Sacramental Worship and Baptized Non-Catholics

– Jos De cuyper S.J

In this paper I deal chiefly with what was formerly called Communication in Sacris. Previous to Vatican Council II the approach in the field of ecumenical sharing was very negative, to the extent of forbidding all sharing in the worship of other Christian Churches and denominations. Subsequent to the Decree on Ecumenism, this attitude has been inverted into one that is very positive.

Before entering into our main subject, which will be first a brief exposition of c.844 with which we are rather familiar, and then dealing with some concrete situations from years of experience, we should look at c.670 of the Oriental Code. I quote § 1: :For a just cause Catholics can attend the liturgical worship of other Christians and take part in the same, observing those things which, by reason of the degree of communion with the Catholic Church, are established by the eparchial bishop or by a supreme authority.” The principle laid down here appears to me to be equally applicable to the Latin Church. No doubt for Orientals come in the first place the separated Oriental Churches which are in substantial doctrinal unity and have a valid priesthood. Yet the formulation has a wider application and does not exclude sharing with churches of the reformation. Over the years now after the Council forms of sharing have been on the increase.

The Directory on Ecumenism of 1993 lists general principles in nos. 102 & ff. It distinguishes:

1. Prayer in Common, which is recommended (n.109) chiefly for the restoration of Christian Unity. It should be conducted in agreement with the authorities of other participating churches/denominations, usually at the local level. In his encyclical of 1993, ‘Ut unum Sint’ Pope John Paul forcefully insists on the need and fruitfulness (nos.21-27)., of this form of common prayer.

2. Non Sacramental Liturgical Worship: This includes participation in the official Liturgical Prayer of a church, e.g. Evensong in the CSI/CNI, and their participation in our Prayer of the Office. In this too the Directory is very broad (nos.117-118). I was pleasantly surprised when called to preach on the Fest of Our Lady’s Nativity in the CNI at Ranchi, and saw them celebrating solemn Vespers in our way.

3. Sharing in Sacramental Worship: Traditionally called ‘Communicatio in Sacris’, is regulated in this canon 670 § 1 of the Oriental Code: “observing those things, which by reason of the degree of communion with the Catholic Church..” – This leads us to the application of c.844 (LC) and C.671(OC), a matter extensively treated in the Directory nos. 122 & ff

First, however two problems which many of us will have faced, on the occasion of marriages and funerals often members of other churches are present. While among them “Eucharist Hospitality” is very broad, Catholic discipline here is strict, and we before communion announce that only Catholics are admitted. A strong ecumenical feeling by some priests leads them to formulate this differently. “Admission of those baptized Christians who firmly believe in the real presence of Jesus Christ in this sacrament.”

Another situation has arisen on the occasion of the Exchange of Pulpits a practice on Unity Sunday in January. Non Catholic preachers look out to be admitted to Holy Communion – It has also happened that a parish priest allowed the pastor – even a Lutheran Bishop to concelebrate. Ignorance of the strict rule of CIC c. 908 and CCEO c. 702 forbidding this. We should keep in mind the strict attitude on our part that participation in the Eucharist demands “fully sharing in the one Catholic faith, its worship and its ecclesial life”.

I wish to add a personal experience: I have frequently attended services both in the CNI and Lutheran Churches. I am then strongly urged to be in the sanctuary. At their Communion service the minister gestures to me to come forward. Faithful to my catholic discipline I have to decline however much I am aware of the pain on both sides. Furthermore, I am deeply impressed especially in the CNI with both the devout distribution and reception of communion. No doubt the Trinitarian Presence endows these faithful with Eucharistic grace, a communication of Holy Spirit at their confirmation service, and the Grace of the Ministry at their Ordination Service, though juridically, we Catholics deny validity due to the lack of apostolic succession or invalidity of orders (Leo XIII, 1860).

Can. 844– The canon deals with the sharing in the sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance and the Anointing, Baptism, Confirmation and Orders are left out. Marriage is dealt with in the section on Mixed Marriage. With regard to Baptism it is understood that Baptism of infants, validly conferred if matter and form are observed, by any minister, results in membership of that church/denomination to which parents/guardians belong.

Therefore, I have always told students and priests to refuse baptism even if the mother (perhaps a catholic) asks for baptism from us Catholics, unless either both or in the latter case the husband too agrees (in writing) and the catholic upbringing is morally assured.

Then I came across c.681§ 5 of CCEO: “The infant of non-Catholic Christians is licitly baptized, if the parents, or one of them or one who legitimately takes their place, request it and if it is physically or morally impossible to approach their own minister. “Though always valid for the liceity the two conditions listed here need to be observed. The infant, however, is baptized into the Church of those who petition. The motive behind such a request is the esteem for this sacrament for which parents and others wish to have it conferred by a sacred minister in a sacred place. – In the case of separated Orientals I would agree to apply this norm, but hesitate for members of Lutheran and many other denominations.

Questions regarding Confirmation arise at the reception of a baptized non-Catholic into the Catholic Church. While Confirmation in Oriental Churches is valid, we have to confer confirmation for the others. The priest who conducts the reception service is thereby having the faculty to celebrate this sacrament.

