The Catholic Ecumenical Directory deals sensibly and straightforwardly withe the question of sacramental sharing between Catholics and non-Catholics. I do not propose to look at the norms concerning such sharing between Catholics and members of those Churches whose sacraments are accepted as valid by the Church. Nor at the rules concerning Catholics and the sacramental celebrations of ecclesial bodies where the Church does not discern sacramental validity; but simply at the admission of non-Catholics to Catholic sacraments. I have in mind particularly the Mission and Apostolate, in terms of its own specific charism, of the English Ordinariate.
I will not repeat all the provisions of Canon 844, or of Directory Paragraphs 129ff., nor of the 1998 document of the (English, Welsh, Scottish, Irish) Hierarchy One Bread One Body. I will start with the following: the Church "recognises that in certain circumstances, by way of exception, and under certain conditions, access to these sacraments [of the Eucharist, Penance, and Unction] may be permitted, or even commended, for Christians of other Churches and ecclesial bodies"[my italics]. The conditions "are that the person be unable to have recourse for the sacrament desired to a minister of his or her own Church or ecclesial Community, ask for the sacrament of his or her own initiative, manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament, and be properly disposed".
The Directory urges ordinaries to establish norms concerning "grave and pressing need", and leaves it to individual ministers to judge according to the norms of the Directory when an ordinary has not done so. When an ordinary has done so, the individual minister acts in accordance with that ordinary's norms.
One Bread one Body cites the phrase "unable to have recourse" and comments "In our countries, occasions when such fellow Christians cannot physically find a minister of their own community will be rare". This was true in 1998; but a very much more complex situation holds true today. True, there are still quite a lot of Anglican clergy scattered around England; but, for Anglican Catholics, most of them are not much use. Some Anglican clergy may be women, and the layperson concerned may not be able to discern that they truly are prests. Even where a local Anglican priest may be male, a thoughtful and conscientious layperson may be unable to accept his ministrations (except in articulo mortis) if he acts as an alternate sacramentally with a woman priest, or is under the sacramental care of a bishop who accepts women into his presbyterium. There are already vast swathes of the country where such devout laypersons are in effect unchurched.
It would be quite improper to suggest that Canon Law should be flouted ... and I am not even suggesting that CIC needs to be changed. I do not think that it does. Its provisions seem to me to be thoroughly well-judged. But there could be quite a gulf between a narrowly restrictive interpretation of what Canon Law says; and a pastorally sensitive deployment of the permissions and possibilities which it envisages. I myself benefited, in Ireland, from just such a pastorally sensitive approach on the part of an Irish diocesan bishop, and I would like to feel that the English Ordinariate will be no less pastorally sensitive and generous than the Catholic hierarchy of Ireland.
How this particular detail is played out will, I suspect, provide a litmus test of whether the English Ordinariate is going to be able to have a growing and significant role in gathering increasing numbers of Anglicans into Full Communion with the Holy See - as a major player in the context of the on-going disintegration of the Catholic Movement in the Church of England.