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Pope speaks against Eucharistic 'abuses'
By Cathleen Falsani Religion Reporter.
Source: Chicago Sun Times April 18th, 2003

Pope John Paul II issued a rare papal encyclical Thursday, urging Roman Catholics to refrain from taking "communion" in any other Christian church.

In the 19-page English translation of the encyclical, or letter, titled "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," the pope said his aim was to preserve the Eucharistic celebration from what he called "abuses."

Skipping Sunday mass for another Christian church service, and taking the Eucharist if they "obstinately persist in manifest grave sin," also are no-nos, the 82-year-old pontiff reminded his faithful on Holy Thursday, the day most Christians recall the Last Supper of Jesus and his 12 disciples.

Referring to Protestant churches as "communities which arose in the West from the 16th century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church," the pope warned that Catholics "must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth.

"Similarly, it is unthinkable to substitute for Sunday mass ecumenical celebrations of the word of services of common prayer with Christians from the aforementioned Ecclesial Communities, or even participation in their own liturgical services," he said.

Some observers worried the pontiff's directives against taking communion in another church could set back ecumenical efforts. But a leader in Chicago's religious community--where Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians have participated in joint services to mark important civic occasions for 20 years--disagreed. The Eucharist, or communion, is never a part of ecumenical services because different churches adhere to different teachings about the sacred ritual, said the Rev. Paul Rutgers, executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago.

"That has really been understood for quite some time that that was simply not an area we could enter into," Rutgers said. "And we simply cannot let this kind of thing coming to the fore be something that is going to pull us apart--further apart."

For 25 years, Pope John Paul II has marked Holy Thursday with a letter to all Roman Catholic priests. His break from that tradition indicates the pope feels passionately, and urgently, about what he considers abuses of the communion sacrament, said the Rev. Douglas Martis, a sacramental theologian at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein.

"He's deeply moved by his experience of the Eucharist," Martis said, "and, because he chose to share it with the entire Catholic world, it's a document of definite significance."

In a passage shortly after his discussion of ecumenical concerns, the pope urged Catholics to refrain from communion if they had an unconfessed mortal sin, or "in cases of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm."

While John Paul II never mentions divorce or any other "sin" by name, some theologians believe he is talking about divorced Catholics in that passage. The Roman Catholic church does not permit divorce and considers divorced Catholics who remarry without first seeking an annulment to be living in a "condition of sin," unless the couple remains celibate.

"I think it would be manipulative of the text that's there to say he's talking about divorce," Martis said. "The Eucharist is our highest form of unity or communion, and he doesn't want anything that contradicts that kind of unity to obscure it."

Comment by Fr. Andrew

I personally applaud the Pope for re-stating the Roman Catholic position on reception of the Eucharist. On this issue the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church agree fully.

This agreement does not mean that Orthodox Christians are permitted to receive in the Roman Catholic Church and visa versa. As the Pope stated in his encyclical referring to Protestants " it is not possible to celebrate together the same Eucharist Liturgy until those bonds are fully re-established." This is the same position that the Orthodox Church takes when referring the to Roman Catholic Church, who see the Pope at the first Protestant.

One of the differences, which separate the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church, is their hard line teaching about divorce and re-marriage. The Orthodox Church does not agree that an annulment is possible but divorce is not. With investigation and approval of the Bishop, the church, in its desire to lead people the Christ, will grant a second marriage using a special marriage rite which emphasizes fallen human nature, repentance and the admonition of St. Paul "that it is better to marry than to burn" 1 Co.7: 9

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