General and Introductory Materials
Part 3 Theological Issues

Chapter 40 Ecumenism

Preliminary Questions

Bibliography

Documents

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

Look under the iceberg and see where you stand on this issue. For example, would you receive Holy Communion when attending a Protestant service? How do you use the word "convert"? How do you interpret "outside the Church there is no salvation:?

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Bibliography

Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) November 21, 1964

Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (SPCU), Ecumenical Directory, Ad Totam Ecclesiam, AAS 1967, 574-592; AAS 1970, 705-724.

Pontificium Consilium Ad Christianorum Unitatem Fovendam. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.  Vatican City, March 25th, 1993. [Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy,President. + Pierre Duprey Tit. Bishop of Thibar, Secretary].  Text available on the web at:
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_25031993_principles-and-norms-on-ecumenism_en.html

Parts IV and sections of Part V are printed in The Liturgy Documents, Volumn 2.  LTP Chicago.  With an introduction by Paul Turner. 

Pope John Paul II.  Ut Unum Sint, Encyclical letter, May 24, 1995

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Ecumenism and Initiation

1960  Priests were instructed that Protestants were in error. Error is an evil. Cooperation in evil is always forbidden. Consequently it was strictly forbidden for any Catholic to take part in any way in prayer, liturgical or nonliturgical, with a baptized non-Catholic Christian. For example if your sister was marrying a Protestant in his church without a dispensation from form, if you attended out of loyalty to your sister, you were strictly forbidden to participate in any way.

This understanding was embodied in the 1917 Code of Canon Law (canon 1258)
1258,1.  It is illicit for the faithful to assist at or participate in any way in non-Catholic religious functions.
1258,2.  For a serious reason requiring, in case of doubt, the Bishop's approval, passive or merely material presence at non-Catholic funerals, weddings and similar occasions because of holding a civil office or as a courtesy can be tolerated, provided there is no danger of perversion or scandal.
(Note:  There is no similar provision in the current 1983 Code.)

All this changes radically with the second Vatican Council.

A recollection from 1966. Before ordination in 1966 I, along with my classmates, was required to take the "Cura Animarum" examination before we were given faculties to hear confessions. This was a major exam by a board of examiners, which covered all 4 years of theology. In preparation for this exam a classmate and I were helping each other  review the various subjects. One night we were quizzing each other on First Year Moral theology.  At one point I asked my friend: "Morris, can we pray with Protestants?" Morris responded: "It is forbidden by the divine law and recommended by the Second Vatican Council."   This was the situation we found ourselves in as seminarians in 1966!  

1964, November 21:  Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio)

1. The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided.(1) Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.

8. ... Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice.

22. Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the Apostle says: "You were buried together with Him in Baptism, and in Him also rose again - through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead". ... Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it. ...”

22 ... Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord's Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. ...

24 (the final article). Now that we have briefly set out the conditions for ecumenical action and the principles by which it is to be directed, we look with confidence to the future. This Sacred Council exhorts the faithful to refrain from superficiality and imprudent zeal, which can hinder real progress toward unity. Their ecumenical action must be fully and sincerely Catholic, that is to say, faithful to the truth which we have received from the apostles and Fathers of the Church, in harmony with the faith which the Catholic Church has always professed, and at the same time directed toward that fullness to which Our Lord wills His Body to grow in the course of time.

1967 & 1970  Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (SPCU), Ecumenical Directory, Ad Totam Ecclesiam, AAS 1967, 574-592; AAS 1970, 705-724.

1972  full communion

1993, March 25. Pontificium Consilium Ad Christianorum Unitatem Fovendam. Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism

Baptism

92. By the sacrament of baptism a person is truly incorporated into Christ and into his Church and is reborn to a sharing of the divine life. Baptism, therefore, constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn. Baptism, of itself, is the beginning, for it is directed towards the acquiring of fullness of life in Christ. It is thus ordered to the profession of faith, to the full integration into the economy of salvation, and to Eucharistic communion.

99d.  If, even after careful investigation, a serious doubt persists about the proper administration of the baptism and it is judged necessary to baptize conditionally, the Catholic minister should show proper regard for the doctrine that baptism may be conferred only once by explaining to the person involved, both why in this case he is baptizing conditionally and what is the significance of the rite of conditional baptism. Furthermore, the rite of conditional baptism is to be carried out in private and not in public. 101. In the present state of our relations with the ecclesial Communities of the Reformation of the 16th century, we have not yet reached agreement about the significance or sacramental nature or even of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation. Therefore, under present circumstances, persons entering into full communion with the Catholic Church from one of these Communities are to receive the sacrament of Confirmation according to the doctrine and rite of the Catholic Church before being admitted to Eucharistic communion.

