Storm Warning: Chapter 8
Ecumenism and Intercommunion
When Douglas Roch attends a non-Catholic church he receives communion, and he invites non-Catholic friends to receive the Eucharist in Catholic churches. He knows that this is contrary to what he calls “rulings” which forbid intercommunion. Against such ‘rules’ he advocates intercommunion as “a way to create the unity which seems to be otherwise blocked.”1
I think we do a disservice to the fullness of the ecumenical dimension defined in conciliar terms by holding rigidly to a ruling that bans intercommunion.2
Roche recognizes that this leaves him “in the camp of those who follow selective rulings and teaching,” and, oddly enough, describes this as an unhealthy sign. It appears that he considers it a symptom of the problems with the Church rather than his own outlook, since he says bluntly, “for me this is not a problem – I don’t pay any attention to this law.”3
De Roo congratulates Roche for providing “a practical application of one of the most fundamental questions we have discussed, the hierarchy of truths.”
You do not feel that you are attacking fundamental Catholicity . . . You are making a distinction between what you think is central, and what is not. That is a very sound principle.4
De Roo thus suggests that ‘lesser truths’ can be sacrificed in the interests of ecumenism. The ban against intercommunion is presented by the authors as one of those rigid, merely “institutional impediments” to the unity of Christendom.
The Council: the law of God
When comparing Catholic and non-Catholic beliefs, the Second Vatican Council had an outlook very different from Leddy and her “theologians” and “commissions.” It acknowledged that “the differences . . . whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church – do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion.”5 Between the Protestant churches and the Catholic Church the Council Fathers recognized “very weighty differences not only of a historical, sociological, psychological and cultural character, but especially in the interpretation of revealed truth.”6 Further, “there exist considerable differences from the doctrine of the Catholic Church even concerning Christ the Word of God made flesh and the work of redemption, and thus concerning the mystery and ministry of the Church and the role of Mary in the work of salvation.”7
The Council Fathers nonetheless encouraged initiatives and activities to promote Christian unity, such as “dialogue between competent experts from different Churches,” cooperation in projects fostering “the common good of humanity,” and avoiding “expressions, judgments and actions which do not represent the condition of our separated brethren with truth and fairness.” They also recommended common prayer – “where this is permitted,”8 but “worship in common (communicatio in sacris) is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity among Christians.”9 (emphasis added)
Vatican II gave us the reason underlying this in its Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches:
A mutual sharing in sacred things (communicatio in sacris), which runs counter to the unity of the Church, or which involves formal adhesion to error or the danger of aberration in the faith, of scandal and of indifferentism, is forbidden by the law of God. 10 (emphasis added)
Roche says, “I don’t pay any attention to this law.” And Bishop De Roo applauds. The authors’ prattling about “the fullness of the ecumenical dimension defined in concilar terms” and the “hierarchy of truths” is, in fact, an unctuous fraud. Christian reunification through intercommunion was unequivocally rejected by the Second Vatican Council itself. Since a bishop ordained in the Catholic Church has set himself against the statements of an ecumenical council on the subject of the Eucharist, the matter is worth examining more closely.
The Council: unity and grace
Vatican II enunciated two principles derived from divine law that govern the practice of intercommunion:
[F]irst, that of the unity of the Church which ought to be expressed: and second, that of the sharing in the menas of grace. The expression of unity very generally forbids common worship. Grace to be obtained sometimes commends it.11
The Council applied these principles both in the Decree on Ecumenism and in the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, outlining the conditions which must be met before intercommunion is permitted. Of central significance is the distinction which the council made between the separated churches of the East and those which originated in the Reformation, among which “the Anglican communion occupies a special place.”12
The Council: East and West
The Council Fathers noted that the separated Eastern churches “yet possess true sacraments, above all – by aspotolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to use in closest intimacy.”13
Consequently, “where the unity of the Church is not harmed nor are there dangers to be guarded against, but where the need of salvation and spiritual good of souls are prime considerations,”14
Eastern Christians who are separated in good faith from the Catholic Church, if they are rightly disposed and make such request of their own accord, may be given the Sacraments of Penance, the Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick. Moreover, Catholics may also ask for those same sacraments from non-Catholics in whose church there are valid sacraments, as often as necessity or true spiritual benefit recomends such action, and access to a Catholic priest is physically or morally impossible.15 (emphasis added)
The key issue is the validity of the sacraments. Because the separated Eastern churches possess valid sacraments, “some worship in common (communicatio in sacris), given suitable circumstances and the approval of Church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged.”16
But that is not the case with the Protestant churches. They “have not preserved the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders.”17
With the assistance of bishops throughout the world, the Code of Canon Law was revised to incorporate the reforms and changes authorized by the Second Vatican Council. Canon 844 of the new Code faithfully reflects the teaching of the Council.18 In the Eye of the Catholic Storm does not.
The Council: obstacles to understanding
The Council Fathers expressed concern that the “manner and order in which Catholic belief is expressed should in no way become and obstacle to dialogue.” They nonetheless insisted that it should be “clearly presented in its entirety.”
Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism which harms the purity of Catholic doctrine and obscures its genuine and certain meaning.19
Moreover, the Council reminded us tha the Church “strictly forbids that anyone should be forced to accept the faith, or be induced or entice by unworthy devices,”20 among which must nowadays be counted the deliberate adulteration or misrepresentation of Catholic doctrine.
Catholic teaching is that only a validly ordained priest can change bread and wine into the Eucharist with the words of consecration. The Catholic faith also holds that this Eucharist is, in literal fact, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the Lord God incarnate, offered in the sacrifice of Calvary for our redemption. Against the evidence of the senses, against the evidence of the sciences, against the inclination of unaided human reason, that is what Catholics must believe- because that is what the Catholic Church infallibly teaches.
One who receives communion in the Catholic Church receives the body and blood of Christ. One who receives communion in the Anglican church or one of the other Protestant churches receives a piece of bread. These are objective realties that do not depend upon the belief of the communicant or of the community.
This is not intended to demean the ministry of non-Catholic clergy, understood as a service to their people arising from the love of Christ.21 But intercommunion a la Roche is a practical assertion that there is no difference between Jesus Christ Himself and a piece of bread. It is a lie.
The Council: fully and sincerely Catholic
Despite the difficulties which it recognized, the Second Vatican Council hoped for Christian reconciliation “in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ.” Looking to the future, the Council Fathers offered some advice.
This sacred Council urges the faithful to abstain from any frivolous or imprudent zeal, for these can cause harm to true progress toward unity. Their ecumenical activity cannot be other than fully and sincerely Catholic, that is, loyal to the truth we have received from the Apostles and the Fathers, and in harmony with the faith which the Catholic Church has always professed . . . tending towards that fullness in which our Lord wants his Body to grow in the course of time.22
5. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 3
6. Ibid, 19
7. Ibid, 20
8. Ibid, 4
9. Ibid, 8
10. Vatican Council II (1964) Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 26
11. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 8
14. Vatican Council II (1964) Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 26
15. Vatican Council II (1964) Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 27
16. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 15
17. Ibid, 22
19. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 11
20. Vatican Council II (1965) Ad Gentes Divinitus, 13
21. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 3. See also Nowell, Robert, “No special rite for Anglican converts,” BC Catholic, 9 May, 1993, p. 3
22. Vatican Council II (1964) Unitatis Redintegratio, 24