Lutheran bishop receives communion at St Peter’s Basilica
The National Catholic Register reportedsources stating that Bishop Samuel Salmi of Oulu in Finland and other Finnish Lutherans indicated to the Catholic priests at the Mass that they wanted a blessing.
They reportedly tried to show they were ineligible to receive by putting their right hands on their left shoulders.
But the priests, who were reportedly aware that the people coming forward were Lutherans, offered them communion anyway.
The bishop said Pope Francis was not at the Mass.
But Bishop Salmi added that the Pope has repeatedly indicated he would like to develop unity between different denominations.
Bishop Salmi told a news agency that Pope Francis has theological enemies in the Vatican and so may be limited in how freely he can speak.
After news reports came out about Lutherans receiving Catholic communion, the Finnish Catholic Church called the incident a mistake and an obstacle to unity.
In November, Pope Francis urged a Lutheran woman married to a Catholic to “talk to the Lord” about receiving Catholic communion.
She should then “go forward” the Pope said, but he cautioned that he “wouldn’t ever dare to allow this, because it is not my competence”.
The Pope’s words were interpreted by Rome’s Lutheran community to mean that Lutherans could receive Catholic communionin accordance with their conscience.
But just before Christmas, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said this was not correct.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller told the National Catholic Register that “misunderstandings come up again and again because of a failure to take account of the fact that, unfortunately, there is actually a different understanding of the Church between Catholics and Protestants”.
These differences, he said, “are not only theological-conceptual, but of a confessional nature”.
He added that the Church continues in its ecumenical goal to reach “visible and institutional unity”, with the Pope as head of the Church.
In October, Pope Francis is to participate in a joint ecumenical commemoration in Sweden marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
Although Pope Francis was not present at this departure from Catholic Tradition (allowing non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist in a Roman Catholic ceremony); there can be little doubt – being aware of this Pope’s eirenic attitude towards non-Catholics – that he would have offered the Eucharist to a visiting party of Lutherans together with their Bishop at a Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
This relaxation of Vatican protocol seems most encouraging – especially in the light of the fact that His Holiness will be present at an important Lutheran gathering in Sweden to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand