Catholics and Protestants Share Communion at German Ecumenical Convention
Frankfurt’s Cathedral of St. Bartholomew served as the site where Catholics and Protestants defied Church teaching against shared communion.
FRANKFURT, Germany — Protestant and Catholic worshippers in Germany defied Church teaching on Sunday by taking part in each other’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper at an Ecumenical Convention in Frankfurt.
In four services in the city, Catholics were invited to take part in an Evangelical Supper with Protestants and similarly invited to celebrate the Catholic Eucharist, with the decision to receive Holy Communion at Mass or bread at a Protestant service left to an individual’s conscience.
At an evening Mass in Frankfurt’s Imperial Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, the convention’s Protestant president, Bettina Limperg, received Holy Communion while her Catholic counterpart, Thomas Sternberg, took part in a Protestant Lord’s Supper service in the German city. Although the ecumenical convention has attracted hundreds of thousands of people in the past, it was not as well attended this year due to COVID restrictions.
“We live an ecumenical hospitality,” Sternberg told reporters at the end of the event called Ökumenischen Kirchentag. “The whole thing touched me very, very deeply.”
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had earlier described the invitation as a provocation.
“Anyone who contradicts Catholic teaching and its binding interpretation by the Roman teaching office is no longer Catholic,” the cardinal told the German press agency DPA.
The events followed comments last month from Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops’ conference, who told an online discussion in late April that “anyone who is Protestant and attends Communion can receive Communion” at the ecumenical event.
“We want to take steps towards unity,” he said, adding that “whoever believes in conscience what is celebrated in the other denomination will also be able to approach [the altar] and won’t be rejected.” He said the practice is already “maintained up and down the country" and is actually “nothing new.”
He later qualified his comments, saying the event would not be “about intercommunion” in a general sense but about respecting an individual’s conscience. He also stressed there could be no joint celebration of the Mass by clergy of different denominations, and that the event would be “ecumenically sensitive.”
The Catholic dean of Frankfurt cathedral, Father Johannes zu Eltz, apologized to Protestants in his homily for having had to struggle on account of Catholic “arrogance” and “efforts of demarcation.”
“I ask forgiveness for this and thank you for your long-suffering,” said Father Eltz, who in 2018 publicly backed the blessings of same-sex unions. He urged churches to “dissolve fossilization and leave behind fortresses of wanting to be right,” according to a report in Katholisch.de.
The kind of shared communion that took place in Frankfurt on Sunday is forbidden according to the magisterium of the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis that “the respect we owe to the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood prevents us from making it a mere ‘means’ to be used indiscriminately in order to attain that unity.”
The Eucharist, he added, “not only manifests our personal communion with Jesus Christ, but also implies full communio with the Church. This is the reason why, sadly albeit not without hope, we ask Christians who are not Catholic to understand and respect our conviction, which is grounded in the Bible and Tradition.”
He therefore added that “eucharistic communion and ecclesial communion are so linked as to make it generally impossible for non-Catholic Christians to receive the former without enjoying the latter.” He noted some admissible exceptions where Protestants can receive the Eucharist, but he stressed that these require “certain precisely defined conditions be met” as indicated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1398-1401) and Canon 844 § 4.
That canon states that “If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.”
“Everyone is obliged to observe these norms faithfully,” Benedict wrote.
Last September, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a four-page critique and letter to Bishop Bätzing explaining that doctrinal differences with Protestants are “still so weighty” that “mutual participation in the Lord’s Supper or the Eucharist” was not possible.
The events in Germany over the weekend follow Pope Francis’ frequent statements that it should be left both to an individual’s conscience and to local bishops to decide over whether Holy Communion for Protestants can be allowed, especially with regards Protestant spouses. This model of decentralization is “the way that we’re trying,” Bishop Bätzing said last month.