Confirmation

101. In the present state of our relations with the ecclesial Communities of the Reformation of the 16th century, we have not yet reached agreement about the significance or sacramental nature or even of the administration of the sacrament of Confirmation. Therefore, under present circumstances, persons entering into full communion with the Catholic Church from one of these Communities are to receive the sacrament of Confirmation according to the doctrine and rite of the Catholic Church before being admitted to Eucharistic communion.

Eucharist

129. A sacrament is an act of Christ and of the Church through the Spirit. Its celebration in a concrete community is the sign of the reality of its unity in faith, worship and community life. As well as being signs, sacraments—most specially the Eucharist—are sources of the unity of the Christian community and of spiritual life, and are means for building them up. Thus Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression.

The Eucharist is, for the baptized, a spiritual food which enables them to overcome sin and to live the very life of Christ, to be incorporated more profoundly in Him and share more intensely in the whole economy of the Mystery of Christ.

It is in the light of these two basic principles [sign of unity / source of unity], which must always be taken into account together, that in general the Catholic Church permits access to its Eucharistic communion and to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick, only to those who share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life. For the same reasons, it also recognizes that in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial Communities.

130. In case of danger of death, Catholic ministers may administer these sacraments when the conditions given below (n. 131) are present. ... Catholic ministers will judge individual cases and administer these sacraments only in accord with these established norms, where they exist. Otherwise they will judge according to the norms of this Directory.

131. The conditions under which a Catholic minister may administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, of penance and of the anointing of the sick to a baptized person... are 1) that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, 2) ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, 3) manifest Catholic faith in this sacrament and 4) be properly disposed.

132. On the basis of the Catholic doctrine concerning the sacraments and their validity, a Catholic who finds himself or herself in the circumstances mentioned above may ask for these sacraments only from a minister in whose Church these sacraments are valid or from one who is known to be validly ordained according to the Catholic teaching on ordination.

Marrage

159. Because of problems concerning Eucharistic sharing which may arise from the presence of non-Catholic witnesses and guests, a mixed marriage celebrated according to the Catholic form ordinarily takes place outside the Eucharistic liturgy. For a just cause, however, the diocesan Bishop may permit the celebration of the Eucharist. In the latter case, the decision as to whether the non-Catholic party of the marriage may be admitted to Eucharistic communion is to be made in keeping with the general norms existing in the matter both for Eastern Christians and for other Christians, taking into account the particular situation of the reception of the sacrament of Christian marriage by two baptized Christians.

160. Although the spouses in a mixed marriage share the sacraments of baptism and marriage, Eucharistic sharing can only be exceptional and in each case the norms stated above concerning the admission of a non-Catholic Christian to Eucharistic communion,as well as those concerning the participation of a Catholic in Eucharistic communion in another Church, must be observed.

Interpretation of the Directory

We know (from the Council and other sources) that Catholic Doctrine is not a static body of truths. "The Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness [pleroma] of divine truth." (Constitution on Divine Revelation, #8). And as the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness [pleroma] of divine truth, we might ask: "How is this legislation to be interpreted?" The Catholic Church has given norms for interpretation of law within the law itself. For example in the current 1983 Code, Canon 18 states: "laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exemption from the law are subject to strict interpretation." 

This is the current statement of a very ancient legal principle:  "Odia restringi, et favores convenit ampliari, (Odious matters are to be restricted and favors amplified)" which is found in Regulae Iuris  of Boniface VIII, Liber Sextus (1298) in Corpus Iuris Canonici.  The principle states that broad interpretation is normative when a law is favorable; strict interpretation is required when a law is "odious". (John Huels, The New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, p 73). The axiom is frequently quoted as "favors are to be broadened and odious things are to be restricted."

In this regard we should also keep in mind the final Canon (c.1752) in our current Code which, in a sense, sums up the entire Code:  " .... the salvation of souls, which must always be the supreme law in the Church, is to be kept before one's eyes."

1995 May 24:  Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Ut Unum Sint

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To Think About

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be