German leaders to meet with Pope Francis Thursday on question of intercommunion

And John Allen offers this interesting context:

Cardinal Marx’s response to the letter by seven of his fellow prelates was especially telling when he said, in essence, he doesn’t quite get what the fuss is about, since allowing Protestant spouses to receive Communion when they share the Catholic faith on the Eucharist and have spoken with a pastor is already established practice in Germany, based on existing Church legislation and papal teaching.

The German bishops often cite the 2003 document from St. Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucaristia, which said that in addition to permitting intercommunion in cases of “grave necessity,” such as the risk of death, it can also happen when there’s a “serious spiritual need.”

Those who know the reality of German Catholicism generally say things break down like this: Most Catholics and Protestants in mixed marriages aren’t going to church on a regular basis anyway, so the issue of intercommunion doesn’t really arise. For those who do, and when the Protestant partner desires to receive Communion, most long ago found an understanding pastor and quietly have been taking part in the sacrament all along. Observers say the numbers who want Communion but who, for one reason or another, are blocked from it, are comparatively small.

Granted, given the legacy of the Reformation and the Gospel imperative of the pursuit of Christian unity, this is a culturally and theologically charged question, but whatever happens Thursday may not mean much in terms of practice in Germany.

Where it could mean more is other parts of the world, especially where mixed marriages are most common. There is obviously a difference between saying “the Germans do x” and “the Germans now have papal authorization to do x,” making it difficult to explain why other local churches shouldn’t have the same latitude. Thus irony #2: An accommodation justified by German exigencies could, if granted, have it greatest impact elsewhere.

Read the whole thing. 


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