Canon 844 as mentioned already deals only with Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the sick. The approach to separated Orientals differs from other denominations on the basis of an almost full sharing of the faith and the apostolic succession, with valid orders on their part (the chief obstacle is the non-acceptance of the Petrine Primacy), while the churches & denominations originating from the Reformation are seen to be defective on both these counts, apostolic succession and hence validity of Sacred Orders, and often substantial doctrinal differences.

Hence a catholic priest can admit separate Orientals to the three sacraments when they ask for them and are properly disposed. Concentrate experience: A Keralite Jacobite, on the staff of Mandar hospital, also a Jacobite family in Ambikapur coming on our major feasts.

For other Christians 844 §4 lists stricter conditions: 1. Danger of death of some other grave necessity; 2. Access to one’s own minister morally impossible; 3. The person freely requesting for the sacrament; 4. Being properly disposed, and 5. Have Catholic faith in the sacrament.

All these years I did not come across cases of danger of death. But at a retreat at St. Xavier’ college, two CNI students came for confession. I helped them and gave the absolution.

Another practical situation is mixed marriage. While for Oriental non-Catholics nothing stands in the way, for other Christians would apply the already mentioned clause “some other grave pressing need” (CIC) “another matter of serious necessity”(CCEO). The wording in n. 159 of the Directory indicates a readiness on the part of the Church to admit the non-catholic spouse to H. Communion, together with the Catholic partner, on the unique occasion of their marriage, provided he/she freely makes the request is properly disposed and believes in the real presence of the Lord. From my familiarity with CNI, Lutheran, Methodist friends I would not hesitate to answer in the affirmative.

A look at Mixed Marriage

Not only in cities but also in rural areas mixed marriages are on the increase, chiefly among educated people.

A preliminary observation: In our catechesis we may have failed to press upon young people to look for a partner within their own church and go give them the right motivation of communion in prayer, morality and upbringing of children. While fostering ecumenism, the parish clergy is rightly concerned with our people weakening in their catholic conviction and drifting to some indifferentism with regard to CNI, Lutheran and other denominations. Also looking for financial advantages rather than to a strong catholic religious conviction (hence also in arranged marriage).

Again at the ecumenical level, in other denominations (in particular in our tribal area) there prevails an agreed practice that the bride embraces the faith of her husband and the marriage be celebrated in the groom’s Church. They resent that Catholics in conscience cannot conform to their practice. Hence a catholic parish priest cannot issue a letter of permitting the change, but can and should merely give the recent baptismal certificate with a statement of freedom. We usually get the same documents from the other churches. One Lutheran group is adamant in their refusal. Hence we have to have recourse to affidavits from trustworthy witnesses.

Whenever a mixed marriage is in the offing we should seek an interview with our parishioner and gently urge him/her to look for a Catholic partner. At times this succeeds. If not we should call both for a prolonged interview. It is important that friendliness pervades our attitude all through preparations, celebration and continues in contacts after marriage. There is no need here to enter into the legal requirements for mixed marriages, which we are familiar with.

As for the liturgical celebration the law prefers that a mixed marriage be celebrated outside Holy Mass. However our devout Catholic tribals ask to have it within the Mass. Hence with a baptized non-Catholic, marriage is usually celebrated within Mass. Admission to Holy Communion has already been dealt with. In marriage with a non-baptized party the celebration takes place outside Mass. Even then we see to it that the atmosphere be one of welcome and joy.
In one case the parish priest insisted that marriage be celebrated in the portico of the church with doors closed. At night I had to listen over the phone to very angry outbursts from the father of the Catholic bride.

Three more situations:

Attending a Sunday service in the Gossner Lutheran church, I witnessed twice how after the usually long sermon a lady was invited to the sanctuary and there in public was asked to renounce allegiance to the Catholic Church and express her joining the Lutheran Church. Hence the question, is this a case of formal defection and an application of canon 1117 and consequently the validity of her marriage in the Lutheran church? In my view it would depend on whether she did so deliberately and in full freedom.

A Catholic Teli had hardly any choice of marriage than with a non-Christian partner of his caste, in the case of a girl, who would after marriage be allowed to join the Catholic Church. However her parents insisted on a previous celebration in Hindu tradition. In the context of a tribal community the parish priest wisely placed it before the parish council. The nearly unanimous view was to allow this procedure provided it be followed by a discreet catholic celebration of the sacrament.

Not rarely a Catholic girl gets married in a Lutheran church without any information reaching her parish priest. Usually she afterwards seeks to be allowed to come to the sacraments. The groom cannot be approached for a simple validation and we have to have recourse to a Sanation in Radice.

A third recent case – John a Catholic of Ranchi Cathedral, working in Bombay, was engaged with a CNI girl of Allahabad. Unexpectedly they turn up with the news that they got married in the Allahabad CNI church. Both parents and the Parish priest were totally ignorant of the event. This evidently invalid marriage in the eyes of the Catholic Church would usually be convalidated in a simple rather private rite. However the tribal community wants its social celebration and the family a solemn Church celebration. A far from pleasant and easy task for the Parish Priest in making both parties understand so that they express a genuine marital consent.

In conclusion, a case related to the tribunal procedure. Years ago from Tezpur diocese came a query whether a declaration of nullity by the Jacobite Church in Kerala can be accepted in the case of a gentleman who wish to marry a Catholic girl in Tezpur. I consulted my study companion, Father, now Cardinal U. Navarrete, who answered in the affirmative.