"That they be one"
The following is a reflection on the Eucharist written by Msgr Thomas Wells (“From the Pastor’s Desk”, August 17, 1997):
My sister and our whole family are gearing up for a trip next weekend to Tulsa for her son’s wedding. While they met and will live in this area, the bride wants to return to her home for the celebration. My family, never reluctant to get together for a party, is happy to make the trip. While the family priest will be in the sanctuary, the couple has, in fact, received permission to have their vows witnessed in her Protestant church. In fact, the ceremony will take place in Eucharistic liturgy. This, of course, has raised the question about whether the Catholics should receive communion in the Protestant church. In fact, we have been told by the minister that we are more than welcome to receive. I discuss the question because it comes up so often today. Can Catholics receive, when invited, in other Christians Churches? Under normal circumstances, can a priest invite non-Catholic Christians to receive at a wedding or funeral mass? While in both cases the answer is no, a look at the Church’s reasoning is important.
First of all, it was the prayer of Jesus that, “they be one, as you Father, are in me and I am in you.” Unity is intended by God to be one of the distinctive marks of the Church. The summit, the source, and the principle sign of that unity is the Eucharist. Now, thank God, we have discovered in recent decades how much we have in common with other Christians, especially when compared with those who have no faith. We can, and should, pray and study together; we should engage in common works of Christian charity and we should build each other up in our attempts to love and serve the Lord. However, the rediscovery of how much we have in common does not erase the divisions that exist within the body of those who call themselves Christian. And we must not forget that our disunity is the result of sin – and sin always has painful consequences.
The fact that next Saturday I must be at an altar at a Eucharistic celebration that looks much like our own and not receive communion, will be awkward, likewise with my nephew who cannot receive with his new bride. However, interestingly enough, that pain is a good thing. If we all went to communion, there would be no such pain, true enough; but there would be the not honest facing of the reality that real and substantial divisions exist within the Christian community. The disunity is real and it should make us uncomfortable. Perhaps that small experience of the consequences of disunity will cause us to work for and pray for the real unity that is desired by the Lord. To pretend a unity that does not exist may feel good at the moment; but it allows us to avoid the painful truth that we are still far from the oneness in faith and action intended by the Lord.