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Administration of Sacraments to Heretics and Schismatics
Woywod, "A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law," Vol. 1, pp. 322, 324.
624. As all the Sacraments instituted by Christ our Lord are the principal means of sanctification and salvation, the greatest care and reverence should be employed in their suitable and proper administration and reception. It is forbidden to administer the Sacraments of the Church to heretics or schismatics, even though they err in good faith and ask for them, unless they have first renounced their errors and been reconciled with the Church (Canon 731).
The last sentence of this is of far-reaching importance, and there is a great deal of controversy over the precise meaning of its ruling. In the first place, all canonists and moralists agree that those who are heretics or schismatics and know that they are wrong, cannot be given the Sacraments of the Church unless they renounce their errors and are reconciled with the Church. Numerous decrees of the Holy Office put this point beyond controversy
The controversy turns about those Christians who are separated from the Church in good faith. It is evident that the Church cannot, as a rule, allow the administration of the Sacraments to non-Catholics She would thereby prove false to her trust and deny her very principles. The Church governed by the successor of St. Peter is the only one Church authorized by Christ to teach the way of salvation and to distribute the means of salvation - the Sacraments. The doors of the Church are open to all who are willing to live as the Church teaches, and those who will enter are entitled to all that the Church by Christ's commission can give them. But, with regard to those who stay outside in spite of the standing invitation, what business has the Church to minister to them the blessings which Christ commissioned her to give to His flock?
625. Is there no exception to the rule forbidding the administration of the Sacraments to baptized non-Catholics who are in good faith? In the case of those who are in good health, the prohibition is absolute; no dispute on this point is possible in view of the repeated explicit declarations of the Holy Office.
If they are in danger of death, it seems that the general rule stated in the Code may suffer an exception. The fact that the Code does not explicitly mention an exception to the rule, is not necessarily an argument against the possibility of an exception, for in very many laws of the Code no exception is stated, and yet, by a reasonable epikeia, exceptions are legitimate in a number of cases where unusual circumstances make the application of the law obnoxious. From a decision of the Holy Office it is certain that the Church permits the administration of the Sacraments to heretics and schismatics provided that they are in good faith and have gives at least a probable sign of that good faith, and provided scandal is avoided. In reference to those who have become unconscious, a declaration of the Holy Office recently stated that conditional absolution and Extreme Unction may be given if one can judge from the circumstances that the schismatic has at least implicitly rejected his errors; scandal to Catholics present should be prevented by the declaration of the priest that the Church supposes that the person in his last moments of consciousness desired to return to the unity of the faith. One may, therefore, conclude that the Code does not state a new prohibition in Canon 731, and that the Canonists and moralists who wrote on this question before the Code may be followed.
626. The question is full of difficulties which seem to be beyond solution; it is very questionable whether the administration of the Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction (the two Sacraments about which there is question in the case of non-Catholics in danger of death), does avail anything in many cases. The principal difficulty centers in the intention necessary for the valid reception of the Sacraments. As most Protestants do not believe in the Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction, their case is not one of a mere lack of faith, but of positive rejection of the Catholic teaching on these Sacraments. How, even when coupled with a general sorrow for their sins, a general will and intention to do all that God requires of them is a sufficient intention to receive the Sacraments is difficult to understand since the very foundation of an intention is lacking. Their frame of mind resolves itself at most into this, that they would want to receive these Sacraments if they knew that they were Sacraments, and if they knew that God wanted them to receive them. As actually they do not know or do not believe, it is difficult to understand how they can have a will or intention concerning something which they do not know or believe. There does not seem to be possible even an implied intention. The question is briefly summed up by Capello, Vermeersch-Creusen and Sabetti.
A Decree of the Holy Office reads as follows: "Whether approval may be given to the custom introduced in a certain hospital whereby dying heretics and schismatics are absolved conditionally on account of the presumed good faith of many who have been raised in heresy or schism, even though there has been no previous act by which they could be considered at least implicitly reconciled to the Catholic Church, and nothing has been said to them about reconciliation either because this was impossible, or because the priest does not want to disturb the conscience of the dying non-Catholicl" The answer was: "The custom in question is to be condemned in the form in which it is explained. The intention of the Sacred Congregation is to inform the Patriarch of Jerusalem that, whenever the dying heretic or schismatic has given some sign on which one can base a reasonable presumption that he adheres to the Holy Catholic Church, the priests may follow the rules laid down by recognized authors.''
1. August 28, 1669; Collect. de P. F., I, n. 185.
2. July 20, 1898: Collect. de P. F., II. n. 2012.
3. May 26, 1916; Eccl. Review, LXVII, 450, where the question of giving
the Sacraments to Protestants is ably discussed.
4. Capello, "De Sacr., I, 53-54.
5 Vermeersch-Creusen, "Epitome Jur. Can.," II, 9.
6 Sabetti, "Theol. Moral." (Ed. 1919), 712, n. 753.
7. January 13, 1864; Collect. de Prop. Fide, I, n. 1246.
McHugh & Callan, "Moral Theology," Vol. II, p. 665.
2681. Administration of Penance and Extreme Unction to Heretics and Schismatics.
(a) Regularly this is unlawful, even though these persons are in good faith and ask for the Sacraments. They must first renounce their errors and become reconciled with the Church (Canon 731).
(b) Exceptionally, according to some moralists, this is lawful when there is extreme need. Hence, according to this view a priest may secretly give conditional absolution to an unconscious heretic or schismatic in danger of death who has given signs of repentance; he may absolve and anoint a dying heretic or schismatic, even though conscious, if this person appears to be in good faith and repentant and willing to do all that God requires of him. But the priest should first try to convert the dying person, if this is possible and the latter's good faith will not be disturbed; and he must also avoid giving scandal.
In Christ our King.