Every so often, I am approached by some individual who is unfamiliar with the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding the worthy reception of Holy Communion.
They may have a puzzling look when I announce at a Funeral Mass or a Nuptial Mass that “only Catholics in good standing and properly disposed” may come forward to receive Holy Communion. They eventually seek me out to get a response for the following question: Can a non-Catholic receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass? Though the teaching on this matter is found on a cover page of the weekly missalettes, some don’t take the time to read them carefully; others may think those instructions are either obsolete or subject to their own personal interpretations. I hope that this article will serve as a definitive teaching for all to follow.
Although it occasionally has happened, it really makes no real sense for non-Catholics to approach the altar to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic church. Here’s a not-so-unique story with some reasons why.
Recently, British Catholics were disturbed when a member of their Parliament and the leader of Britain’s Labor Party, caused a stir “across the Pond” by allegedly receiving Holy Communion at a funeral in a Catholic church, even though he isn’t a Catholic. Critics accuse him of “disrespecting the Catholic faith quite considerably” and causing offense to faithful Catholics. Many non-Catholics were also confused: “What’s the big deal? Why does the Catholic Church have to exclude people? Shouldn’t it be more welcoming?” The truth is, there are several very good reasons why non-Catholics should not receive Communion. Here are some of the major ones:
- Communion is a statement of faith.
The Church has always been clear that at Mass the bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They may still have the appearance and taste of bread and wine, but they have truly and substantially changed. When Our Lord says at the Last Supper “This is my body…” we take Him at His word. So, if someone doesn’t believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, or is in a state of gave sin, it would be disrespectful (to put it mildly) to receive His Body and Blood.
- Communion shows you are part of the Church.
When a Catholic receives Communion, they show they are a member of the wider Catholic community – literally “in communion” with the Church. It would therefore make no sense for a non-Catholic to take Communion.
As the bishops in the territory of England and Wales say: “Normally, when people receive Holy Communion at a Catholic celebration of Mass, they should be saying: ‘We are in full communion with the Catholic Church, united with the bishop of this local community and with the Pope’.”
- Receiving Communion unworthily is dangerous to your spiritual welfare.
Another reason that non-Catholics cannot receive Communion is for their own good. Scripture warns what happens when people who are not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ try to do so. “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor 11:29–30) Therefore, a non-Catholic who attempts to receive Holy Communion endangers his own spiritual health.
N.B. There may be limited exceptional circumstances.
There are very rare instances where non-Catholics may receive Holy Communion, but they only apply to baptized Christians in emergency situations who show they truly believe the Catholic Church teaching. It is unlikely these conditions applied in the British case. No doubt, the recipient was well intentioned if he did receive Holy Communion, and did so out of naivety rather than malice. Hopefully, he will learn something about Church teaching and Catholic belief from the reaction. In the meantime, if he does want to receive Holy Communion again in the Catholic Church, there’s only one thing he can do – become a Catholic!
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Hurricane Relief: Thank you kindly for your Six Thousand plus dollar contribution to give relief to victims of hurricane Harvey that recently hit Texas and Louisiana very hard. Undoubtedly, soon we will be faced with helping more victims, especially in the U.S. Virgin Islands (hit hard twice) and Puerto Rico. It reminds us of the words of Jesus concerning the availability of doing various works of charity for those in need: “The poor you will always have with you….” God bless You!