A story that set heads exploding around the interwebs is finally put to rest. Edward Pentin reports:
The distribution of Holy Communion to a group of Finnish Lutherans in St. Peter’s basilica last week was a mistake and not a sign that the Church is changing its practice on access to the Sacraments, a spokesman for the Finnish Catholic Church has asserted. In a statement issued Jan. 20, Marko Tervaportti, director of the Catholic Information Centre in Helsinki, stressed that only members of the Catholic Church “in a state of grace” may receive the Eucharist, with some “special exceptions”. Tervaportti was referring to reports last week that a Lutheran group from Finland, led by their bishop, Samuel Salmi of Oulu, had received Holy Communion in St Peter’s basilica, despite indicating to the priests present that they were ineligible to do so. According to Finnish news agency Kotimaa, the priests celebrating the Mass were aware that they were Lutherans. In his statement, Tervaportti rejected talk of a “new ecumenical attitude” at the Vatican, reiterating that the Church’s doctrine and practice in this regard “has not changed in recent years and decades”, and if it does change, it will do so through “alteration of Church law and additions to teachings.”
The official statement clarifies things and suggests there was a misunderstanding:
Currently, in some countries, principally in northern Europe, the custom is to seek a blessing from the priest during the Lord’s Supper at the time of communion. This sign is usually made by placing the right hand on the left shoulder. This practice is not widely known elsewhere. Therefore, it is advisable to stay in one’s place during communion, if one is not convinced that the minister of the Eucharist is familiar with this practice. However, if communion is offered, it is because of the ignorance of the minister of the Eucharist and it can still be politely refused. Contrary to Samuel Salmi’s speculation, it is useless to draw the conclusion that the Vatican has a “new ecumenical attitude” based on the occurrence of an error that occurred in the distribution of communion. The doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church with regard for whom it is possible to receive Holy Communion has not changed in recent years and decades. If it does change, it will not happen “in the field,” but through an alteration of Church law and additions to teachings regarding the sacraments of the Catholic Church. The article also mentioned that during the ecumenical visit to Rome, the Bishops of Helsinki Teemu Sippo SCJ, (Orthodox Bishop) Ambrosius and (Lutheran Bishop) Irja Askola had “celebrated” an “ecumenical mass” together for the feast day of St. Henry (of Uppsala). This is not so. Every other year there is a Catholic mass in which representatives of other churches participate in ecumenical spirit—for example, by preaching. In every other year it is a Lutheran Lord’s Supper, where either a Catholic bishop or priest will preach. The service therefore always follows that church’s own tradition and practice. It is notable that even in these masses the painful fact that there is no communion between the churches is mutually respected. 5. ”The new mindset” of Pope Francis that is mentioned in the article is not a sign that the Catholic Church is going to change its practice with regard to the distribution of the Holy Eucharist. On the contrary, for us Catholics, it is a sign that we should also more carefully examine our consciences in the light of the teaching of Church and then honestly discern if we are at this moment eligible to receive the Holy Eucharist.