A German Catholic bishop is resisting a new Vatican prohibition on shared Communion with Protestants.
– Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says ‘no’ to proposal from ecumenical working group
Last weekend the news broke that German Bishops’ head Bishop Georg Bätzing had received from the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) a theological evaluation of September 2019 text of the German Ecumenical Working Group of Evangelical and Catholic Theologians (ÖAK), “Together around the Lord’s Table: ecumenical perspectives on celebrating the Lord’s Supper and Eucharist”.
That text of the ÖAK explicitly argued that Catholics and Protestants should be able to receive the Eucharist at celebrations of the other denomination.
After evaluating it at their spring plenary assembly this year and also in their commission for ecumenism, the German Bishops decided in May to pass the ÖAK document on to the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, from whence it went to the CDF for detailed theological consideration.
In its reply to the German Bishops on “Together around the Lord’s Table”, the CDF argued that differences between Catholic and Protestant understandings of the Lord’s Supper and the ordained ministry are “still so important” and preclude “reciprocal Eucharistic hospitality”.
Not only that, but in their response dated September 18 CDF Prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria and Secretary Archbishop Giacomo Morandi argued that the Catholic theology of Church, Eucharist and ordained ministry is “undervalued” in the ÖAK document.
They alerted that the ÖAK text does not take into account “essential theological and indispensable insights of the Eucharistic theology of the Second Vatican Council” and that allowing Catholics and Protestants to share Communion would “necessarily open up new rifts in the ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Churches”.
The CDF heads also declared that apart from a general ruling on intercommunion there is no basis for an “decision of conscience”, either, on the part of individual Catholics or Protestants.
The “relationship between the Eucharist and the Church” is undervalued in the ÖAK text, the CDF furthermore warned, agreeing with the initial assessment the German Bishops made of “Together around the Lord’s Table”: that the document requires “further theological deepening of certain core issues, such as the question of the real presence and the concept of sacrifice in the Eucharist”.
– An appeal to the “prudence” of pastoral workers “to deal with exceptions”
German Bishops’ spokesman Matthias Kopp confirmed receipt of the letter from Rome, and announced that it would be discussed from September 22-24 at the Bishops’ autumn plenary assembly in Fulda.
In the meantime, however, Bishop of Augsburg Bertram Meier has ventured a preliminary response to the CDF response to the ÖAK text, and continued to speak of the possibility that there can be exceptions to the current ban on intercommunion.
Meier told German Catholic news agency KNA September 21 that in the wake of the CDF text he had two wishes: on the one hand that it be left to the “prudence” of pastoral workers “to deal with exceptions” to the veto on shared Eucharistic hospitality, and on the other hand that “a further deepened theological clarification” be produced on the possibility of sharing Communion with Christians of other denominations, and “above all of the understanding of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper and of the ordained priesthood”.
The bishop said he desired those two things “in order to be able to continue ecumenically”.
Meier – a member of both the German Bishops’ Ecumenical Commission and also of the board of the Association of Christian Churches in Germany (ACK) – recognised that with the new CDF text “the conditions for Eucharistic hospitality remain as they are”, with the rule being “that I receive Holy Communion where I belong ecclesiastically”.
But the bishop has long wished that Catholics and Protestants come closer in their understandings of ordained ministry and Eucharistic communion.
In June, for example, Meier explained that he “dream[s]” of a shared Catholic-Protestant document “in which we emphasise our common confession and only secondarily name our differences, so that we come closer to the common reception of Communion”.
In the meantime, Bishop Bätzing – who was co-chair of the ÖAK group responsible for the intercommunion proposal, along with retired Lutheran Bishop Martin Hein – announced before the CDF response that “Together around the Lord’s Table” will be put into practice at the Ecumenical Church Congress in Frankfurt in May 2021.