People hear that the Catholic Church calls OrthodoxChurchesand other OrientalChurches, which do not acknowledge the Pope as their leader, “Sister Churches”, whilst those that came from the Reformation in the 16th century are not referred to in these terms.  The question is why?  Recently theVatican moved to clarify these questions.

 While these churches are not in full communion with the Catholic Church, the Catholic Church acknowledges them as “Sisters” “because these churches, although separated, have true sacraments and above all, because of the apostolic succession, the priesthood and the Eucharist, by means of which they remain linked to us by very close bonds”.

 What the church is saying is that these separated churches actually came from the apostles of Jesus and have links to those times.  Their priests are validly ordained and their Mysteries (Sacraments) are valid; so much so, that church canon law permits any Catholic in the time of need to approach these churches for valid absolution and the Eucharist.  There are times and places in this world where it is not possible to call a Catholic priest, for example, in the time of death.  In this case, Catholics can call on these “Sister” Churches for help.

 In the same document the church acknowledges that the lack of unity with the “Successor of Peter” is a problem and is a “lack” in their condition.  For this reason church unity is such an important element in the future life of the Catholic Church.  We all believe that someday this unity may happen.  However, we do not know when.

 TheVatican, however, denied that the Protestant Churches have “apostolic succession” any longer.  They broke it when they separated from the Catholic Church.  Their priesthood and ordinations do not trace back to the apostles.  This point alone is considered an important element in the life of a church.  They do not have, nor do they pretend to have, the Holy Eucharist which is so central to the church which Jesus left on earth.

 Succession of the apostles is important because it is a direct link with Jesus Himself.  All of this does not mean that we should not treat these churches with any less respect.  Church unity is a goal for all Christians.  Probably we are not even aware of all the efforts which are being made today to achieve this church unity.  Most churches in the world today realise the sin and scandal of disunity and that is why they are working very hard to attain unity.

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