Full communion

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In Christian ecclesiology, full communion is a relationship between church organizations or groups that mutually recognize their sharing the essential doctrines.[citation needed] As a practical matter for most Catholics, this affects whether or not a member of one Church may partake of the Eucharist celebrated in another,[1] and for priests, whether or not they may concelebrate the Eucharist with priests of another Church. In each case, if the two Churches are in full communion, then they may.

For the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Church of the East, full communion exists only between Christians who form a single church.[citation needed] Protestants understand full communion as instead a matter of practical relations among denominations that nonetheless fully retain their distinct identities.[citation needed]

Roman Catholic Church[edit]

Full and partial communion[edit]

The Roman Catholic Church makes a distinction between full and partial communion. Where full communion exists, there is but one church. Partial communion, on the other hand, exists where some elements of Christian faith are held in common, but complete unity on essentials is lacking. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as in partial communion with Protestants[citation needed], and in much closer, but still incomplete, communion with the Orthodox churches[citation needed].

It has expressed in documents such as Unitatis redintegratio, the Second Vatican Council's decree on ecumenism, which states: "... quite large communities came to be separated from full communion with the Catholic Church ... men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect".[2] The Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI, states:

"The Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honoured by the name of Christian, but do not profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter" (Lumen gentium 15). Those "who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church" (Unitatis redintegratio 3). With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound "that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist" (Paul VI, Discourse, 14 December 1975; cf. Unitatis redintegratio 13-18).[3]

Full communion involves completeness of "those bonds of communion – faith, sacraments and pastoral governance – that permit the Faithful to receive the life of grace within the Church."[4]

Universal and particular Churches[edit]

In Catholicism, the "universal Church" means Catholicism itself, from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning "universal".[5] The term particular church denotes an ecclesiastical community headed by a bishop or equivalent, and this can includes both local dioceses as well as autonomous (or sui juris) particular churches, which include other rites such as the Latin Church and the Eastern Catholic Churches.[6]

The particular Churches that form the Catholic Church are each seen, not as a separate body that has entered into practical arrangements concerning its relations with the others, but as the embodiment in a particular region or culture of the one Catholic Church.

The 1992 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as Communion expressed this idea as: The universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches. It is not the result of the communion of the Churches, but, in its essential mystery, it is a reality ontologically and temporally prior to every individual particular Church.[7]

List of Catholic churches in full communion[edit]

The autonomous Catholic churches in full communion with the Holy See are:

Churches in partial communion[edit]

The Catholic Church sees itself as in partial, not full, communion with other Christian groups. "With the Orthodox Churches, this communion is so profound that it lacks little to attain the fullness that would permit a common celebration of the Lord's Eucharist" Catechism of the Catholic Church.[10]


Intercommunion in Roman Catholicism is the theological principle which governs whether a Roman Catholic may partake of the Eucharist in the services of another Church, and conversely, whether members of other churches may join in the Roman Catholic Eucharist. It also specifies whether Roman Catholic priests may concelebrate the Eucharist with priests and ministers of other churches.[11]

Full communion and the Eucharist[edit]

In fact, full communion is seen as an essential condition for sharing together in the Eucharist, apart from exceptional circumstances, in line with the 2nd century practice witnessed to by Justin Martyr, who, in his First Apology,wrote: "No one is allowed to partake (of the Eucharist) but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined."[12]

Partial communion and the Eucharist[edit]

Accordingly, "Catholic priests are forbidden to concelebrate the Eucharist with priests or ministers of Churches or ecclesial communities which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church."[13]

The Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism, indicates the circumstances in which some sharing in sacramental life, especially the Eucharist, is permitted with other Christians.[14](nn. 122–136)

The norms there indicated for the giving of the Eucharist to other Christians are summarized in canon 844 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law as follows:

§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.
§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgement of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

The CCEO indicates that the norms of the Directory apply also to the clergy and laity of the Eastern Catholic Churches.[15]

Eastern churches other than Eastern Catholic[edit]

Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians have an understanding of what full communion means that is very similar to that of the Catholic Church. Though they have no figure corresponding to that of the Roman Catholic Pope, performing a function like that of the Pope's Petrine Office for the whole of their respective communions, they see each of their autocephalous churches as embodiments of, respectively, the one Eastern Orthodox Church or the one Oriental Orthodox Church. They too consider full communion an essential condition for common sharing in the Eucharist. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, as first among equals among the Eastern Orthodox autocephalous churches and their spiritual leader, though not having authority similar to that of the Roman Catholic Pope, serves as their spokesman. The Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria holds a somewhat similar position in Oriental Orthodoxy.

For the autocephalous churches that form the Eastern Orthodox Church, see Eastern Orthodox Church organization. Their number is somewhat in dispute.

The Oriental Orthodox churches are:

The Church of the East is currently divided into churches that are not in full communion with one another. The Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East divided in the 20th century over the former's limitation of the post of patriarch to members of a single family[16] and due to the adoption of the New Calendar by the former. There is movement towards reunity, but they are not in full communion with one another at present. The Chaldean Catholic Church shares a similar history with both, but is currently in full communion with neither. In spite of this, the Assyrian Church of the East does not deny the Eucharist to any baptised Christian who confesses the Real Presence.[citation needed] The Catholic Church, of which the Chaldean Church is part, allows its ministers to give the Eucharist to members of Eastern churches who seek it on their own accord and are properly disposed, and it allows its faithful who cannot approach a Catholic minister to receive the Eucharist, when necessary or spiritually advantageous, from ministers of non-Catholic churches that have a recognised Eucharist.[17][18] The Guidelines for Admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East apply these rules, which hold also for the Ancient Church of the East and all the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches, to the Assyrian Church of the East.[19] Unlike the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox churches, the Assyrian Church of the East allows its faithful "when necessity requires ... to receive Holy Communion in a Chaldean celebration of the Holy Eucharist".[19] There is partial communion between them.[19][not in citation given]

Other churches[edit]

Other churches[which?] see full communion between them[who?] as meaning that their members may licitly participate in each other's rites, particularly in the partaking of the Eucharist in closed communion denominations[citation needed], and involving also recognition of each other's offices of ministry as valid[citation needed] and thus, in most cases, interchangeability of ordained ministers. Importantly, the existence of full communion, as thus understood, does not presume that there is no difference in rites or in doctrine between the two Churches, but rather that these differences do not touch on points defined as essential.[citation needed]

The word "intercommunion" is sometimes used of this arrangement[citation needed], which is much less close than the unity between Churches that share a common history[citation needed], such as the Anglican Communion.

This understanding of "full communion" differs from that of the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Christianity in that the churches that enter into such arrangements do not consider themselves as forming together a single church.[citation needed]

It is in the stronger sense of becoming a single church that the Traditional Anglican Communion sought "full communion" with the Roman Catholic Church as a sui iuris (particular Church) jurisdiction. Its membership is now[timeframe?] deciding whether to accept the offer of full communion (again in the stronger sense) within the framework of personal ordinariates of the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church.

Agreements between churches[edit]

The following groupings of churches have arrangements for or are working on arrangements for:

  • mutual recognition of members
  • joint celebration of the Lord's Supper/Holy Communion/Eucharist (these churches practice open communion)
  • mutual recognition of ordained ministers
  • mutual recognition of sacraments
  • a common commitment to mission.
Agreements completed
  1. The Anglican Communion, the Old Catholic Church, the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India, and the Philippine Independent Church.
  2. The Churches of the Porvoo Communion
  3. The Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada
  4. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ
  5. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and each of the following: the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church[20] and the Moravian Church in America.
  6. The Leuenberg Agreement, concluded in 1973 and meanwhile adopted by 105 Protestant churches such as the VPKB/EPUB (B), CČSH (CZ), ČCE (CZ), the 26 Swiss and 20 German regional Protestant churches federated in the SEK-FEPS (CH) and the EKD (D), Folkekirken (DK), EPU (F), UEPAL (F), PCI (IRL), CEV (I), CELI/ELKI (I), Alliance of Protestant churches in Luxembourg (L), PKN (NL), the Remonstrantse Broederschap (NL, D), Norske kirke (N), BELR (RO), BRR (RO), BUT (RO), EKAB (RO), CoS (UK), PCoW (UK), the Methodist churches throughout Europe (incl. UK and Ireland), the Moravian church (British, European-Continental and Czech provinces).
  7. The Moravian Church and each of the following: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church USA.
  8. The United Methodist Church with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church.
  9. The United Church of Christ and each of the following: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA, and the Reformed Church in America.
  10. The United Episcopal Church of North America and each of the following: the Anglican Catholic Church, the Anglican Province of Christ the King, and the Diocese of the Great Lakes.
  11. The Anglican Province of America has intercommunion with the Reformed Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria.
Agreements in progress
  1. The United Methodist Council of Bishops have approved interim agreements for sharing the Eucharist with the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.[21]
  2. The United Methodist Church and the Moravian Church (Northern and Southern Provinces).
  3. The Church of England is currently working toward full communion with the Methodist Church of Great Britain.[citation needed]
  4. Many of the Independent Catholic Churches are working toward full communion with each other and with the Old-Catholic Union of Utrecht.[citation needed]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "RCIA and Confirmation Qualifications: On Participants in RCIA and Confirmation". bostoncatholic.org. Archdiocese of Boston. Archived from the original on 2015-10-04. Retrieved 2015-11-08. 
  2. ^ "Unitatis redintegratio". Vatican.va. 1964-11-21. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  3. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church, 838
  4. ^ "USSCB memo" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-03-09. 
  5. ^ "Catholic". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Paul VI (November 21, 1964). "Decree On The Catholic Churches Of The Eastern Rite Orientalium Ecclesiarum Solemnly Promulgated By His Holiness Pope Paul VI on November 21, 1964". Vatican.va. The Holy See. Archived from the original on 2000-09-01. Retrieved 2015-11-04. 
  7. ^ "Some Aspects Of The Church Understood As Communion". Vatican.va. 1992-05-28. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  8. ^ McNamara, Edward. "When an Orthodox joins the Catholic Church". Zenit.org. Rome: Innovative Media Inc. Archived from the original on 2009-08-31. Retrieved 2015-11-08. 
  9. ^ Of the various Latin liturgical rites used within the Latin particular Church, even those associated not with a religious order but with a geographical area do not constitute separate particular Churches. Thus there is no "Ambrosian particular Church" corresponding to the Ambrosian Rite in use in Milan and neighbouring areas of Italy and Switzerland, nor is there a "Mozarabic Church" in those parts of Spain where the Mozarabic Rite is practiced. In the Latin Church, governance is uniform, even where liturgical rite is not.
  10. ^ 838
  11. ^ Gribble, Richard (18 November 2010). "Part IV: Roman Catholic Theology". The Everything Guide to Catholicism: A complete introduction to the beliefs, traditions, and tenets of the Catholic Church from past to present. Avon, Massacnusetts: Everything Books. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-4405-0409-9. Retrieved 7 November 2015. 
  12. ^ "ANF01. The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Ccel.org. 2005-07-13. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  13. ^ Canon 908 of the Code of Canon Law; cf. CCEO canon 702
  14. ^ "Principles And Norms On Ecumenism". Vatican.va. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  15. ^ CCEO canons 908 and 1440
  16. ^ Our History
  17. ^ Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 671
  18. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 844
  19. ^ a b c "Guidelines for admission to the Eucharist between the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East". Vatican.va. Retrieved 2015-09-08. 
  20. ^ [1] ELCA Shares Significant Actions with Ecumenical, Global Partners
  21. ^ Council approves interim pacts with Episcopalians, Lutherans

General references[edit]

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