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|Ut unum sint|
Ioannes Paulus PP. II
1995 05 25
IntraText SC - Text
55. In its historical survey the Council Decree Unitatis Redintegratio has in mind the unity which, in spite of everything, was experienced in the first millennium and in a certain sense now serves as a kind of model. "This most sacred Synod gladly reminds all ... that in the East there flourish many particular or local Churches; among them the Patriarchal Churches hold first place; and of these, many glory in taking their origin from the Apostles themselves".87 The Church's journey began in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and its original expansion in the oikoumene of that time was centred around Peter and the Eleven (cf. Acts 2:14). The structures of the Church in the East and in the West evolved in reference to that Apostolic heritage. Her unity during the first millennium was maintained within those same structures through the Bishops, Successors of the Apostles, in communion with the Bishop of Rome. If today at the end of the second millennium we are seeking to restore full communion, it is to that unity, thus structured, which we must look.
The Decree on Ecumenism highlights a further distinctive aspect, thanks to which all the particular Churches remained in unity: "an eager desire to perpetuate in a communion of faith and charity those family ties which ought to thrive between local Churches, as between sisters".88
56. Following the Second Vatican Council, and in the light of earlier tradition, it has again become usual to refer to the particular or local Churches gathered around their Bishop as "Sister Churches". In addition, the lifting of the mutual excommunications, by eliminating a painful canonical and psychological obstacle, was a very significant step on the way towards full communion.
The structures of unity which existed before the separation are a heritage of experience that guides our common path towards the re-establishment of full communion. Obviously, during the second millennium the Lord has not ceased to bestow on his Church abundant fruits of grace and growth. Unfortunately, however, the gradual and mutual estrangement between the Churches of the West and the East deprived them of the benefits of mutual exchanges and cooperation. With the grace of God a great effort must be made to re-establish full communion among them, the source of such good for the Church of Christ. This effort calls for all our good will, humble prayer and a steadfast cooperation which never yields to discouragement. Saint Paul urges us: "Bear one another's burdens" (Gal 6:2). How appropriate and relevant for us is the Apostle's exhortation! The traditional designation of "Sister Churches" should ever accompany us along this path.
57. In accordance with the hope expressed by Pope Paul VI, our declared purpose is to re-establish together full unity in legitimate diversity: "God has granted us to receive in faith what the Apostles saw, understood, and proclaimed to us. By Baptism 'we are one in Christ Jesus' (Gal 3:28). In virtue of the apostolic succession, we are united more closely by the priesthood and the Eucharist. By participating in the gifts of God to his Church we are brought into communion with the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit ... In each local Church this mystery of divine love is enacted, and surely this is the ground of the traditional and very beautiful expression 'Sister Churches', which local Churches were fond of applying to one another (cf. Decree, Unitatis Redintegratio, 14). For centuries we lived this life of 'Sister Churches', and together held Ecumenical Councils which guarded the deposit of faith against all corruption. And now, after a long period of division and mutual misunderstanding, the Lord is enabling us to discover ourselves as 'Sister Churches' once more, in spite of the obstacles which were once raised between us".89 If today, on the threshold of the third millennium, we are seeking the re-establishment of full communion, it is for the accomplishment of this reality that we must work and it is to this reality that we must refer.
Contact with this glorious tradition is most fruitful for the Church. As the Council points out: "From their very origins the Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the Church of the West has amply drawn for its liturgy, spiritual tradition and jurisprudence".90
Part of this "treasury" are also "the riches of those spiritual traditions to which monasticism gives special expression. From the glorious days of the Holy Fathers, there flourished in the East that monastic spirituality which later flowed over into the Western world".91 As I have had the occasion to emphasize in my recent Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, the Churches of the East have lived with great generosity the commitment shown by monastic life, "starting with evangelization, the highest service that the Christian can offer his brother, followed by many other forms of spiritual and material service. Indeed it can be said that monasticism in antiquity—and at various times in subsequent ages too—has been the privileged means for the evangelization of peoples".92
The Council does not limit itself to emphasizing the elements of similarity between the Churches in the East and in the West. In accord with historical truth, it does not hesitate to say: "It is hardly surprising if sometimes one tradition has come nearer than the other to an apt appreciation of certain aspects of the revealed mystery or has expressed them in a clearer manner. As a result, these various theological formulations are often to be considered as complementary rather than conflicting".93 Communion is made fruitful by the exchange of gifts between the Churches insofar as they complement each other.
58. From the reaffirmation of an already existing communion of faith, the Second Vatican Council drew pastoral consequences which are useful for the everyday life of the faithful and for the promotion of the spirit of unity. By reason of the very close sacramental bonds between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, the Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum has stated: "Pastoral experience clearly shows that with respect to our Eastern brethren there should and can be taken into consideration various circumstances affecting individuals, wherein the unity of the Church is not jeopardized nor are intolerable risks involved, but in which salvation itself and the spiritual profit of souls are urgently at issue. Hence, in view of special circumstances of time, place and personage, the Catholic Church has often adopted and now adopts a milder policy, offering to all the means of salvation and an example of charity among Christians through participation in the Sacraments and in other sacred functions and objects".94
In the light of experience gained in the years following the Council, this theological and pastoral orientation has been incorporated into the two Codes of Canon Law.95 It has been explicitly treated from the pastoral standpoint in the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism.96
In so important and sensitive a matter, it is necessary for Pastors to instruct the faithful with care, making them clearly aware of the specific reasons both for this sharing in liturgical worship and for the various regulations which govern it.
There must never be a loss of appreciation for the ecclesiological implication of sharing in the sacraments, especially in the Holy Eucharist.