In my last post I mentioned that Pope Francis had received an ecumenical delegation from Finland that included bishops, priests, and the faithful from the Lutheran Church of Finland. Reading the krazies’ blogs I see that after their meeting with the Holy Father the delegation went to Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica where they were all—including the Lutherans in the group—given Holy Communion. To be fair to the Protestants in the party they had apparently approached the Lord’s Table seeking only a blessing but the concelebrating priests, with full knowledge that they are not Catholics, gave them the Eucharist. Needless to say, the krazies are running in circles screaming about “sacrilegious communions.” Talk about an over-reaction. These people are totally mad.
Part of the problem—at least in the krazies’ minds (and I can see their point) is that Pope Francis himself hemmed and hawed when recently asked by a Lutheran woman if she could receive Holy Communion when attending Mass with her Catholic husband. The Pope didn’t say that she could but he really didn’t clearly say that she couldn’t. In fact he did what most priests do: he explained why she shouldn’t but left the question ultimately to her own decision. The krazies didn’t like that. They want selective obedience to be their sole prerogative—it’s how they maintain the illusion that everyone else is eating in the cafeteria.
Of course Pope John Paul II had given Holy Communion to Tony Blair while he was still an Anglican when he attended the Pope’s Mass with his Catholic wife and children. And at Pope John Paul’s funeral, then Cardinal Ratzinger gave Holy Communion to Brother Roger, the Protestant prior and founder of the ecumenical monastery of Taizé. Moreover, several months later when Brother Roger was murdered by a krazy person, Pope Benedict sent Cardinal Kasper to celebrate a Mass of Christian Burial for Brother Roger and with the instructions that all—including Protestants—were to be given communion. In fact, according to Canon Law, the local ordinary can—under certain circumstances—grant permission for a baptized non-Catholic Christian to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. Needless to say the Pope can also grant this permission, even outside his own diocese. I happen to have a Protestant sister-in-law who has the permission of her local bishop to receive Holy Communion when she attends Mass with my brother (which she does weekly).
There is nothing “sacrilegious” about a Protestant receiving Holy Communion in the Catholic Church. It may be (and it may not be according to circumstances) illicit but it is not sacrilegious. A person in grave (aka “mortal”) sin who receives the Eucharist makes a “sacrilegious communion” but not a non-Catholic acting in good faith. In fact, reading Matthew 9:10-13, I would think that the Communions of these “Communion Police” who want to keep others from the Lord’s Table might very well be the sacrilegious communions.
The fact of the matter is that each weekend at thousands of Catholic parishes across the world, non-Catholics receive Holy Communion. In some places announcements are made that “only Catholics in the State of Grace…” but they are for the most part ignored. (On the other hand, I remember attending Sunday Mass at Notre Dame in Paris some years back and the canon presiding at the Mass made the announcement that “all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion.” That certainly was beyond the canon law even in the liberal Paris of then Cardinal Archbishop Lustiger.)
So in the end Pope Francis acted no differently than most priests. And the priest(s) in the Basilica who gave Holy Communion to the Lutheran pilgrims should have respected their willingness to follow the canons but their communions were hardly sacrilegious. And perhaps we need to pay attention to the fact that despite the rules and regulations, thousands of Christians are sharing together in the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood across the lines that divide us. Indeed, perhaps the Unity of the Eucharistic Body of Christ will restore the unity of the ecclesial Body.