I’ve spent the last two days on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in Rostrevor, Co. Down. Although I am a social scientist, not a theologian, the interdisciplinary nature of my department in Trinity – the Irish School of Ecumenics – lends itself to reading a lot of ethical or theological material.
I am an academic and it is obviously an important part of my job to read, but I often feel that there’s not enough time to absorb all of that material, let alone reflect on it.
In the days before the retreat I’d begun reading an advance copy of Peter Rollins’ new book, Insurrection, to be published in October. For now I’ll just say that Insurrection raises some existentially terrifying questions about how Christians should live – right here, right now – and that’s given me plenty to chew over.
But in perusing the Benedictines’ guest library, I stumbled across an issue of One in Christ, described as ‘a Catholic ecumenical journal’ published by the Olivetan Benedictines of Turvey and Rostrevor. This particular issue (Summer 2009, V43, No. 1) contained an article by Georges Ruyssen SJ on:
‘Mixed Marriages and Sharing in the Eucharist: Universal Catholic Norms and Some Particular Catholic Norms.’
As readers of this blog will be aware, I’m the Protestant partner in a so-called mixed marriage. I’ve written previously about how being in a mixed marriage tends to amplify, at least for me, my frustration about prohibitions on Eucharistic sharing.
That’s why I especially appreciate initiatives like ‘In Joyful Hope,’ happening in and around Belfast, which attempts to allow Christians to experience some sort of fellowship around the Eucharist.
Ruyssen asks whether Eucharistic sharing between a Catholic and a member of a Reformed denomination at a nuptial mass, and afterwards in the context of a mixed marriage, could constitute the case of a ‘grave necessity.’
In my personal case, we missed the boat on Eucharistic sharing at the nuptial mass, so I was most interested in what Ruyssen would say about the context of marriage. He puts it this way (p. 87):
‘… do mixed marriages form a new category to be put alongside that of danger of death, and the situation of another grave and pressing need … in the sense of canons 844/CIC S4 and 671/CCEO S4? According to certain authors, with whom we agree, a mixed marriage falls under the situation of a grave and pressing need.’
Much of the case for Eucharistic sharing relies on the conceptualisation of a ‘mixed marriage and family’ as a ‘domestic church,’ as articulated by Cardinal Johannes Willebrands in 1980 (p. 91). Given that marriage is to be considered ‘an image and sign of the spousal union between Christ and his Church,’ the current prohibition on Eucharistic sharing essentially undermines the ‘understanding of the family as domestic church’ (p. 94).
Ruyssen concludes by asking (p. 96):
‘Being slightly provocative, and paraphrasing the decree Unitas Redinte Gratio (15), one could ask: to what extent and under what conditions is it conceivable that sharing in the Eucharist ‘is not only be possible but to be encouraged’ – in order to meet the serious spiritual need for Eucharistic nourishment, which is felt at the heart of mixed marriages and their families?’
Not only possible but to be encouraged.
I agree with that, only I would go further. I follow the theological argument that mixed marriages are a ‘special case,’ but I don’t think we should be considered quite so special.
As long as all Christians everywhere cannot gather around the table together, it is difficult to claim that Christians can fully express their love for each other, let alone their love for those who do not identify with Christ.
In the homily at Monday’s mass, the Brother who was speaking also recognised this when he said that the upcoming Eucharistic Congress in Dublin (2012) will fail to connect with practical realities in the churches unless it engages with the experiences and perspectives of people of the Reformed traditions and divorcees.
The failure of the powers-that-be in the upper echelons of our churches to come to some practical arrangements on Eucharistic sharing illustrates for me how the institutional churches are divorced from what ‘everyday Christians’, like those in mixed marriages, experience in the ‘real world’ that we are expected to live out our faith in.