Cardinal Meisner on Why Non-Catholics Cannot Receive Communion

Cologne Archbishop Responds to Letter Posted on Web Site

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COLOGNE, Germany, FEB. 17, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The decision not to allow non-Catholics to receive Communion is not a whim of the Pope or the bishops, says a German cardinal.



"The Eucharist is not a magic practice, which would dispense us from the need for reconciliation among Christians," said Cardinal Joachim Meisner, archbishop of Cologne. "This does not mean that the grace of God does not assist man, but only that he take it seriously."

"In the first place, in the realm of the ecumenical dialogue we must really remove all the differences that separate us," the cardinal said. "Only afterward we will be able to give ourselves the gift of the special Eucharistic Communion."

The cardinal expressed the position of the Church, in regard to a letter published Feb. 11 in the Web page of the Cologne Archdiocese, which requested the "introduction of Communion open to non-Catholics."

"The Eucharist must not be of necessity the sign of a unity achieved, but much more -- because as a sacrament it can also lead to unity," stated the letter sent to Cardinal Meisner.

In his reply, the cardinal acknowledges that he experiences "opposing sentiments" when he reads such a letter.

On the one hand, he expresses his satisfaction in seeing "the ecumenical commitment and desire for Christian unity" that the author shows.

On the other, he admits feeling "surprised" before yet another proof "of the visible lack of knowledge of the Catholic faith."

"The statements of the Synod of the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland on the understanding of Communion have contributed to this disorientation, in which they request that Catholics allow Communion for faithful of the Reformation," the cardinal said.

The cardinal also mentions the confusion created by two priests who distributed Communion to non-Catholics during a Mass at the Ecumenical Ecclesial Days ("Ökumenischer Kirchentag"), held in Berlin last May 28-June 1.

When it comes to judging these events, the cardinal said "in reality, both priests, by acting according to their own opinion, against ecclesial law and established agreements, have not promoted ecclesial communion, but rather feigned it."

The archbishop of Cologne confirmed that "the Church, from its origins, has been firmly convinced that the common celebration of the Eucharist represents the culmination of ecclesial life," and that the Second Vatican Council proclaimed the Eucharistic sacrifice as "source and culmination of the whole of Christian life."

The cardinal explained an exception to the rule. That exception was expressed by John Paul II in No. 45 of the encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia": to administer the sacrament of Communion "under special circumstances, to individual persons belonging to Churches or Ecclesial Communities not in full communion with the Catholic Church."

"In this case, in fact," the encyclical states, "the intention is to meet a grave spiritual need for the eternal salvation of an individual believer, not to bring about an intercommunion which remains impossible until the visible bonds of ecclesial communion are fully re-established."

The cardinal stressed that "we have not created" the norms and convictions of the Church. "We cannot even change them according to our whim, nor with campaigns to collect signatures," he added.