Sunday, November 30, 2014
TRUE ECUMENISM: INTER-COMMUNION WITHOUT FULL CORPORATE UNION?
...By happy coincidence, my visit falls a few days after the fiftieth anniversary of the promulgation of Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Christian Unity. This is a fundamental document which opened new avenues for encounter between Catholics and their brothers and sisters of other Churches and ecclesial communities.
In particular, in that Decree the Catholic Church acknowledges that the Orthodox Churches “possess true sacraments, above all – by apostolic succession – the priesthood and the Eucharist, whereby they are still joined to us in closest intimacy” (15). The Decree goes on to state that in order to guard faithfully the fullness of the Christian tradition and to bring to fulfillment the reconciliation of Eastern and Western Christians, it is of the greatest importance to preserve and support the rich patrimony of the Eastern Churches. This regards not only their liturgical and spiritual traditions, but also their canonical disciplines, sanctioned as they are by the Fathers and by Councils, which regulate the lives of these Churches (cf. 15-16).
I believe that it is important to reaffirm respect for this principle as an essential condition, accepted by both, for the restoration of full communion, which does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each, thus demonstrating to the entire world the great mystery of salvation accomplished by Christ the Lord through the Holy Spirit.
I want to assure each one of you here that, to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith.
Further, I would add that we are ready to seek together, in light of Scriptural teaching and the experience of the first millennium, the ways in which we can guarantee the needed unity of the Church in the present circumstances. The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, “the Church which presides in charity”, is communion with the Orthodox Churches. Such communion will always be the fruit of that love which “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (cf. Rom 5:5), a fraternal love which expresses the spiritual and transcendent bond which unites us as disciples of the Lord...
(Read Pope Francis' full statement here.)
I doubt that there can be anytime soon full corporate unity with the Orthodox Churches and I emphasize Churches. These are a conglomeration of national Churches in various eastern and western countries. Some are more open to ecumenical dialogue and relations but others are quite hostile to it.
The most important thing that the Eastern Orthodox could do corporately is what the Catholic Church has stated already in Vatican II's Unitatis Redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Christian Unity about the Catholic Church under the pope. They have not reciprocated and this needs to come first I would think, in terms of our sacramental system and the validity of all our sacraments including Holy Orders.
It seems that the Catholic Church is progressive in acknowledging the validity of all the Sacraments of the Orthodox so much so that we allow Catholics by Church law to receive Holy Communion or any other Sacrament (except of course Holy Orders) when in need or in an emergency, such as there being no Catholic Church available on Sunday and a Catholic attends Divine Liturgy, the Catholic may according to Catholic law receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, the Orthodox do not permit us and thus Catholics would do well to respect their wishes in this regard until they officially change their position. (I realize some renegade Orthodox priests might allow it and I suppose in that setting it would be fine to receive).
Keep in mind, though, the Catholic Church's view of the sacraments of the Eastern Orthodox does not apply to any Reformation Church since the sacramental system was destroyed by them at the reformation. This includes the Anglican Communion's sacramental system.
However, the Catholic Church's canon law does permit in unusual situations a Protestant to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church under the following strict canons:
1. There is no Protestant Church available for the Protestant to attend.
2. The Protestant who is validly baptized believes what the Catholic Church teaches about the Mass and the Holy Eucharist especially regarding the "real presence" although they may not be aware of or completely understand or use the term "transubstantiation." But it is implied in their personal belief.
3. The local bishop, after having been petitioned, gives his permission--this is critical folks and cannot be dispensed!
The other way toward true ecumenism is what the Pope of ecumenism established, Pope Benedict that is.
The Anglican Ordinariate is the way toward corporate unity with Protestants. The genius behind this is that the issues surrounding the validity of the Sacraments of the Protestant denominations is thoroughly resolved and what is valid and legitimate in these denominations spirituality, piety and liturgical theology is maintained, the patrimony of what developed after their separation from Rome.
This has the potential of bringing back into full communion Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians under a similar ordinariate for them. Thus the breach with the historic Protestant Reformation Churches could be healed and other Protestants could find a home in one of these Ordinariates easily enough!
However, the first order of business must be doing the same with the SSPX and making them completely regular in the Church by removing any canonical suspensions from their bishops and priests and allowing Catholics to freely receive the sacraments in their churches and chapels. This is easier done than solving the issues of unity with the Orthodox and Protestants!