NEW GUIDELINES on intercommunion published last week by the
Catholic bishops of Britain and Ireland received a lukewarm response from the Protestant Churches.
The guidelines, published in an important new document on the
Eucharist. One Bread One Body (Catholic Truth Society, £4.95), forbid Protestants to take Catholic Holy Communion except in cases of exceptional need.
Criticism focused on the bishops ruling allowing inter-Church
couples to receive Holy Communion oniy on "unique occasions of joy or sorrow", such as marriages and funerals.
The Methodist Church said the document would "cause pain and disappointment to many, particularly inter-church families. who had been hoping there could be some movement towards a development of their position."
The Association of Inter-Church families expressed "some disap pointment" that special considera tion had not been shown to couples in mixed marriages. It noted that the Catholic bishops of Germany.
South Africa and Brisbane had recognised that inter-Church fami
lies "experience a continuing serious spiritual need to receive communion together."
The Archbishop of Canterbury was said to be "disappointed" that the new norms do not make special allowances for inter-Church couples to receive Catholic Holy Communion together.
In April this year Dr Carey made a passionate plea for the Eucharistic to be made availiabIe to all Christians. "I know that this extension of Eucharistic hospitality is not normally the practice of the Roman Catholic Church," he said in a sermon at Luxembourg Cathedral.
Such an extension would be especially valued in those situations, such as mixed marriages, which cry out for special pastoral consideration."
Speaking at his residence last week, the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume said that he met Dr Carey on Monday and had "a very full, very frank and very good discussion on the document. He respects my view. I respect his view." They discussed the question of mixed marriages and Dr Carey expressed his disappointment that the new document did not accommodate their special needs.
The issue of inter-Church marriage directly affects Britain's first couple. Tony and Oierie Blair. Tony Blair, who is an Anglican. regularly received Holy Communion with his wife at a Catholic Church near their home in Highbury. Cardinal Hume said that he had written to Mr Blair informing him that he should not receive Holy Communion. Since then Tony Blair has not received communion publicly in Britain.
Describing Tony Blair as an interesting case, the Cardinal noted that the Prime Minister was entitled to take communion this August while on holiday in Tuscany. "It was okay in Tuscany because he couldn't get to his own Church. He had spiritual need. He believes what we believe. So he res[xmded enthely to Catholic teaching."
Cardinal Hume asked for the norms not to be interpreted as namm restrictions. He said that their intention was to make Catholics in Britain and Ireland more aware of the importance of the Eucharist. "One of the dangers that we experience is that there isn't sufficient reverence for the Eucharist. One aspect [of this document] is to try and prompt that reverence. As the millennium approaches the presence of Christ in the Eucharist needs to be underlined."
One Bread One Body calls on Catholics to "remain faithful to the discipline of the Church" and appeals to other Christian corrunu
nities "to respect that discipline just as we seek to respect the liturgical and sacramental discipline of other churches." Cardinal Hume said that he could do nothing to ensure that Eucharist discipline was obeyed in local parishes. In every walk of life authority says one thing and people do it differently."
Bishop Cormac Murphy O'Connor, who helped draft the document and is the chairman of the bishop's conference department of Mission and Unity, said that One Bread One Body was not the last word on intereornmunion. "I have no doubt this isn't the end. This is the first time we've spoken as bishops about this very important matter. I would derive encouragement from it."
In a simultaneous press conferecne in Dublin, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh said: "Going to Communion together bears witness to the fact that we are one in faith.
"By way of exception and under clearly defined conditions it may not only be possible but also desirable for a member of another Christian Church to receive communion in the Catholic Church."
The document rekindled the debate On intercommunion caused by the Irish President Mary McAlleese, who received communion in an Anglican Church in Dublin earlier this year.
Mrs McAleese's action was criticised by senior Catholic clergy and was widely debated in Ireland.
The new norms ntake it clear that Catholics are not permitted to receive the sacraments from "ministers of the Anglican Communion", including the Church of Ireland. Senior Church of Ireland clerics expressed their disppointrnent at the new norms. Bishop John Neill of Cashell and Ossory told The Irish Times that the document was blighted by inconsistency and ambiguity. He said: "It is sad that in spite of the ecumenical tone of the document, it does not move the situation on at all."
He insisted that the Catholic Church could not ask other Churches to enforce its own Eucharistic discipline. He said: 'The churches which welcome others to communion are not doing anything against the internal discipline of another church, and it is hard to see why this element of pleading has slipped in."
Cardinal Thomas Winning said that he felt "personal pain" that the Church could not welcome all Christians to the Lord's table. "But principles conic before feelings," he said.
"True ecumenism is not achieved by papering over the cracks. Only by being truthful can we grow together and this document is intended to re-state clearly what we believe."
The Anglican Church of Scotland welcomed the document. Ecumenism spokesman Rev Tom Macintyre said: "That is not to say that we agree with the Roman Catholic position. but we cannot travel along the ecumencial road to more visible Christian unity unless we understand where we are coming from."