Communion cannot be shared with friends like beer or cake, cardinal says

Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze and Pope Francis concelebrate Mass May 20. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

BUCKFASTLEIGH, England (CNS) — Holy Communion is exclusively for Catholics in a state of grace and not something to be shared between friends like beer or cake, said a former senior adviser to two popes.

Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze said any moves to give greater access to Communion to divorced and remarried Catholics and to non-Catholic spouses of Catholics represented "serious" challenges to the teaching of the church on the Eucharist.


In a May 23 interview with Catholic News Service, he implicitly objected to interpretations of Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" that would permit divorced and remarried Catholics who had not received an annulment to receive Communion in certain circumstances.

Moves to give greater access to non-Catholic spouses of Catholics represented “serious” challenges to church teaching.

"If a person is divorced and remarried (without the first marriage being annulled) then there is a problem," said Cardinal Arinze, adding that Jesus taught that their arrangements constituted adultery.

"It is not we who made that (teaching)," said the cardinal, 85, who served as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments under St. John Paul II and now-retired Pope Benedict XVI. "It is Christ who said it."

"We cannot be more merciful than Christ," he continued. "If any of us says he has permission from Christ to change one of the major points Christ gave us in the Gospel, we would like to see that permission and also the signature."

"You can see that it is not possible," he said. "Not even if all of the bishops agree, it doesn't become so. It is rather serious, because it touches the faith on the holy Eucharist and also that marriage cannot be dissolved between Christians who have lived together and no human power can dissolve it. It is rather serious."

“We cannot be more merciful than Christ,” Cardinal Arinze said.

In his interview at Buckfast Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, Cardinal Arinze also said that sharing Communion with Protestant spouses was not an issue of hospitality.

He said that while he wished other Christians well it was important to understand that "the holy Eucharist is not our private possession which we can share with our friends."

"Our tea is such and also our bottle of beer. We can share those with our friends," Cardinal Arinze said.

"It isn't just that we wish one another well. After Mass you can go to the refectory and have a cup of tea and even a glass of beer and a bit of cake. That's OK. But the Mass is not like that," he added.

"It is very important to look at the doctrine," he said. "The eucharistic celebration of the Mass is not an ecumenical service. It is not a gathering of those who believe in Christ and who invent a prayer for the occasion, it is a celebration of the mysteries of Christ who died for us on the cross, who made bread into his body and wine into his blood and told the apostles 'do this in memory of me.'

“The eucharistic celebration of the Mass is not an ecumenical service.”

"The eucharistic celebration of the Mass is the celebration of the faith community -- those who believe in Christ, they are communicating in the faith, and in the sacraments, and in ecclesiastical communion...ecclesiastical unity with their pastor, their bishop and the pope. It is the community which celebrates the holy Eucharist. Anybody who is not a member of that community does not fit in at all," he said.

He said if Protestants wished to receive holy Communion in Catholic churches then they should become Catholics.

"Come, be received into the church, and then you can receive holy Communion seven times a week. Otherwise no," said Cardinal Arinze.

The cardinal flew into England from Rome May 22 to attend a May 24 Mass in celebration of the millennium year of the founding of Buckfast in 1018. The abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, but it was rebuilt a century ago on the exact site.

He said if Protestants wished to receive holy Communion in Catholic churches then they should become Catholics.

His comments were made amid a controversy over the German bishops' pastoral handbook titled, "Walking with Christ -- In the Footsteps of Unity: Mixed Marriages and Common Participation in the Eucharist."

The document has divided the German bishops and seven of them, including a cardinal, have requested the intervention of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

Pope Francis has invited leaders of the German bishops' conference and some of the bishops opposed to the guidelines to travel to the Vatican for a discussion with officials from the three offices.

The text of the guidelines has not been made public, but it is widely assumed to foresee situations in which a Lutheran married to a Catholic and attending Mass with the spouse could receive Communion regularly.

It follows ongoing confusion within the church about what scope "Amoris Laetitia" allows concerning Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics whose previous marriage was not annulled.

Some bishops' conferences, such as those of Germany and Malta, have interpreted the papal exhortation liberally, while others insist that church teaching and practice remains unchanged and unchangeable.

Pope Francis has declined to issue a clarification on the contentious points of the document and has effectively ignored a dubia, or list of questions, submitted in 2016 by four cardinals, two of whom are now deceased.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
JR Cosgrove
1 year 9 months ago


Tim Donovan
1 year 9 months ago

I know people of many different faiths, including friends, former co-workers, neighbors and family members. My sister-in-law and niece whom I of course love are good Presbyterians. I also know people who are Protestants of other denominations, Orthodox Christians, Jews, and Muslims. My Mom had a particularly difficult time as a young woman as a Presbyterian who fell in love with my late Dad, an Irish Catholic. Her gentle, loving mother was a devout Presbyterian who taught Sunday school and regularly attended Wednesday night prayer meetings at church. Her father, however, didn't attend any church services and was very bigoted, especially towards Catholics, particularly those of Irish heritage. Needless to say, he was extremely upset when my Mom announced her desire to marry my Dad, so he disowned her. She was also told by her minister that if she married a Catholic that she wouldn't be permitted to receive Communion. I readily admit that I have on many occasions committed serious sins, and like undoubtedly all Catholics, continue to sin in various ways. However, I have made it it practice to receive forgiveness and consolation from my compassionate pastor each month through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I then receive Jesus in the Eucharist only when I 'm worthy. I respect people of different faiths, and believe that it's both desirable and worthwhile that we as Catholics engage in respectful dialogue with people of other religions frequently, and join them in efforts to be good neighbors in practical, compassionate ways. However, I agree with Cardinal Arizine that receiving the Eucharist means a belief in the Real Presence of Christ, and not being conscious of any mortal sin before reception of His body. While it's understandable that a couple in a "mixed marriage" would want to both receive Holy Communion at Mass, belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is a crucial belief, so I don't believe that those who view Holy Communion merely in symbolic terms should be eligible to receive the sacrament. While we should do all that is possible to engage in service to the poor, hungry, sick, disabled, elderly, and other people in need with people of different faiths, we should also respectfully invite them to learn more about the teachings of the Catholic faith.

David Bruning
1 year 9 months ago

The Cardinal doesn't seem to realize that the norms of the Church allow baptized Christians to be admitted to the Eucharist on a case by case basis under limited circumstances. He reflects the views of too many bishops who seem to think those conditions never exist.

Lisa Weber
1 year 9 months ago

David - Thank you for your post.


The latest from america

Tucker Redding, S.J. guides listeners through contemplative prayer in this 10-part mini-series "Imagine: A Guide to Jesuit Prayer."
Tucker Redding, SJFebruary 26, 2020
We are always tempted to make faith into something that we handle, not a way by which we surrender.
Terrance KleinFebruary 26, 2020
How perfectly the prophet Joel summons us to Lent with those two adverbs: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.”
Terrance KleinFebruary 26, 2020
Join us throughout the Lenten season as we offer a special presentation of the Gospel, Passion and Resurrection narratives. 
Isabelle SenechalFebruary 26, 2020