Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why can't Catholics recieve communion in Lutheran Church?

Q.  What I was wondering about is Communion outside of the Catholic Church. At my Lutheran School there's Chapel activities three times a week, and on Wednesday's we do Holy Communion (There's only a 20 minute space available three times a week, so basically what we do is have mass in three parts throughout the week). Today I was told that as a Catholic I shouldn't be receiving Communion, and the person who said that didn't really know why. I get that there's a huge difference between Communion at a Catholic Church and a Lutheran Church, but I don't see how that makes it wrong to receive Communion at a Lutheran service. If it were the other way around, a non Catholic at a Catholic Church, I can see how that would be wrong. I also get how it would be a big mistake to replace or substitute for Catholic Communion, but that's not at all how it is. I'm not even thinking of them as the same thing; in my mind they're totally separate.

I guess it just seems haughty and almost arrogant to say "no, this isn't good enough for me because I have something similar and this is different" when instead it could be treated as something totally different, which really it is, not something that is taking away from or disputing the transubstantiation in Catholic Communion. It's not like the Lutheran Church is making a sacrilege of Communion by doing it the way they do, they're not even opposing any beliefs of the Catholic Church. Their Communion is just not as special, it's not as intimate. But the Catholic Church has nothing wrong with symbols, and that's all that their Communion is, so there should be nothing wrong with it. Because their Communion is merely symbolic and therefore not nearly as intimate, it is definitely no replacement and should never be thought of as such, but I don't understand what is wrong with participating.
A. I used to struggle with the same issue, when I was heavily involved in the Anglican Church.   Church teaching is that the reception in another Church would be superficial. It is not a put down to the other Church, but rather an acknowledgement that we are not in communion with each other! I think now a days we really emphasize the fact that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, which it is and that emphasis is important, but sometimes we forget that receiving communion also indicates that we are one, and one with the Church we receive it in. While out hope is to one day be in communion with all the protestants, we aren't right now and so it would be superficial to receive such an important symbol, while rejecting what it signifies.
Historically when someone was a heretic or a schismatic, they could be cut off from the sacraments, or ex-communicated. This was a really big deal- so much so that kings would stand barefoot in the snow to repent to the Pope and be welcomed back into communion! If you receive communion in a Lutheran Church, it is not only problematic because they don't share our theology, it indicates that you are one of them.
To be honest I sometimes think that if it were left to me, I would not make communion more accessible, but rather less. In Catholic Churches it is supposed to be the final stage of initiation into the Church (or confirmation is, depending). But we give it to every kid of the age of reason regardless of their own level of devotion to the Church, or that of their parents. And people receive it in an unworthy manner- either due to sin, irreverence, eating before Mass, or they are not Catholic- on a regular basis. The holiness of the sacrament gets undermined if we treat it as something that we have a right to.
I think that it is fantastic that Catholics and Lutherans can worship together, have fellowship, dialogue, etc. But it would be premature to say we are in full communion. I hope and pray for the day that we will be, and I think that will be a powerful and fantastic day, but let's not undermine the symbol in anticipation of something that is not yet!

(The original questioner has kept the conversation going...)

Q:  So the big problem with it then is that it signifies that we are all united as one, even though we aren't? And that's what makes it superficial? That doesn't really make sense to me. "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one spirit we were all baptized into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves of free- and we were all made to drink of one spirit." (1 Corinthians 12: 12-13). Christ came to die for all of us, not just Catholics, so why do we separate ourselves from other Churches? I think the part I don't understand is what you mean when you say "While our hope is to one day be in communion with all the protestants, we aren't right now". To me it seems like, just as the verse says, we are all one body in Christ, we are all saved by grace just the same, and though we are different, we are all united. St Paul repeats this idea when he says, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another." (Romans 12: 4-5). If we are all united as one body in Christ, why do we reject this symbol of unity?

Actually it's because the Lutherans separated themselves from us. It begs the question about how much theological agreement there needs to be to be in communion with each other. For example, suppose we allow that we hold enough in common with Lutherans and Anglicans to be in communion... despite the fact that many Anglicans deny that homosexuality is wrong. Should we also be in communion with the United Church, many of whom deny the trinity and thus the divinity of Christ? Or the Jehovah's Witnesses, who think Jesus was Michael the Archangel? Or Mormons, who think that the Church is in a state of apostasy for denying true revelation? To Luther, the Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon. While you will not find many Lutherans who hold that position today (though you may find evangelicals) if you receive their communion you are affirming everything they believe- and vice versa when they receive ours.
This is precisely why we have Church authority, because while Luther may have meant well and sincerely believed that if we read the Bible by ourselves and guessed at the truth, the Holy Spirit would guide us, history and the proliferation of denominations and new teachings have demonstrated otherwise. This is a major difficulty for ecumenism. While Lutherans and United Church can both acknowledge one another as Christians making their best guess at it, the Catholic Churches claim is that the Church was granted authority to interpret scripture and pass on teachings. So when I say I hope we will all one day be in communion, in truth I mean that I hope one day protestants will stop protesting and will come back to the Church that Jesus founded and guaranteed the truth to!
I don't know how all of this works for the idea that we are all 'one body'. Within the Church we can say that we are one precisely because we receive the one body, but Lutherans do not receive the one body. Their baptism is valid, so in a sense they are certainly Christian and part of the Christian Church. But they have broken their apostolic lineage, denied the authority of the Church and of the sacraments, and in effect cut themselves off from the sacraments.
I think that if we receive their communion, we affirm them as being not only Christian but just as right as Catholics. Of course, everyone wants to do this... but if you really believe that the Church is infallible, then only Catholicism is fully right, which means by definition all other denominations are defective, to greater or lesser degrees. (The Church released a document in 2000 called Dominus Iesus,  which expounds on this.)
So again, it is a huge difficulty. There is hope that that Churches that are very like minded with ours, like the Lutherans, can be reunited. Pope Benedict XVI even invited Anglicans to become "Anglican Catholics"- like Ukrainian Catholics. This let's them keep their rites and liturgy, etc, while acknowledging the Church and her authority to teach, therefore affirming whatever the Church has taught authoritatively. I do not think it is impossible for a right like "Lutheran Catholics" (though probably under a different name!) to exist. They would be, effectively, Lutherans who are back in full communion. It may happen, or something like it, but it would be premature for you or I to declare that it has happened just because we hope it will. But Ecumenism can go too far- I don't think we will ever have "Mormon Catholics" or "Muslim Catholics", because they are too contradictory.
There are many who, in the name of ecumenism or open mindedness, would undermine the infallible truth of Catholicism. Infallibility is a major stumbling block for these movements.... however, it is the assurance given us by Christ that we can get it right! Otherwise it is anyone guess. And it is not difficult to see from the Anglican Church or the United Church what democratizing the faith actually does to unity and fidelity to truth.
Often in North America where Catholics are a minority it feels like we should move to join the protestants. But worldwide we are the largest religion, and that with 2000 years of non contradiction, and the (apparent) blessing and guarantee of teaching from Christ. While we have a responsibility to worship with, and dialogue with, our protestant brethren, whatever distinctions there are between our faith and there's was introduced by them, and it is up to them to reconcile them if we are ever all to be one, as Jesus prayed.
If you check history, where major movements in Christianity were declared "Heresies" or "Schismatics" I think the Church has demonstrated a remarkable openness to Lutherans- at least in recent decades. That may be a balm for the wounds, but I suspect it will be decades more before the healing is complete.


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