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Receiving Eucharist: a goal to achieve or something to share on the journey of life?

Rocco Palmo
Pope Francis visited the city’s Evangelical Lutheran church for an ecumenical dialogue. (Indeed, with an eye to the coming 500th anniversary of the German Reformation in 2017, today’s event follows quickly on the heels of Declaration on the Way, a major joint statement from the USCCB and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America rolled out earlier this month as a roadmap for the path forward.)
Among the handful chosen to take part in today’s Q&A, Francis heard from a member of the mostly German-Swiss congregation who, speaking of her marriage to a Catholic, addressed “the hurt we’ve felt together due to [their] difference of faith” and asked about their ability “to finally participate together in Communion.”
In an answer that’s almost certain to resonate broadly across the ecumenical scene (and elsewhere, quite possibly show his hand on his intended course following last month’s Synod on the Family), the pontiff – clearly wrestling with the plea – pointedly appealed less to the standard prohibition of the Eucharist for Protestant communities than to the woman’s discernment in conscience.
As if to reinforce the point, in a move clearly decided in advance, Francis publicly presented the pastor with a chalice which appeared identical to the ones the Pope gave the archbishops of Washington, New York and Philadelphia during his late September US trip. On another context front, meanwhile, having employed Q&A as a favorite format with no shortage of groups over time, Papa Bergoglio is customarily appraised of the questions to be put to him in advance – and given the situation here, it’d be practically impossible to believe that Francis didn’t anticipate the topic coming up. Along these lines, it was oddly telling that the Pope referred positively to the deeply irregular situation of Jerónimo Podestá – the Argentine bishop who fled his ministry to marry in 1968 – to whom the now-Pope was close at his death in 2000, and to whose widow Francis has remained in contact both before and since his election, all while the country’s other prelates kept a disapproving distance.
All that said, as Cardinal Walter Kasper looked on between the current Ecumenism Czar Cardinal Kurt Koch and the Papal Vicar for Rome, Cardinal Agostino Vallini.
Below is an English translation of the Pope’s reply:

The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper – I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this mandatumto “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper in the final banquet in the new Jerusalem – it’ll be there! But that will be the last one… in the meantime, I ask myself and don’t know how to respond – what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [etym. “to accompany you on the journey”] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.
It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means that there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand. But I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? And you’re a witness of a likewise profound journey, a journey of marriage: itself a journey of family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.
When you feel yourself a sinner – and I’m much more of a sinner – when your husband feels he’s sinned, you go forward to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution, [thus] I’m healed and kept alive in my Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who is Jesus? Why did Jesus come? What did Jesus do for us?, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same.
The question [Pope draws question mark with his finger]…. The supper? There are questions that only if one is sincere with oneself and the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.
I once had a great friendship with a bishop who went a little wrong – 48 years old, he married [then had] two children. This made for great discomfort in him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied them on Sunday, his wife and children, to Mass, and then went to worship with his community…. It was a step toward his participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, then the Lord called him [to realize] “I’m not right.”
I can only respond to your question with a question: what can I do with my husband that the Lord’s Supper might accompany me on my path? It’s a problem that each must answer [for themselves], but a pastor-friend once told me that “We believe that the Lord is present, he is present” – you believe that the Lord is present. There are explanations, interpretations, but life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism – one faith, one baptism, one Lord: this Paul tells us; the consequences come later.
I would never dare to give permission to do this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and go forward. [Pauses] And I wouldn’t dare – I don’t dare say anything more.

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  1. Peter Shore says:

    It sounds like the answer was in the question. The questioner asked about their “difference of faith”. If there is a difference of faith, they are not “in communion”. If they are not in communion, they cannot share communion. It seems straightforward.
    However, I recall the joint declaration between the Lutheran and Catholic churches some years ago, which said that there were no fundamental differences of doctrine regarding the question of justification, and that any historical differences were due to misinterpretations. That is encouraging. Perhaps one day soon we might share communion, God willing.

  2. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    Re the English translation above, two comments on what Francis said about his friend, the bishop who married.
    1. The translation: “great friendship with a bishop who went a little wrong.”
    But the official Italian text is “grande amicizia con un vescovo episcopaliano.”
    I watched the video, and this does seem to be what Francis said, although he fluffs the word – perhaps his Argentine accent! He did not say that the bishop went a little wrong.
    I do not know whether the bishop (Jeronimo Podesta) joined the Episcopal church, but Francis seems to imply something like that when he says that he went on to worship “with his own community.”
    2. The translation: “the Lord called him [to realize] “I’m not right.”
    The official Italian: “il Signore lo ha chiamato, un uomo giusto.”
    This is quite the opposite of the translation, which should read: “The Lord called him, a just man” (like St Joseph?)
    So what Francis says about his friend has no hint of anything wrong.
    A minor point also: the translation says: “I’m much more of a sinner.”
    What he said was “ anche io mi sento tanto peccatore”: “and I too acknowledge that I am a great sinner.”

  3. brendan butler says:

    Francis is further quoted in NCR as saying “A great one of yours said one time that there is the hour of reconciled diversity,” the pontiff responded. “Let us ask today for this grace, the grace of reconciled diversity in the Lord, the servant of Yahweh, of that God who came among us to serve and not to be served.”
    Is this the hour of reconciled diversity in our own church when we ,whatever our outlook , can accept our church as a reconciled diversity with no section exercising dominant power over the other.
    Whether the issue is homosexuality , communion for the divorced and remarried or the ordination of women or on the status of papal pronouncements can we accept as mature baptised adults that we now define our Church as a community of reconciled diversity in the Lord.

  4. If there is one thing new cosmology, creation spirituality (and Laudato Si) is telling us today it is that we are ALL in communion and it is this profound truth that we celebrate in the Eucharist. It is so sad that we have reduced it to a mere celebration of institutional conformity that does nothing more than bolster our theological pride and prejudice.

  5. Eddie Finnegan says:

    #3 above. Does Brendan Butler’s choice of issues in his final paragraph not suggest that “reconciled diversity in the Lord” would be the greatest thing since sliced bread so long as the selection of ingredients, kneading, rolling, baking and slicing is on our terms? 🙂

  6. Thanks to Pádraig for spotting the translation errors. Francis’s speech is amazing. What he is saying is that though he himself is not able to give permission for intercommunion, he respects the conscience of those (non-Catholic) who receive communion (in a Catholic church) without permission, giving two illustrations, and telling people to use their own judgment. The last mysterious words possibly mean that he envisages full intercommunion between Lutherans and Catholics?

  7. One Lord : Jesus
    One Faith : Belief that Jesus is the Redeemer
    One baptism : The same in all mainline Christian denominations.
    As regards the fine details and who should be in charge : Theologians will argue forever

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