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The Sacraments Instituted By Christ . . . Can We Receive Communion In An Eastern Orthodox Church?

March 18, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 20

Here we enter a delicate matter, which requires much prudential judgment from the Church. The matter is normally titled Communicatio in sacris, which refers to receiving Holy Communion in separated Eastern Churches.
Here the situation is totally different from receiving “communion” in a Protestant church of whatever denomination, because Protestants do not have a real sacramental priesthood, and therefore their ministers do not have the power to consecrate the Eucharist. Conclusion: All they can offer you is a nice piece of bread, purely and simply.
But with the Orthodox churches, the matter is altogether different. Since these have the true priesthood and the Blessed Eucharist, a certain sharing in the Sacraments of the Eucharist, Penance, and Extreme Unction is possible. But there are certain conditions, of course.
The first condition is that it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister. Say that one is in Greece or in Bulgaria or in another Orthodox-majority country, and there is no Catholic parish available, or it is much too far away to go to, or one has no means of transportation, or any other reasonable situation one may find oneself in.
The second condition is that one must be certain that it is really necessary to receive the Sacrament of Confession or the Eucharist or Extreme Unction at that point in time, or because a genuine spiritual advantage suggests it.
The third condition is that one avoids the danger of error or indifferentism, that is, one must be fully aware that one is not in a Catholic church, fully united with the See of Peter, but in a separated institution that broke away from Rome but has maintained the sacred priesthood.
The fourth condition is that there is no objection from the Eastern Church itself. This is important, because often Orthodox priests refuse to give us any sacrament if we do not join their church.
The fifth condition for Communion is that one must be free of mortal sin, and observe the Eastern discipline concerning prior Confession, the frequency of Communion, and the Eucharistic fast.
Conversely, there are also conditions for an Eastern non-Catholic Christian to receive Communion, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick from a Catholic minister when: a) they spontaneously ask for them; b) they are properly disposed; and c) due consideration is given to the discipline of the Eastern Churches for their own faithful in such cases.
The trickiest part is to assess whether or not the Orthodox person who asks for Holy Communion is indeed “properly disposed.” It means that he must hold the Catholic faith in the Eucharist; observe the eucharistic fast; be free from mortal sin; and is not in an objectively invalid marriage — that is, contrary to divine law (as might be the case with someone “remarried” in an Orthodox church, which allows divorce and remarriage in certain cases).
These conditions are important to know, just in case one may find oneself in circumstances when a prudential judgment is necessary, or a friend is in need of guidance.
In all of the above cases, we must always bear in mind that “non-Catholic” means someone who is so because he was born in the Orthodox Church, never had the opportunity to know the Catholic Church, bears no hatred against Rome — in short, to be in good faith.
Conversely, it never means someone who has defected from the Catholic Church to join the Orthodox. This is most important, because any Catholic who left the Church, who turned heretic, schismatic, or apostate, is automatically excommunicated, that is, may not go to Holy Communion. No exceptions here.
Now we can investigate the question of what are the effects of Holy Communion.
The first beautiful thing that happens every time we receive Holy Communion worthily is that we receive an increase of sanctifying grace. Let us remember that sanctifying grace is that “eternal life” given here below, which not even death itself can interrupt, but instead, on the contrary, death will make it blossom into eternal glory.
But we do have a role to play in this process of receiving more sanctifying grace: The better our dispositions, the greater the increase of sanctifying grace will be. Hence it is important to pay attention to our own dispositions as we approach the Lord’s altar: If we approach it determined to conquer our self-love, to take the daily cross of Christ upon our shoulders, and, for His sake, to keep His law and to belong to Him entirely, then our dispositions are perfect, and we lay our souls wide open to a vast increase of God’s radiant grace.
Let us make it clear: If we go to Communion carelessly, greeting our friends on the way, shaking hands and patting them on the back, and then receive the Holy Eucharist and go back to the pew doing pretty much the same things, then we are insulting Our Lord Jesus Christ, whom we have just received.
Let us make acts of faith, hope, and love; then make the four “ACTS” of worship that our Lord expects us to make — remember? A for Adoration, C for Contrition, T for Thanksgiving, and S for Supplication.
Thus, we adore the Blessed Trinity, God the Father, our Creator; God the Son, our Redeemer; God the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier.
We Adore Jesus within us, truly present in us, by the Sacred Species. Then, we ask His forgiveness for our sins — Contrition; we Thank Him for the goods and graces already received; and finally, we pray for the intentions we have, for the graces and benefits we want to receive — Supplication.
The presence of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus ceases as the process of digestion takes its ordinary course — but the presence of the Blessed Trinity continues. God lives in us, and the only thing that can stop this Presence is mortal sin.
Next article: The union of love between Christ and the soul in Holy Communion.

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www.RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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