Q. My future son-in-law is a member of the Byzantine Catholic Church. Recently, when he came to visit us, we all went together to our family's Roman Catholic parish, and he received holy Communion. First, what is the difference in the two churches? And secondly, can members of one of these churches receive Communion in the other one? (Albany, New York)
A. The Byzantine Catholic Church is one of 23 Eastern Catholic churches worldwide. It is in full communion with the bishop of Rome and recognizes the pope as the visible head of the church. Members of the Byzantine Catholic and the Roman Catholic churches are welcome to receive Communion and fulfill the obligation of Mass attendance when attending the eucharistic liturgy in each other's churches.
The origin of the Byzantine Catholic Church can be traced to the ancient city of Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul). Byzantine churches have some distinctive features: They are elaborately adorned with artwork (particularly figures of the saints), and the sanctuary is separated from the congregation by an "iconostasis," a wall or screen covered with icons.
Leavened bread (rather than unleavened) is consecrated at a Byzantine Eucharist; holy Communion is distributed under both species and administered by the priest with a spoon. (Communicants are directed that their mouth or tongue should not touch the spoon.)
Byzantine liturgies tend to be more musical that Roman ones and involve a continual dialogue in song between the priest and congregation; throughout the Byzantine service, the priest faces the East along with the people (i.e., toward the altar).
All three sacraments of initiation -- baptism, first Communion and confirmation -- are administered in a single ceremony when either infants or adults are being received into the Byzantine Catholic Church. Priests in the Byzantine Catholic Church are permitted to be married. Further valuable information is available on byzcath.org, an unofficial website of the Byzantine Catholic Church in America, including the location of the Byzantine Catholic parish nearest you.
Q. I am concerned as to whether a divorced and remarried Catholic can be a eucharistic minister? Here is a local situation with which I am familiar. The first lady is a Catholic who had been a widow for some years; then she married a man who had been married three times before, and they were married by a Protestant minister.
The second lady, a Catholic who had been divorced from her first husband, later married a divorced man who is not a Catholic. (They, also, were married by a Protestant minister.) Both of these women were eucharistic ministers before they remarried and still serve in that capacity today.
Is it wrong for them to continue to distribute Communion in a Catholic church? (I don't want to judge them, but it's hard to ignore the situation. I have chosen not to take the host from either of these women.) (Indiana)
A. Someone who is married outside the Catholic Church -- i.e., not by a Catholic priest or deacon and without the necessary "dispensations" (permissions) from the Catholic Church -- is not, and should not be, allowed to serve as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion. (An extraordinary minister of holy Communion gives public witness to his or her fidelity to church teaching.)
One of the things I've learned, though, is that I do not know everything about everyone's personal life. Although probably not likely, it is at least possible that the necessary annulments were obtained to determine that the present spouses were free to marry each other; and it's even possible that permission was granted for a Protestant minister to officiate (perhaps because of a long-standing relationship between the groom and the minister).
So I would hold off on making any judgments. Meanwhile, though, it would be wise for you to speak with a priest at the parish in question and tell him of your concern. He may be able to assure you that everything has been done properly -- or he may not be privy to the same information that you are and would want to take action to avoid continuing scandal.
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, New York 12203.
- Father Kenneth Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service