliar days, we are constantly reminded that Eucharist is not a private devotion - it is an effective sign of the unity of God's people in Christ.


That's why, in the end, the weight of criticism is not at Kerry, as opportunistic and cynical as his use of this issue may be. It is, once again, on those charged with helping all of us understand and live by it.

* * *

One of the issues -- perhaps minor in relation to Kerry's decision to receive communion in contravention to the admonition of his bishop, but no less important for a proper understanding of the Eucharist -- is the fact that Kerry had decided on Palm Sunday to receive communion at a Protestant church. Kudos to Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review's "The Corner" for picking up on why this wasn't exactly kosher:

Here's Kerry taking Communion at a Protestant church. Here's what PJPII reiterated on this matter in his encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia: "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...."

To clarify the Holy Father's concern about receiving communion with "separated brethren", it would be helpful here to quote more extensively from Ecclesia De Eucharistia, particularly Chapter 4: The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion:

35. The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church's hierarchical order. The profound relationship between the invisible and the visible elements of ecclesial communion is constitutive of the Church as the sacrament of salvation. Only in this context can there be a legitimate celebration of the Eucharist and true participation in it. Consequently it is an intrinsic requirement of the Eucharist that it should be celebrated in communion, and specifically maintaining the various bonds of that communion intact. 

[and later]

39. Furthermore, given the very nature of ecclesial communion and its relation to the sacrament of the Eucharist, it must be recalled that "the Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, that it is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church." . . .

The ecclesial communion of the Eucharistic assembly is a communion with its own Bishop and with the Roman Pontiff. The Bishop, in effect, is the visible principle and the foundation of unity within his particular Church. It would therefore be a great contradiction if the sacrament par excellence of the Church's unity were celebrated without true communion with the Bishop. As Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote: "That Eucharist which is celebrated under the Bishop, or under one to whom the Bishop has given this charge, may be considered certain." Likewise, since "the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the Bishops and of the multitude of the faithful," communion with him is intrinsically required for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Hence the great truth expressed which the Liturgy expresses in a variety of ways: "Every celebration of the Eucharist is performed in union not only with the proper Bishop, but also with the Pope, with the episcopal order, with all the clergy, and with the entire people. Every valid celebration of the Eucharist expresses this universal communion with Peter and with the whole Church, or objectively calls for it, as in the case of the Christian Churches separated from Rome. . . . "

43. In considering the Eucharist as the sacrament of ecclesial communion, there is one subject which, due to its importance, must not be overlooked: I am referring to the relationship of the Eucharist to ecumenical activity. We should all give thanks to the Blessed Trinity for the many members of the faithful throughout the world who in recent decades have felt an ardent desire for unity among all Christians. The Second Vatican Council, at the beginning of its Decree on Ecumenism, sees this as a special gift of God. It was an efficacious grace which inspired us, the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church and our brothers and sisters from other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, to set forth on the path of ecumenism. 

Our longing for the goal of unity prompts us to turn to the Eucharist, which is the supreme sacrament of the unity of the People of God, in as much as it is the apt expression and the unsurpassable source of that unity. In the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice the Church prays that God, the Father of mercies, will grant his children the fullness of the Holy Spirit so that they may become one body and one spirit in Christ. . . .

44. Precisely because the Church's unity, which the Eucharist brings about through the Lord's sacrifice and by communion in his body and blood, absolutely requires full communion in the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments and ecclesiastical governance, it is not possible to celebrate together the same Eucharistic liturgy until those bonds are fully re-established. Any such concelebration would not be a valid means, and might well prove instead to be an obstacle, to the attainment of full communion, by weakening the sense of how far we remain from this goal and by introducing or exacerbating ambiguities with regard to one or another truth of the faith. The path towards full unity can only be undertaken in truth. In this area, the prohibitions of Church law leave no room for uncertainty, in fidelity to the moral norm laid down by the Second Vatican Council. 

The "ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist" that the Pope refers to following the above is not only regarding the doctrine of real presence (lacking among many Protestant denominations), but the Catholic understanding of proper celebration in "true communion" -- moral, doctrinal, ecclesial -- with the Holy Catholic Church.

The current state of disunity between Catholics and Protestants, of which disagreement over the nature and meaning of the Eucharist is but one sign, is a painful reality with which every Christian must contend. When a professing Catholic (like Senator Kerry) chooses to receive communion with Protestants -- whether for reasons of a political "photo-op" or even the desire not to refrain and cause a scene -- he impedes the presentation of the distinctively Catholic understanding of the Eucharist, and contributes to the ambiguity about which the Holy Father is concerned.

* * *
Commenting on the rush of his own denomination (ELCA) "to consort with various Reformed churches, Moravians, Roman Catholics, and Episcopalians", Bishop Michael McDaniel (1929 – 2003) quipped:
The prayer of Jesus in John 17[:11] that we might be one “as He and the Father are one” is not a mandate for mindless coziness. However “good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” [Psalm 133:1], we must not sacrifice God’s truth on an altar of unity.

Serious disagreements between Catholics and Protestants over the nature and meaning of the Eucharist cannot be paved over by a casual stroll to the communion rail such as Kerry did on Palm Sunday. Kerry's reception not only displays an attitude of blatant disregard for these differences, but does a great disservice to ecumenical relations by insulting those who strive for genuine dialogue while maintaining open and honest recognition of where they stand on such matters.

From the new blog Against The Grain

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