Intercommunion in Mixed Marriages: German Catholic Bishops Approve

The Roman Catholic Bishops of Germany said today, at the conclusion of their spring meeting in Ingolstadt, that they wish to permit common reception of the Eucharist for varied-confession (konfessionsverschiedenen) marriage partners. The decision was approved “after intensive debate, by a very large majority of the bishops.” It was based upon a paper prepared by the ecumenical and doctrinal commissions of the bishops’ conference.

There is a long history of this being proposed in German-speaking countries, so today’s decision represents something of a breakthrough. Conference president Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich said that the paper approved by the bishop is not a dogmatic document, but rather a help to orientation for pastoral care.

Marx said that the decision is meant to be “a support in order to look at the concrete situation in pastoral conversation and come to a responsible decision on the possibility of reception of Communion by the non-Catholic partner. It is indispensable that the minister discuss the faith of those concerned and to ascertain that both share the Catholic eucharistic teaching.”

The document presumes “that in varied-confession marriages, in individual cases the spiritual hunger for common reception of Communion can be so urgent that it could bring about an endangerment of the marriage and of the faith of the marriage partners not to allow them to satisfy this hunger.”

H/T: Kirche+Leben




  1. Will they encourage reception of the sacrament of reconciliation by the non-Catholic partner?

    1. Oh, I suppose the non-Catholic should be required to go to confession with the same regularity that Roman Catholics around the world presently do!
      Don’t get me wrong. I believe in confession and go regularly. But most Catholics by far don’t.

      1. Well, Catholics are “required” (though with no enforcement mechanism) to confess their mortal sins once a year and only to eeceive communion after doing so. And more frequent confession being heavily encouraged. So you could make the same “requirement” of the non-catholic partner without the enforcement mechanism as well. And they may actually do it given their unique circumstances and the trial of mixed marriages.

        Also many Eastern Christian Churches require and enforce individual confession prior to communion. Theoretically, you could do the same in this situation and mandate individual confession to the parish pastor. You would be treating these communicants differently than Catholics, but as our current Pope has emphasized, individuals and groups can be subject to varying practices in different pastoral circumstances. Though the odds of the Germans bishops mandating something like that are probably less than Pope Francis celebrating the TLM only for the rest of his pontificate.

  2. There is a very practical side to this pastoral initiative. If one spouse is Catholic and the other belongs to a Christian denomination that practices open Communion, and the couple wants to go to church together, they are quite likely to choose the church where both of them can receive communion, and not the one where one of them will be unable to receive.

    That’s often enough how people make decisions; they don’t ask high theological questions, they decide based on what seems to be a practical solution that will achieve as many of their objectives as possible. (I’ve known couples in the US who chose a denomination they perceived to be halfway between his and hers!) With the possibility of inter-communion for spouses, it makes it easier for mixed couples to come to a Catholic church together. And it is good that they should go together. Good for their prayer, and for their habits of faithful gathering with a living community of believers on the Lord’s day.

    But this permission also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. If the spouse wants to receive communion, why not become Catholic? What will happen to their children, who may be baptized in another Christian church? Is inter-communion OK for them too? Why should this option only be available to marriage partners? Why not other family members, care-givers, and friends? Then, is this not a slippery slope toward an open-table policy?

    1. Hi Rita,

      My guess would be that this “codification” of practice is simply lending something in writing to that which presently occurs anyway. Yes, it is a movement towards an open Communion which may be the future anyway as well. The questions you pose are all legitimate questions and I would guess will be dealt with in the future following the waters calming after this first “shot across the bow.”

      My own parish practices an open Communion and the congregation has many mixed marriages of differing faiths and you are correct, approaching for Communion together is a comfort to these individuals.

      To me, the major problem lies in the younger clergy, while the older clergy have “smelled” the coffee for quite some time now. To be sure, fewer and fewer people are willing to jump through any hoops at all while feeling that they are simply entitled. After all, that is what society has told them….you have a right. Witness the small numbers in RCIA and the large numbers of unknown faces simply approaching for Communion having never been taught how to even present themselves.

      Janet reminded me of a story of a wonderful deceased priest of the Diocese of Providence who when asked by a person if he thought it was “OK” for him to approach for Communion replied that he was in luck! You see, in the Catholic Church the priest receives Communion first and if nothing happens to him….chances are, it is safe for you to approach as well! (Story attributed to Peter Scagnalli who I dearly, dearly miss).

  3. The document states that sharing the Catholic belief in the Eucharist is a prerequisite for being admitted to receiving Communion. I would guess that this includes the belief that the Eucharist needs a priest, and thus I wonder how a Protestant who believes this could still happily receive the Lord’s Supper (‘Abendmahl’) in a German Lutherans Church – in contrast to the Scandinavian Lutherans, the German Lutheran are historically presbyterians and never claimed to be in Apostolic succession. Bishops and ‘ordination’ (in German ‘Ordination’, in contrast to the Catholic ‘Priesterweihe’) ceremonies were only introduced gradually after the disistablishment of 1918/1919, and only a few years ago I was told by a senior official of one of the regional ‘Landeskirchen’ that he left it to the candidates if they preferred to be ‘ordained’ by the laying of hands or by a handshake.

    On a somewhat facetious not, I wonder if this regulation only applies to the respectable Protestestants who pay church tax, or also to those in independent churches – given that Catholics are excommunicated in all but the name if they refuse to pay.

  4. In regard to AWR’s comment #2 – just because Catholics receive unworthily and carelessly (gum, candy dyed tongues, filthy hands or knowingly just saying “I don’t have to go to confession) should everyone else? As a Pastor who loves and works with his 2,600 people I think we need more work with priests and people on deepening our own awe at this mystery, not more open Communion with those who think it is only symbolic.

    1. Only symbolic?? Be careful: Lots of non-Catholics in Germany are Lutheran so your comment is mistaken.

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