Pope Francis creates anticipation for intercommunion between Catholics and Lutherans
October 27, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — It’s gearing up to be one of the hottest topics in Sweden and around the Lutheran world. As the October 31 kickoff draws near for the yearlong celebration of Martin Luther’s launch of the Protestant Reformation, Lutheran and Catholic bishops are expressing their expectation of the ability to receive Communion in the Catholic Church, a practice that is not lawful. Pope Francis, who will travel to Lund, Sweden, to participate in the ceremonies, has himself elicited the excitement by suggesting that intercommunion is a possibility.
The Lutheran Church of Sweden to which Pope Francis is going for the celebration accepts contraception, abortion, homosexuality, and female clergy, all of which are strictly and unalterably forbidden in the Catholic Church. Regarding the Eucharist, Lutherans have a fundamentally different faith from Catholics, who believe that during the consecration at Mass the bread used becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ while still looking like bread. Lutherans believe in a fleeting presence – that while Christ is present in the bread during the service, it is just normal bread again outside the service.
Nevertheless, Eucharistic intercommunion is the main desire for Lutheran and Catholic leaders involved in the Papal participation in the Lutheran commemoration.
Swedish Professor Dr. Clemens Cavallin in an essay on “Sweden and the 500-year reformation anamnesis” notes that the Church of Sweden webpage states explicitly about the pope’s visit: “What we foremost wish is that the common celebration of the Eucharist will be officially possible. This is especially important for families where members belong to different denominations.”
In an interview with a major daily in Sweden in January, the female Archbishop of the Church of Sweden, Antje Jackelén, said specifically her desire was for intercommunion. “We would like to officially receive approval for a joint celebration of the Eucharist,” she said. “It is still something troublesome, for a family in which one is Catholic and the other Lutheran, that they cannot go to the same communion table in a Catholic church.”
Bishop William Kenney, a former Swedish Catholic bishop who is now Auxiliary of Birmingham, England, and co-chair of the international dialogue between the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has suggested that intercommunion in some form is a possibility he is hoping for from the papal visit. In an interview with Crux, he called intercommunion “one of the big issues” of the papal visit. “If I wanted Francis to cause a pleasant revolution in Lund, he would say Lutherans can, under certain circumstances without asking all the time, receive the Eucharist. That would be a major gesture,” Bishop Kenney said.
Kenney added, “The sort of thing I would like to see is that in a so-called ecumenical marriage, the non-Catholic party can always go to Communion with his or her partner. That would be a major step forward, and it’s pastorally very desirable.”
Intercommunion even in limited cases such as for married couples, where one of the spouses is Lutheran and the other Catholic, would mark a severe break with Church teaching and tradition. Just after the Pope made his controversial remarks in a Lutheran church in Rome suggesting intercommunion was possible, Vatican liturgy chief Cardinal Robert Sarah took the extraordinarily rare step of precisely contradicting the Pope’s words. Cardinal Sarah said, “Intercommunion is not permitted between Catholics and non-Catholics.” The Cardinal said, “You must confess the Catholic faith. A non-Catholic cannot receive Communion. That is very, very clear. It’s not a matter of following your conscience.”