Msgr. Nicola Bux reflects on the possibility this pontificate is sympathetic to Protestant theologian Jürgen Moltmann’s theory of “open Communion.”
If the Church were to change its rules on shared Eucharistic Communion it would “go against Revelation and the Magisterium”, leading Christians to “commit blasphemy and sacrilege,” an Italian theologian has warned.
Drawing on the Church’s teaching based on Sacred Scripture and Tradition, Msgr. Nicola Bux, a former consulter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stressed that non-Catholic Christians must have undertaken baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church, and repented of grave sin through sacramental confession, in order to be able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist.
Msgr. Bux was responding to the Register about concerns that elements of the current pontificate might be sympathetic of a form of “open Communion” proposed by the German Protestant theologian, Jürgen Moltmann.
The concerns have arisen primarily due to the Holy Father’s own comments on Holy Communion and Lutherans, his apparent support for some remarried divorcees to receive Holy Communion, and how others have used his frequently repeated maxim about the Eucharist: that it is “not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.”
The debate specifically over intercommunion with Christian denominations follows recent remarks by Cardinal Walter Kasper who, in a Dec. 10 interview with Avvenire, said he hopes Pope Francis’ next declaration will open the way for intercommunion with other denominations “in special cases.”
The German theologian said shared Eucharistic communion is just a matter of time, and that the Pope’s recent participation in the Reformation commemoration in Lund has given “a new thrust” to the “ecumenical process.”
Pope Francis has often expressed his admiration for Cardinal Kasper’s theology whose thinking has significantly influenced — and continues to influence — the priorities of this pontificate, particularly on the Eucharist.
For Moltmann, Holy Communion is “the Lord’s supper, not something organized by a church or a denomination”. He believes the Church “owes its life to the Lord and its fellowship to his supper, not the other way around” and so its invitation “goes out to all whom he is sent to invite.”
If the Church were to “limit the openness of his invitation of its own accord,” he believes, “it would be turning the Lord’s supper into the Church’s supper and putting its own fellowship at the centre, not fellowship with him.
“By using the expression ‘the Lord’s supper’,” he has argued, “we are therefore stressing the pre-eminence of Christ above his earthly Church and are calling in question every denominationally limited ‘church supper’…”
In his 2011 book The Catholic Church: Nature, Reality and Mission, Cardinal Kasper praised Moltmann as an inspirational theologian, one of several “great” Protestant theologians, but preferred to appeal to the idea of authentic “catholicity” (universality) rather than “open Communion.”
Here below is Msgr. Bux’s complete response to the arguments proposed by “open Communion” and intercommunion.
“St. Thomas Aquinas responds to the issue in answer to Question 80, Article 4 in his Summa Theologiae:
“In this sacrament, as in the others, that which is a sacrament is a sign of the reality of the sacrament. Now there is a twofold reality of this sacrament, as stated above: one which is signified and contained, namely, Christ Himself; while the other is signified but not contained, namely, Christ’s mystical body, which is the fellowship of the saints. Therefore, whoever receives this sacrament, expresses thereby that he is made one with Christ, and incorporated in His members; and this is done by living faith, which no one has who is in mortal sin [let alone if the faith, in addition to not being formed, is also deficient in matters of faith]. And therefore it is manifest that whoever receives this sacrament while in mortal sin, is guilty of lying to this sacrament, and consequently of sacrilege, because he profanes the sacrament: and therefore he sins mortally.”
If I receive Communion, I declare myself to be one with Christ, to the point that “I eat”; but real separation (or merely potential union) from Christ and the Church is objectively found in:
a) Those who does not have the grace and
b) Those who do not have faith, rendering the “consuming” of Christ (i.e. the state of being at one with him – truly present – and with the Church), a lie.
1) Through reading the Gospel of John chapter 6, or especially the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 11, one understands that this is contrary to Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium of the Church, because, to receive Communion one must have undertaken Christian initiation (baptism and confirmation). Also, if the person had fallen into grave sin, he has to have made the penitential journey, especially sacramental confession.
The initiation and the penitential journey really show that the one who wants to communicate must first have entered into the communion of the faith of the Church; or if they had moved away because of a serious sin or schism or heresy, must re-enter by penance.
Pope St. John Paul II responded to the idea of Moltmann in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, when he writes:
“The celebration of the Eucharist, however, cannot be the starting-point for communion; it presupposes that communion already exists, a communion which it seeks to consolidate and bring to perfection. The sacrament is an expression of this bond of communion both in its invisible dimension, which, in Christ and through the working of the Holy Spirit, unites us to the Father and among ourselves, and in its visible dimension, which entails communion in the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments and in the Church’s hierarchical order.” (35)
2) If the Holy See absurdly changed the rule, that is if it were able to bring it about without having Christian initiation (baptism and confirmation) or, without having made sacramental confession, it would go against Revelation and the Magisterium of the one Holy and Apostolic Catholic Church, prompting the faithful to commit blasphemy and sacrilege.
It’s true that all Christian denominations refer to Jesus Christ, but “according to the persuasion of Catholics,” John Paul II recalled, on 17 November 1980, at the Council of the Evangelical Church of Germany, “dissent relates to the ‘what Christ is’, ‘is his’; his Church and its mission, his message and his sacraments and institutions which are placed at the service of the word and sacrament.”
Therefore, the faith that Protestants profess at baptism is not Catholic, in particular because they don’t have the sacrament of Confirmation: therefore, not being able to make the journey of initiation, they cannot receive the Eucharist.
Finally, Protestants do have not the Sacrament of Penance (Confession and Reconciliation], so they cannot return to Eucharistic communion.”
In addition to Msgr. Bux’s comments, theologians also point out that shared Communion with Lutherans, for example, would directly contradict Canon II of the Council of Trent on the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist:
“If anyone says that in the sacred and, holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which change the Catholic Church most aptly calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.”
The canon condemns the Lutheran doctrine of Consubstantiation which holds that the fundamental “substance” of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine, which remain present. This means that if anyone were to encourage a Lutheran to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church — even in exceptional circumstances — they would be in error unless those same Lutherans rejected the Lutheran doctrines on the Eucharist.
But if that is the case, and they believe what the Catholic Church believes, and don’t believe what the Lutheran Church teaches, then it raises the question: why don’t they simply become Catholic? A theologian who preferred to remain anonymous told the Register that if any Lutheran feels “hurt” or “deprived” by being unable to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church, they “should ask themselves: why they do not feel hurt or deprived when they receive invalid Communion from invalidly ordained ministers in the Lutheran Church?”
Canon II, he said, is based on Scripture (1 Cor 11: 27) and Tradition (Didache 9,5 ; 10,6 ; 14,1; and St Justin Martyr 1st Apologia c.66).
Specifically on the issue of intercommunion, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1400) states:
“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. However these ecclesial communities, “when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper . . . profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and await his coming in glory.”