Pope speaks against Eucharistic 'abuses'
By Cathleen Falsani Religion Reporter.
Source: Chicago Sun Times April 18th, 2003
Pope John Paul II issued a rare papal encyclical Thursday, urging Roman
Catholics to refrain from taking "communion" in any other Christian church.
In the 19-page English translation of the encyclical, or letter,
titled "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," the pope said his aim was to preserve the Eucharistic
celebration from what he called "abuses."
Skipping Sunday mass for another Christian church service, and taking
the Eucharist if they "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin," also are no-nos, the
82-year-old pontiff reminded his faithful on Holy Thursday, the day most Christians recall
the Last Supper of Jesus and his 12 disciples.
Referring to Protestant churches as "communities which arose in the
West from the 16th century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church," the pope
warned that Catholics "must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their
celebrations, so as not to condone ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and,
consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth.
"Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday mass ecumenical
celebrations of the word of services of common prayer with Christians from the
aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical
services," he said.
Some observers worried the pontiff's directives against taking
communion in another church could set back ecumenical efforts. But a leader in Chicago's
religious community--where Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have participated
in joint services to mark important civic occasions for 20 years--disagreed. The
Eucharist, or communion, is never a part of ecumenical services because different churches
adhere to different teachings about the sacred ritual, said the Rev. Paul Rutgers,
executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.
"That has really been understood for quite some time that that was
simply not an area we could enter into," Rutgers said. "And we simply cannot let this
kind of thing coming to the fore be something that is going to pull us apart--further
For 25 years, Pope John Paul II has marked Holy Thursday with a letter
to all Roman Catholic priests. His break from that tradition indicates the pope feels
passionately, and urgently, about what he considers abuses of the communion sacrament,
said the Rev. Douglas Martis, a sacramental theologian at Mundelein Seminary at the
University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.
"He's deeply moved by his experience of the Eucharist," Martis said,
"and, because he chose to share it with the entire Catholic world, it's a document of
In a passage shortly after his discussion of ecumenical concerns, the
pope urged Catholics to refrain from communion if they had an unconfessed mortal sin, or
"in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the
While John Paul II never mentions divorce or any other "sin" by name,
some theologians believe he is talking about divorced Catholics in that passage. The
Roman Catholic church does not permit divorce and considers divorced Catholics who remarry
without first seeking an annulment to be living in a "condition of sin," unless the couple
"I think it would be manipulative of the text that's there to say he's
talking about divorce," Martis said. "The Eucharist is our highest form of unity or
communion, and he doesn't want anything that contradicts that kind of unity to obscure
Comment by Fr. Andrew
I personally applaud the Pope for re-stating the Roman Catholic position
on reception of the Eucharist. On this issue the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic
Church agree fully.
This agreement does not mean that Orthodox Christians are permitted to
receive in the Roman Catholic Church and visa versa. As the Pope stated in his encyclical
referring to Protestants " it is not possible to celebrate together the same Eucharist
Liturgy until those bonds are fully re-established." This is the same position that the
Orthodox Church takes when referring the to Roman Catholic Church, who see the Pope at the
One of the differences, which separate the Orthodox Church from the
Roman Catholic Church, is their hard line teaching about divorce and re-marriage. The
Orthodox Church does not agree that an annulment is possible but divorce is not. With
investigation and approval of the Bishop, the church, in its desire to lead people the
Christ, will grant a second marriage using a special marriage rite which emphasizes fallen
human nature, repentance and the admonition of St. Paul "that it is better to marry than
to burn" 1 Co.7: 9
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