Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, published by Ignatius Press. Follow him on Twitter @edwardpentin
Pope Francis has caused controversy by appearing to suggest that a Lutheran wife of a Catholic husband could receive holy Communion based on the fact that she is baptized and in accordance with her conscience.
During a question and answer session at an evening prayer service on Sunday in Rome’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Pope urged the Lutheran woman, Anke de Bernardinis, to "talk to the Lord" about receiving holy Communion "and then go forward", but added that he "wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence."
The Pope was responding to de Bernardinis who asked him how she could finally achieve Eucharistic communion with her Catholic husband.
The Holy Father answered by firstly posing the question whether the Eucharist is the goal of walking together, or acts as the sustenance (viaticum) of such a path. The answer, he said, should be left to theologians.
He then went on to say that, when sharing, “there aren’t differences between us” and doctrine becomes the “same”. Doctrine, he said, is a “difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together?”
He said Lutheran and Catholic language are “the same” when it comes to teaching children why Jesus came among us and what he did for mankind.
Moving on to the Lord’s Supper itself, the Pope said there are “questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own.”
He added: “See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.”
Continuing with his answer, the Pope recalled a Protestant pastor-friend who once told him that they, too, believed that the Lord is present in the Eucharist and wondered what the difference was. “Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations," the Pope said. "Always refer back to your baptism. ‘One faith, one baptism, one Lord.’ This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there."
The Pope added: “I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.”
The Holy Father's words have been causing widespread concern in Rome, leading some to go as far as to describe them as an attack on the sacraments. “The Rubicon has been crossed,” said one source close to the Vatican. “The Pope said it in a charming way, but this is really about mocking doctrine. We have seven sacraments, not one.”
The issue is particularly sensitive at the current time given the continuing pressure to allow remarried-divorcees to receive holy Communion within the "internal forum", guided by their confessor.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, because 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," Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities "is not possible.”
However it adds that when they commemorate the Lord's death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they "profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory." (No. 1400). More on canonical rules concerning intercommunion can be found here.
Here below are the Pope’s comments in context (my working translation):
Question: My name is Anke de Bernardinis and, like many people in our community, I'm married to an Italian, who is a Roman Catholic Christian. We’ve lived happily together for many years, sharing joys and sorrows. And so we greatly regret being divided in faith and not being able to participate in the Lord's Supper together. What can we do to achieve, finally, communion on this point?
Pope Francis: The question on sharing the Lord’s Supper isn’t easy for me to respond to, above all in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m scared!
I think of how the Lord told us when he gave us this command to “do this in memory of me,” and when we share the Lord’s Supper, we recall and we imitate the same as the Lord. And there will be the Lord’s Supper, there will be the eternal banquet in the new Jerusalem, but that will be the last one. In the meantime, I ask myself — and don’t know how to respond — what you’re asking me, I ask myself the question. To share the Lord’s banquet: is it the goal of the path or is it the viaticum [provisions] for walking together? I leave that question to the theologians and those who understand.
It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means there aren’t differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand — but I ask myself: but don’t we have the same Baptism? If we have the same Baptism, shouldn’t we be walking together? You’re a witness also of a profound journey, a journey of marriage: a journey really of the family and human love and of a shared faith, no? We have the same Baptism.
When you feel yourself to be a sinner – and I feel more of a sinner – when your husband feels a sinner, you go to the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and also goes to the priest and asks absolution. I’m healed to keep alive the Baptism. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, becomes stronger. When you teach your kids who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did for us, you’re doing the same thing, whether in the Lutheran language or the Catholic one, but it’s the same. The question: and the [Lord’s] Supper? There are questions that, only if one is sincere with oneself and with the little theological light one has, must be responded to on one’s own. See for yourself. This is my body. This is my blood. Do it in remembrance of me – this is a viaticum that helps us to journey on.
I once had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop who went a little wrong – he was 48 years old, married, two children. This was a discomfort to him – a Catholic wife, Catholic children, him a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sunday, and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participation in the Lord’s Supper. Then he went forward, the Lord called him, a just man. To your question, I can only respond with a question: what can I do with my husband, because the Lord’s Supper accompanies me on my path?
It’s a problem each must answer, but a pastor-friend once told me: “We believe that the Lord is present there, he is present. You all believe that the Lord is present. And so what's the difference?” — “Eh, there are explanations, interpretations.” Life is bigger than explanations and interpretations. Always refer back to your baptism. “One faith, one baptism, one Lord.” This is what Paul tells us, and then take the consequences from there. I wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it’s not my competence. One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. I don’t dare to say anything more.