Eucharistic Sharing in Mixed Marriages?

imageI’ve spent the last two days on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down. Although I am a social scientist, not a theologian, the interdisciplinary nature of my department in Trinity – the Irish School of Ecumenics – lends itself to reading a lot of ethical or theological material.

I am an academic and it is obviously an important part of my job to read, but I often feel that there’s not enough time to absorb all of that material, let alone reflect on it.

In the days before the retreat I’d begun reading an advance copy of Peter Rollins’ new book, Insurrection, to be published in October. For now I’ll just say that Insurrection raises some existentially terrifying questions about how Christians should live – right here, right now – and that’s given me plenty to chew over.

But in perusing the Benedictines’ guest library, I stumbled across an issue of One in Christ, described as ‘a Catholic ecumenical journal’ published by the Olivetan Benedictines of Turvey and Rostrevor. This particular issue (Summer 2009, V43, No. 1) contained an article by Georges Ruyssen SJ on:

‘Mixed Marriages and Sharing in the Eucharist: Universal Catholic Norms and Some Particular Catholic Norms.’

As readers of this blog will be aware, I’m the Protestant partner in a so-called mixed marriage. I’ve written previously about how being in a mixed marriage tends to amplify, at least for me, my frustration about prohibitions on Eucharistic sharing.

That’s why I especially appreciate initiatives like ‘In Joyful Hope,’ happening in and around Belfast, which attempts to allow Christians to experience some sort of fellowship around the Eucharist.

Ruyssen asks whether Eucharistic sharing between a Catholic and a member of a Reformed denomination at a nuptial mass, and afterwards in the context of a mixed marriage, could constitute the case of a ‘grave necessity.’

In my personal case, we missed the boat on Eucharistic sharing at the nuptial mass, so I was most interested in what Ruyssen would say about the context of marriage. He puts it this way (p. 87):

‘… do mixed marriages form a new category to be put alongside that of danger of death, and the situation of another grave and pressing need … in the sense of canons 844/CIC S4 and 671/CCEO S4? According to certain authors, with whom we agree, a mixed marriage falls under the situation of a grave and pressing need.’

Much of the case for Eucharistic sharing relies on the conceptualisation of a ‘mixed marriage and family’ as a ‘domestic church,’ as articulated by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands in 1980 (p. 91). Given that marriage is to be considered ‘an image and sign of the spousal union between Christ and his Church,’ the current prohibition on Eucharistic sharing essentially undermines the ‘understanding of the family as domestic church’ (p. 94).

Ruyssen concludes by asking (p. 96):

‘Being slightly provocative, and paraphrasing the decree Unitas Redinte Gratio (15), one could ask: to what extent and under what conditions is it conceivable that sharing in the Eucharist ‘is not only be possible but to be encouraged’ – in order to meet the serious spiritual need for Eucharistic nourishment, which is felt at the heart of mixed marriages and their families?’

Not only possible but to be encouraged.

I agree with that, only I would go further. I follow the theological argument that mixed marriages are a ‘special case,’ but I don’t think we should be considered quite so special.

As long as all Christians everywhere cannot gather around the table together, it is difficult to claim that Christians can fully express their love for each other, let alone their love for those who do not identify with Christ.

In the homily at Monday’s mass, the Brother who was speaking also recognised this when he said that the upcoming Eucharistic Congress in Dublin (2012) will fail to connect with practical realities in the churches unless it engages with the experiences and perspectives of people of the Reformed traditions and divorcees.

The failure of the powers-that-be in the upper echelons of our churches to come to some practical arrangements on Eucharistic sharing illustrates for me how the institutional churches are divorced from what ‘everyday Christians’, like those in mixed marriages, experience in the ‘real world’ that we are expected to live out our faith in.

6 thoughts on “Eucharistic Sharing in Mixed Marriages?”

  1. Getting frsutrated about prohibitions regarding ‘Eucharistic sharing’ is an interesting way to put it.

    I’ve never liked that term, ‘Eucharistic sharing’. It reminds me of other terms I do not like, such as wife swapping.

    That’s not far from the truth about why Catholic teaching insists that ordinarily only Catholics in the state of grace may receive Holy Communion.

    The nuptial meaning of the Eucharist means that it is a lie for non-Catholics to receive the Holy Eucharist at the Catholic Mass.

    I suppose a non-Catholic receiving Holy Communion at the Catholic Mass is a lot like a guy sleeping with his girlfriend. It might feel nice, but it breaks the Commandments of God. The guy could remain frustrated, or he could accept the Divine Law and set about ordering his life according to God’s precepts. Just as sex outside marriage is a lie, in that the union of the bodies implies the permanent union of persons in marriage, yet there is no commitment, so too, non-Catholics receiving HC at the Mass speaks a language which suggests one thing (communion with the Catholic Church), yet the truth is there is not this communion which Christ desired. One’s actions do not match up with one’s faith and commitments.

  2. Martin

    Did you intend to be deliberately offensive in comparing Eucharistic sharing with wife swapping? For that is what it seems to one coming from a tradition that welcomes all Christians at the Eucharist.

  3. Joc:

    No, of course not. I do not set out to offend, but sometimes the truth is offensive, and indeed the Lord did offend, for example in John’s Gospel, chapter 6.

    There is a very strong nuptial theology surrounding the Church and the Blessed Eucharist.

  4. With respect, Martin, to qualify your reply with ‘but sometimes the truth is offensive’ suggests to me that you rather expected your cut on the truth might offend, which belies your statement that you do not set out to offend.

  5. Not really Joc. Knowing something might cause offense is not the same as intending to cause offense. The truth is the truth. We cannot avoiding proclaiming the truth just because it might offend. We don’t proclaim the truth to cause offense, but it is always a realistic possibility.

  6. A disgraceful analogy. Utterly disgraceful. You may be a first-rate Catholic in traditionalists’ eyes, but I doubt you are a Christian – which would not be a novelty in their ranks.

    You are a presumptuous Pharisee, Martin, and those churchmen would have forgotten more about the faith than you will ever know, judging by your posts, as self-appointed teacher of the Magisterium.

    “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

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