BY LUKE COTTEN
THE BISHOPS of .Britain and Ireland urged Catholics to deepen their understanding of the Eucharist in an historic teaching document issued this week. They also set out new guidelines for sacramental sharing with non-Catholics which will have a significant impact on ecumenical relations.
The document, entitled One Bread One Body, is the result of an unprecedented collaboration between the three bishops' conferences of the British Isles. It has been approved individually by every bishop in Britain and Ireland and will be used in parishes as a new basis for teaching on the Eucharist It is only the second teaching document to be issued by the Bishops Conference of England and Wales. The first was The Common Good,
published in 1996. The document offers an in-depth presentation of Catholic belief in the Eucharist and clarifies the circumstances in which Catholics may share Holy Communion with other Christians.
It describes participation in the Mass as "the hallmark of the Catholic" and rules that sacraments can only be shared in exceptional circumstances.
In the foreword, Cardinals Hume and Winning and Archbishop Brady explain that it is written to reaffirm "the place of the Mass at the very centre of our Catholic life" and commend it to all Catholics in Britain and Ireland.
The document states that the Mass is "the vital centre of all the Church is and does, because at its heart is the real presence of the crucified risen and glorified Lord, continuing and making available his saving work among us.
"We urge Catholics in our countries to refresh and renew their belief in the Eucharist, their understanding of Catholic teaching and their reverence for this great mystery of faith."
Mgr Arthur Roche, General Secretary of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, said: "I think that what is in the bishops' minds is that we need to be clear about what we believe. This is a good time to reaffirm our faith."
The statement is also offered to non-Catholics as a clear exposition of the Catholic understanding the Mass. It explains why Catholics and nonCatholics cannot share the sacraments, except in cases of exceptional need. "It is right to expect that anyone who receives Holy Communion in the Catholic Church should manifest Catholic faith in the Eucharist," it states.
It rules that it is "not permissible for Catholics to receive Holy Communion. or the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick, from I ministers of the Anglican Communion or other faith communities rooted in the Reformation." However, sacramental sharing with nonCatholic Eastern Christians is "areal possibility," because the Second Vatican Council affirmed that they "possess true sacraments."
Mgr Roche said: 'This marks an important stage in our ecumenical relations, when we feel ready to face the serious matters that still divide us. It is something about which Protestant churches have been waiting for us to speak about for some time."
The document also tackles the sensitive issue of mixed marriages. It does not permit non-Catholic spouses to receive Holy Communion, However, it affirms that "Christ's saving power can touch the lives of inter-Church couple and family in many ways through the Eucharist, even though they cannot normally participate fully together in the celebration."
The document ends with an affirmation of the Catholic Church's commitment to full visible unity. The foreword, signed by the leaders of the three bishops' conferences, states: "We look forward to that day when all obstacles to full visible communion are overcome, and all Christians can celebrate the Eucharist together."
The Bishops of England and Wales. Ireland and Scotland hope One Bread One Body will be widely studied in parishes and in ecumenical groups.
An advance copy has been sent to every parish and the document, together with accompanying catechetical material, will shortly be available from the Catholic Truth Society.