German Bishops Tell Vatican to Allow Protestants Who Are Married to Catholics to Share Communion

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For all the progress made toward bringing evangelicals and Catholics together, the notion of a shared Communion table between the two traditions—each with their own theological and ecclesiastical understanding of the Lord’s Supper—has pretty much always been off the table.

Yet, a recent proposal by German bishops aims to allow the Catholic Church to offer the sacrament to certain Protestants—those who are married to practicing Catholics and desire to participate in Communion together.

Though the Vatican initially rejected the notion last month, officials will meet in Rome Thursday to, as its press office said, “deal with the theme of the eventual access to the Eucharist for non-Catholic spouses in mixed marriages,” according to a Catholic News Service report.

Three-quarters of German bishops approved the measure earlier this year. But those critical of the move questioned whether the national conference had the authority to expand who was eligible to receive communion, a sacrament generally reserved for members of the church in good standing and only offered to non-Catholics “in grave and pressing need.”

The German proposal aims to accommodate Catholics in mixed marriages and requires spouses to “affirm the Catholic Eucharist” in order to participate. The bishops cited cases where “the spiritual hunger to receive Communion together … is so strong that it could threat the marriage and the faith.”

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, president of the German Protestant Church (EKD), said the news from Catholic leaders was “an important step in our ecumenical past,” particularly as leaders of both bodies push for unity following last year’s 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

The move to extend Communion to interfaith couples represents a pastoral impulse that plenty of Christians could appreciate; here in the US, a quarter of married Catholics have non-Catholic spouses, 14 percent of whom are practicing Protestants.

“While theologically initiated Protestants normally—and rightly—abstain from taking the Eucharist, seeing in it a theurgic act that runs roughshod over Scripture, many others view it simply as a fellowship meal, one in which they naturally want to participate alongside of a spouse or loved one,” said Chris Castaldo, an expert on evangelical-Catholic engagement and the lead pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois.

“Such people may not be ready to kiss the papal ring or sing the Ave Maria, but they wish to celebrate the table among Christians with whom they’re in intimate communion. Catholic teaching, however, does not currently allow this.”

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Source: Christianity Today