ERMAN Catholics have been warned by their Bishops that worship in common with non-Catholics is "not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the restoration of Christian unity."
A joint statement by the German hierarchy said that nothing should be done which would create the impression that a common Christian community already existed, thus causing confusion among Catholic believers.
They also ruled out so-called ecumenical services being copied in Germany from other countries, because they blurred the borderline between worshipping services and desirable joint prayer meetings.
The Bishops noted that last January the Bishops' Conference of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany had approved a statement reminding its clergy that "knowledge of Roman 'ecumenism'" was a prerequisite for ecumenical encounter.
The decree said that "in certain special circumstances, such as the prescribed prayers for unity, and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable, that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren". There were, however. two main principles governing the practice of such common worship: first the bearing witness to the unity of the Church and, second. the sharing in the means of grace. "Witness to the unity of the Church very generally forbids common worship to Christians, but the grace to be had from it sometimes commends this practice. The course to be adopted, with due regard to all the circumstances of time, place and person, is to he decided by local episcopal authority, unless otherwise provided for by the Bishops' conference according to the statutes, or by the Holy Sec."
The Bishops went on to say that, "ill order not to promote erroneous ideas. joint prayer meetings should riot he held in churches, but only in places not normally used for worship purposes".
They said that "should special circumstances suggest, or make it desirable to suggest, a dificrent practice both as to the place of the meeting and the participation of clergymen of both faiths in their official capacity in joint services, the authority of the Bishop mast be obtained".
The Bishops' declaration also contained a directive concerning relations with Eastern Orthodox believers. large numbers of whom are in West Germany as "guest workers".
They said that "if they want to participate in our Eucharistic services or request the Sacraments they should be admitted readily.
A German Cardinal has also stressed that the new emphasis laid on individual responsibility by the ecumenical council does not free Catholics from obedience to the Church.
Cardinal Doepfner of Munich told the plenary session of the Central Committee of German Catholics in the city that Catholics should make certain that social movements within the Church do not infringe on their personal piety, asceticism. humility and meditation. Church tradition is all too easily sacrificed to "naive world optimism". he added.