… including a brief but interesting reference to Eastern Orthodox (and Melkite Greek Catholic) practice. From a transcript of Benedict XVI’s impromptu address to the clergy of the Aosta Diocese on July 25, 2005:
… [Another priest raised the topic of Communion for the faithful who are divorced and remarried. The Holy Father answered him as follows:]
We all know that this is a particularly painful problem for people who live in situations in which they are excluded from Eucharistic Communion, and naturally for the priests who desire to help these people love the Church and love Christ. This is a problem.
None of us has a ready-made formula, also because situations always differ. I would say that those who were married in the Church for the sake of tradition but were not truly believers, and who later find themselves in a new and invalid marriage and subsequently convert, discover faith and feel excluded from the Sacrament, are in a particularly painful situation. This really is a cause of great suffering and when I was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I invited various bishops’ conferences and experts to study this problem: a sacrament celebrated without faith. Whether, in fact, a moment of invalidity could be discovered here because the Sacrament was found to be lacking a fundamental dimension, I do not dare to say. I personally thought so, but from the discussions we had I realized that it is a highly complex problem and ought to be studied further. But given these people’s painful plight, it must be studied further.
I shall not attempt to give an answer now, but in any case two aspects are very important. The first: even if these people cannot go to sacramental Communion, they are not excluded from the love of the Church or from the love of Christ. A Eucharist without immediate sacramental Communion is not of course complete; it lacks an essential dimension. Nonetheless, it is also true that taking part in the Eucharist without Eucharistic Communion is not the same as nothing; it still means being involved in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. It is still participating in the great Sacrament in its spiritual and pneumatic dimensions, and also in its ecclesial dimension, although this is not strictly sacramental.
And since it is the Sacrament of Christ’s passion, the suffering Christ embraces these people in a special way and communicates with them in another way differently, so that they may feel embraced by the Crucified Lord who fell to the ground and died and suffered for them and with them. Consequently, they must be made to understand that even if, unfortunately, a fundamental dimension is absent, they are not excluded from the great mystery of the Eucharist or from the love of Christ who is present in it. This seems to me important, just as it is important that the parish priest and the parish community make these people realize that on the one hand they must respect the indissolubility of the sacrament, and on the other, that we love these people who are also suffering for us. Moreover, we must suffer with them, because they are bearing an important witness and because we know that the moment when one gives in “out of love”, one wrongs the Sacrament itself and the indissolubility appears less and less true.
We know the problem, not only of the Protestant communities but also of the Orthodox Churches, which are often presented as a model for the possibility of remarriage. But only the first marriage is sacramental: the Orthodox too recognize that the other marriages are not sacramental, they are reduced and redimensioned marriages and in a penitential situation; in a certain sense, the couple can go to Communion but in the awareness that this is a concession “by economy,” as they say, through mercy which, nevertheless, does not remove the fact that their marriage is not a sacrament. The other point is that in the Eastern Churches for these marriages they have conceded the possibility of divorce with great irresponsibility, and that the principle of indissolubility, the true sacramental character of the marriage, is therefore seriously injured.
On the one hand, therefore, is the good of the community and the good of the sacrament that we must respect, and on the other, the suffering of the people we must alleviate.
The second point that we should teach and also make credible through our own lives is that suffering, in various forms, is a necessary part of our lives. I would call this a noble suffering. Once again, it is necessary to make it clear that pleasure is not everything. May Christianity give us joy, just as love gives joy. But love is always also a renunciation of self. The Lord himself has given us the formula of what love is: those who lose themselves find themselves; those who spare or save themselves are lost.
It is always an “Exodus,” hence, painful. True joy is something different from pleasure; joy grows and continues to mature in suffering, in communion with the Cross of Christ. It is here alone that the true joy of faith is born, from which even they are not excluded if they learn to accept their suffering in communion with that of Christ.