Pope Francis made headlines when he recently told a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic man, responding to her question about receiving Holy Communion with him, that she should “talk to the Lord and then go forward.” (Pray Tell reported here.)
Aleteia asked Cardinal Sarah, the African cardinal who is head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship, to respond to the Pope’s comments. He did so with sharp words uncharacteristic of a curial official:
It’s not that I have to talk to the Lord in order to know if I should go to Communion. … It’s not a personal desire or a personal dialogue with Jesus that determines if I can receive Communion in the Catholic Church. … . A person cannot decide if he is able to receive Communion. He has to have the rule of the Church: i.e., being a Catholic, being in a state of grace, properly married [if married].
Cardinal Sarah also overstated, which is to say misstated, the Catholic Church’s official policy on intercommunion:
Intercommunion is not permitted between Catholics and non-Catholics. 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.
Cardinal Sarah seems to be aware that the official policy is in fact not quite that clear and does allow for exceptions. But he mischaracterizes the exceptions by oddly limiting things to Anglicans:
Sometimes, an Anglican who is very far away from his church for a very long period of time and who desires to receive Communion, can participate in Mass and receive Communion in the Catholic Church, where there is no sin, and he is properly married.
It’s not that Sarah has a particularly ecumenical disposition toward Anglicans. He expressed the prohibition on Catholics receiving Communion in an Anglican church with these choice words:
[I]n the Anglican church is it not actually the Eucharist because there is no priesthood. … [A] Catholic cannot receive communion in the Anglican church, because there is no Communion; there is only bread. The bread is not consecrated, because the priest is not a priest.
So there you have it.
I suppose some might try to cite the Second Vatican Council in support of the Cardinal, for even as the Council opened up a path of dialogue, it certainly did not recognize the validity of Anglican orders. But the language Cardinal Sarah uses is of a sort not to be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
The Council opened up a new way for Christians to talk to one another, a new way for Catholics to talk to and about Christians of other traditions. It was a small beginning, but it pointed in a new and different direction and set the Catholic Church on a new path. The idea was that this would lead to as yet unforeseen possibilities.
It is a shame that Cardinal Sarah chooses words that are so different in spirit from those of the Second Vatican Council