July 17, 2007
The Roman Catholic Church makes a distinction between full and partial communion. Partial communion exists where some elements of Christian faith are held in common, but complete unity on essentials is lacking. Thus, the Catholic Church sees itself as in partial communion with Protestants, and as in much closer, but still incomplete, communion with the Eastern Orthodox Churches.
It has expressed this idea in many documents. The Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council, 3 states: "... quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church ... men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect". The Council's statement is cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 838, which states:"The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter. Those who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist." In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, 14, Pope John Paul II wrote: "Ecumenism is directed precisely to making the partial communion existing between Christians grow towards full communion in truth and charity."
Full communion involves completeness of "those bonds of communion - faith, sacraments and pastoral governance - that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church."
The particular Churches that form the Catholic Church are each seen, not as a separate body that has entered into practical arrangements concerning its relations with the others, but as the embodiment in a particular region or culture of the one Catholic Church.
- The universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches. It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church.
The Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See are:
- Of Alexandrian liturgical tradition:
- Of Antiochian liturgical tradition:
- Of Armenian liturgical tradition:
- Of Byzantine (Constantinopolitan) liturgical tradition:
- Albanian Byzantine Catholic Church
- Belarusian Greek Catholic Church
- Bulgarian Greek Catholic Church
- Byzantine Church of the Eparchy of Križevci
- Greek Byzantine Catholic Church
- Hungarian Greek Catholic Church
- Italo-Albanian Catholic Church
- Macedonian Greek Catholic Church
- Melkite Greek Catholic Church
- Romanian Church United with Rome, Greek-Catholic
- Russian Byzantine Catholic Church
- Ruthenian Catholic Church
- Slovak Greek Catholic Church
- Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
- Of Chaldean or East Syrian tradition:
- Of Western liturgical tradition:
The Catholic Church sees itself as in partial, not full communion, with other Christian groups. "With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist" Catechism of the Catholic Church (838).
In fact, full communion is seen as an essential condition for sharing together in the Eucharist, apart from exceptional circumstances, in line with the second century practice witnessed to by Saint Justin Martyr, who, in his First Apology , wrote: "No one is allowed to partake (of the Eucharist) but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined."
Accordingly, "Catholic priests are forbidden to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church."
The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, 122-136 indicates the circumstances in which some sharing in sacramental life, especially the Eucharist, is permitted with other Christians.
The norms there indicated for the giving of the Eucharist to other Christians are summarized in canon 844 of the Code of Canon Law as follows:
- §3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.
- §4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgement of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.