In addition to the divorced and remarried, for Luther’s followers as well there are those who are giving the go-ahead for the Eucharist. Here is how “La Civiltà Cattolica” interprets the pope’s enigmatic words on intercommunion
[Matthew 7:6: Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.]
by Sandro Magister
ROME, July 1, 2016 – In his way, after encouraging communion for the divorced and remarried, in that it “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” Pope Francis is now also encouraging Protestants and Catholics to receive communion together at their respective Masses.
He is doing so, as always, in a discursive, allusive way, not definitional, leaving the ultimate decision to the individual conscience.
Still emblematic is the answer he gave on November 15, 2015, on a visit to the Christuskirche, the church of the Lutherans in Rome (see photo), to a Protestant who asked him if she could receive communion together with her Catholic husband.
The answer from Francis was a stupefying pinwheel of yes, no, I don’t know, you figure it out. Which it is indispensable to reread in its entirety, in the official transcription:
“Thank you, Ma’am. Regarding the question on sharing the Lord’s Supper, it is not easy for me to answer you, especially in front of a theologian like Cardinal Kasper! I’m afraid! I think the Lord gave us [the answer] when he gave us this command: ‘Do this in memory of me’. And when we share in, remember and emulate the Lord’s Supper, we do the same thing that the Lord Jesus did. And the Lord’s Supper will be, the final banquet will there be in the New Jerusalem, but this will be the last. Instead on the journey, I wonder – and I don’t know how to answer, but I am making your question my own – I ask myself: “Is sharing the Lord’s Supper the end of a journey or is it the viaticum for walking together? I leave the question to the theologians, to those who understand. It is true that in a certain sense sharing is saying that there are no differences between us, that we have the same doctrine – I underline the word, a difficult word to understand – but I ask myself: don’t we have the same Baptism? And if we have the same Baptism, we have to walk together. You are a witness to an even profound journey because it is a conjugal journey, truly a family journey, of human love and of shared faith. We have the same Baptism. When you feel you are a sinner – I too feel I am quite a sinner – when your husband feels he is a sinner, you go before the Lord and ask forgiveness; your husband does the same and goes to the priest and requests absolution. They are ways of keeping Baptism alive. When you pray together, that Baptism grows, it becomes strong; when you teach your children who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did, you do the same, whether in Lutheran or Catholic terms, but it is the same. The question: and the Supper? There are questions to which only if one is honest with oneself and with the few theological lights that I have, one must respond the same, you see. ‘This is my Body, this is my Blood’, said the Lord, ‘do this in memory of me’, and this is a viaticum which helps us to journey. I had a great friendship with an Episcopalian bishop, 48 years old, married with two children, and he had this concern: a Catholic wife, Catholic children, and he a bishop. He accompanied his wife and children to Mass on Sundays and then went to worship with his community. It was a step of participating in the Lord’s Supper. Then he passed on, the Lord called him, a just man. I respond to your question only with a question: how can I participate with my husband, so that the Lord’s Supper may accompany me on my path? It is a problem to which each person must respond. A pastor friend of mine said to me: ‘We believe that the Lord is present there. He is present. You believe that the Lord is present. So what is the difference?’ – ‘Well, there are explanations, interpretations…’. Life is greater than explanations and interpretations. Always refer to Baptism: “One faith, one baptism, one Lord”, as Paul tells us, and take the outcome from there. I would never dare give permission to do this because I do not have the authority. One Baptism, one Lord, one faith. Speak with the Lord and go forward. I do not dare say more.”
It is impossible to gather a clear indication from these words. Of course, however, by speaking in such a “liquid” form Pope Francis has brought everything into question again, concerning intercommunion between Catholics and Protestants. He has made any position thinkable, and therefore practicable.
In fact, in the Lutheran camp the pope’s words were immediately taken as a go-ahead for intercommunion.
But now in the Catholic camp as well an analogous position statement has come, which presents itself above all as the authentic interpretation of the words Francis said at the Lutheran church of Rome.
Acting as the pope’s authorized interpreter is the Jesuit Giancarlo Pani, in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine directed by Fr. Antonio Spadaro that has now become the official voice of Casa Santa Marta, meaning of Jorge Mario Bergoglio himself, who reviews and adjusts the articles that most interest him before their publication.
Taking his cue from a recent joint declaration of the Catholic episcopal conference of the United States and of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Fr. Pani dedicates the entire second part of his article to the exegesis of the words of Francis at the Christuskirche in Rome, carefully selected from among those most useful for the purpose.
And he draws the conclusion from them that they marked “a change” and “a progress in pastoral practice,” analogous to the one produced by “Amoris Laetitia” for the divorced and remarried.
They are only “small steps forward,” Pani writes in the final paragraph. But the direction is set.
And it is the same one in which Francis moves when he declares – as he did during the return flight from Armenia – that Luther “was a reformer” with good intentions and his reform was “medicine for the Church,” skipping over the essential dogmatic divergences between Protestants and Catholics concerning the sacrament of the Eucharist, because – in the words of Francis at the Christuskirche in Rome – “life is greater than explanations and interpretations.”
So here are the main passages of the article by Fr. Pani in “La Civiltà Cattolica.”