Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mennonite-Catholic Dialog: Open Communion

Abbot John Klassen
‘Reflections on Open and Closed Communion’
Bridgefolk’s Catholic co-chair
clarifies the situation of non-Catholics
who wish to take communion at a
Catholic Eucharistic service.

(Taken from the Bridgefolk Newsletter)

Ever since the annual meetings of Bridgefolk began in 2002, the planning committee has looked for ways to provide opportunities for Mennonites and Catholics to experience each other’s traditions of worship. Last year, for example, participants at the conference that took place in Harrisonburg, Virginia were invited to Mass at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church; on the following day they participated in Sunday worship at Harrisonburg Mennonite church.
Since Sunday worship for Catholics is almost always a Eucharistic celebration (Mass), the issue of common participation in Eucharist and reception of Holy Communion is one that must be addressed.
In his encyclical That All May Be One (Ut Unum Sint) Pope John Paul II made a significant change in the requirements for open communion. He wrote, “it is a source of joy to note that Catholic ministers are able, in certain particular cases, to administer the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance [Reconciliation] and Anointing of the Sick to Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church but who greatly desire to receive these sacraments, freely request them and manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments” (para. 46). It is noteworthy that the condition of not having access to one’s own minister has disappeared. Importantly, John Paul II repeated the above words verbatim in his encyclical The Eucharist of the Church (Ecclesia de Eucharistia) in 2003 (para. 46).
From these important changes, I can summarize the Catholic teaching on the basic conditions for Christians who are not members of the Roman Catholic Church to receive the sacraments of Eucharist, Reconciliation, and Anointing of the Sick. The three basic conditions are: 1) they must greatly desire to receive these sacraments, 2) freely request them; and 3) manifest the faith that the Catholic Church professes with regard to these sacraments.
Of these three conditions, the third is surely the one that is critical for receiving Holy Communion at a Eucharistic celebration. Can one say “Amen” to what the Catholic Church believes takes place in the celebration of the Eucharist? As Cardinal Walter Kasper has noted, “One must be able to say this ‘Amen’ with an honest heart and in union with all the assembled community, both at the end of the Eucharistic prayer and when one receives communion; and one must bear witness with one’s life to this ‘Amen’” (as cited in Kevin Seasoltz “One House, Many Dwellings,” Worship Vol. 79, 415-416, September 2005). This is a steep demand but it truly reflects the place of Eucharist in Catholic faith and life. In the same breath, though, it must be said that this is the central requirement for all who receive Eucharist, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
At our conference last summer, the issue of the Eucharist in an ecumenical context came up. It is a sensitive issue. As cochairs of the Bridgefolk, Marlene Kropf and I (Mennonite and Catholic, respectively) briefly addressed the situation. Marlene spoke to the Catholic position as represented in an earlier articulation. I spoke to Catholics, suggesting that one way to show solidarity with Mennonites during this time of the conference would be to receive a blessing rather than the Eucharist. I offered this not as a challenge, nor as a requirement. I simply suggested that this might be one way to share in the pain of our disunity, a pain that has been experienced by our Mennonite friends in countless ways, even to the giving of their lives.
However, given the Catholic Church’s evolving understanding of the conditions for intercommunion, it would be appropriate for Mennonites to participate fully in the sacrament of Eucharist at our future conferences. Pope John Paul II took a deeply spiritual approach to the issue of intercommunion. As the chief lawgiver of the Roman Catholic Church, he had the authority to change the universal law of the Church in accord with the principle set forth in the Church’s Code of Canon Law, “The salvation of souls is the highest law” (#1752).
Furthermore, it frequently happens these days that students from other Christian churches study at Catholic schools of theology; Christian ministers or lay people visit a monastery for days of retreat and solitude; or Christians participate in symposia on a variety of topics in a Catholic environment. In all of these instances, if the three criteria mentioned above are met as decided by the individual believer, the person is welcome to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Eucharistic celebration.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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El Dorado is baking like the rest of the country under the summer's heat. A recent editorial in the New York Times opined that the heat of summer follows about two weeks after the solstice (June 21). It is right on time then.
Some friends went to the lake last weekend. Their a-c kept compressing the whole time. It never stopped, and the temperature inside never dropped below 80 degrees. Glad I wasn't there.
Keep your pets indoors, drink plenty of fluids, find a rock and crawl under it, and thank God you're still alive.
President Reagan is reported to have said somewhere: "It's not always important that they see the light---just feel the heat."