The German bishops are at it again. They are pushing the controversial agenda of intercommunion in certain instances for “mixed marriages” of Catholics with Protestant spouses. Accordingly, the German bishops published guidelines entitled: “Walking with Christ—tracing unity. Inter-denominational marriages and sharing the Eucharist.” It was released even after Pope Francis sent a letter, via the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Archbishop Luis Ladaria, S.J., to Munich cardinal Reinhard Marx, president of the German Bishop’s Conference, in order to stop its publication. The guidelines argue that Protestant spouses should be allowed to receive the Eucharist, because it may cause “grave spiritual distress” to the spouse and the marriage if they are not permitted to do so. The German bishops plan to continue pushing the measure at the bishop’s conference plenary assembly in September.
However, as Cardinal Gerhard Muller, former prefect of the CDF, has argued, interdenominational marriage “does not represent a situation of ‘grave and pressing need.'” He added: “Whoever wants to receive the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ must already be integrated into the body of Christ, which is the Church, through the confession of faith and sacramental baptism. Thus, there is no mystical, individualistic, and emotional communion with Christ that can be thought of apart from baptism and Church membership.” This follows the guidelines of the Catechism: “Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders.’ It is for this reason that, for the Catholic Church, Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible” (CCC 1400). Or, in other words, only a person who is in full communion with the Catholic faith is permitted to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
Then, there is the question of Canon Law 844, paragraph 4, which “provides for the giving of Holy Communion to a non-Catholic who has no access to his own minister and who manifests the Catholic faith, if he is in danger of death, or in the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop or Conference of Bishops, another grave necessity warrants it.” The German bishops are using this as a kind of sacramental loophole. Yet, as Cardinal Raymond Burke points out, this exception is meant specifically for emergency, near-death situations. He recommends revising this paragraph because of “its lack of clarity which has led to many contradictory practices in the matter of ‘intercommunion.'”
There are other older antecedents found in scripture to this idea of intercommunion. The Book of Exodus sheds light on the present controversy regarding the Paschal mystery. After all, the Paschal mystery originated in Exodus as a sketch of things to come. After the original Passover, the Israelites were permitted to leave Egypt. Yet, it was not just the Jews who departed: “A mixed multitude also went up with them” (Ex. 12:38). Like the present controversy involving “mixed marriages,” the Israelites came out of Egypt as a “mixed multitude,” meaning they were not all practicing Jews. They were outside the Israelites’ covenantal bonds with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was at the dramatic scene at Mount Sinai that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were established as annual, obligatory feasts as part of the Covenant. Later, apparently, some of the non-Jews of the mixed multitude, in the midst of the Israelite congregation, wanted to partake also of the Passover lamb and Unleavened Bread—prefiguring the Eucharist and the Mass. How would Yahweh respond?
Yahweh declares: “no foreigner shall eat of it” (Ex. 12:43). No foreigner, meaning no one outside of the covenantal seal, shall partake of it. If someone does want to partake in the Passover, Yahweh tells them to be “circumcised, then he may come near and keep it.” That is, Yahweh tells them to become Jews and observe the commands of the Law, and to worship God “as a native of the land.” Basically, God tells the mixed multitude to convert and join the covenant. Only then, can they participate. God is adamant that there will be “one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.” Yahweh does not give allowance for anyone outside the covenantal relationship.
Yahweh further declares: “In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house.” Just as none of the Passover meal should be eaten outside of the Jewish house, so too, the Eucharist should not be carried outside of the one holy Catholic Church. Even if one is baptized, which is the seal of the New Covenant (like circumcision in the Old), as Protestants are, the Eucharistic prerogative remains: it shall be eaten in one house, and none of its flesh shall be taken outside the house, that is, the faith of the Church. Communion should be given only to Catholics within the one holy Catholic Church.
This is the Church Fathers’ interpretation, too. St. Cyprian said of this verse: “The flesh of Christ and the holy thing of the Lord cannot be cast out. The faithful have no home but the one church.” And: “The faith of the divine Scripture manifests that the church is not outside and that it cannot be rent in two or divided against itself, but that it holds the unity of an inseparable and indivisible house. It is written concerning the rite of the Passover: ‘It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of its flesh outside the house.’” St. Jerome likewise wrote, “All such efforts are only of use when they are made within the church’s pale. We must celebrate the Passover in the one house.” In other words, St. Jerome confirms the parallelism of the Passover as the Mass, and the one house as the Catholic Church.
The prefiguring shadow of the Eucharist inundated the Israelites throughout their wilderness wanderings. God was not subtle with his symbology. When the Israelites were hungry in the Sinai wilderness, God rained down bread from heaven for them to eat for forty years. When the Israelites saw it, they said, “What is it?” And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.” Later, the Israelites murmured against God and Moses saying, “We loathe this worthless food.” In response, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” If God punished such murmurings against perishable manna, how then can non-Catholics be allowed to partake in the new manna of the Holy Eucharist while deeming it “worthless food?”
In his Bread of Life discourse, the new Moses, Jesus, directly addressed a similar grumbling. He said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever.” Some of the disciples murmured against the Eucharist saying, “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” Yet, Jesus did not soften his speech, rather he declared more forcefully: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus forced the issue: “Do you take offense at this?” His disciples had to decide whether it was “worthless food” or not. There is no middle ground to the Real Presence. Many could not accept it, for after this “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” It is immediately following this episode, too, perhaps not coincidentally, that Judas is revealed as Jesus’s betrayer. Indeed, the Real Presence is pivotal to the faith.
As Catholics receiving the Eucharist, we can answer the Israelites’ question from the desert, “What is it?,” with our own: “Who is it?” We can affirm, “It is our Jesus.” The psalmist wrote, “Man ate of the bread of the angels.” If this was just a shadowy wisp of the reality to come, how much holier is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ in our new manna? How can the German bishops allow admittance to the Bread of Life by those who deny it? St. Paul addressed the gravity of this situation: “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” Instead of catering to emotions and false-ecumenicalism, the German bishops should affirm the sacredness of the sacrament and invite them to a conversion of faith.
(Photo credit: image of Cardinal Marx; Bohumil Petrik / CNA)