The Holy Eucharist in the Catholic Church and the Celebrations of other Christian Communities
As the Mass is essential to the formation of our ecumenical outlook as Catholics, we should not be fearful of welcoming our brothers and sisters in other traditions to the liturgy which is the heart of our own life as their fellow Christian disciples. As our Bishops’ Conference writes:
The liturgy can make a positive contribution to the unity of Christians, because the liturgy both celebrates unity and furthers it. This is true above all of the Eucharist, so it is vital that Mass be celebrated well, to give the faithful the best opportunity to be drawn into closer unity with God and with each other. (The Search for Christian Unity IIIA)
Nor should Catholics feel out of place by attending the Eucharistic celebrations of other Christian churches. Indeed, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has encouraged us all to attend the Eucharistic celebrations of other churches and church communities so that we may understand better, pray with them on occasion that is most sacred to them, and to foster the desire for full communion in the Church at the Eucharist according to the Lord’s command.
For, especially when unable to share sacramentally, we can learn a great deal spiritually, be united in reverence, and share devout prayer for unity beyond our present separation. We should allow each other an assured place on such occasions and recall that the Prayer for Peace immediately preceding the Catholic Rite of Communion asks the Lord to “look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your Kingdom.”
While it is not possible for Catholic clergy to concelebrate the Eucharist with other Christian ministers, or for Catholics to receive the eucharistic sacrament in any tradition other than the Orthodox (in exceptional circumstances), this does not indicate the absence of respect and recognition. It acknowledges that, while we are already in real communion because of our common baptism, and while other traditions' celebrations “are able to nourish the life of grace and provide access to the communion of salvation” (Decree on Ecumenism 4), we are not yet in full communion because of differences of faith and understanding that our ecumenical journey of faith sharing works hard to resolve.
Pope John Paul, now followed by Pope Benedict, have urged us to nurture a ‘spirituality of communion’, not just a spirituality of ecumenism, expressly to encourage not just closeness and affinity but unity in the Eucharist. So the Catholic Church is determined to follow the way that leads to the restoration of the fullest communion between all Christians, their churches and church communities, and the visible re-integration in unity of the one Church of Jesus Christ.
Not being able to receive the Eucharist on occasions when Christians of different traditions and Catholics are together for worship is very painful, but the pain of separation is one that unites us. It also powerfully witnesses to our commitment, arising from that of the Lord himself, to reconciliation and full visible communion. And so the Eucharist of other traditions at which we cannot receive, and the Mass where we cannot invite our brother and sisters to share with us the Body and Blood of Christ, are each powerful gifts from God to pray ever more insistently the prayer of Christ our High Priest in the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly after he instituted the Eucharist on the night before he died: 'Father, may they be one, as you are in me and I in you, so that the world may believe' (John 17:21).
The Holy Father Pope Benedict, like Pope John Paul before him, have encouraged Catholics to attend and become familiar with the Eucharistic celebrations of other Christian communities, to understand their belief, devotion and Eucharistic spirituality on the journey to ecclesial unity and full communion.