Monday, June 11, 2007

Why the Church refuses the Eucharist to non-Catholics

A cousin of mine recently called to tell me about a conversation he had with a non-Catholic friend about this topic. Things did not go as well as he would have liked, even though he has a decent handle on the reasons. This was probably one of the questions that I was asked the most when I was working with the RCIA program at Saint Brigid. It usually went something like, "Why can’t non-Catholics1 receive communion in the Catholic Church? Do Catholics think they are better than everyone else?" As Catholics we need to step back and realize that these are reasonable questions. Most people who ask you this have no idea what the Church teaches that communion is. It is important to remember that the Catholic Church always has good reasons for what she does. She is not in the business of being mean or haughty. Her reasons are always biblically and logically sound.

Sometimes when you are confronted with a question like this it catches you off guard. Especially when it is accompanied with a comment about how this teaching of the Church seems stupid or mean. It is important to always say a quick prayer for the person and for yourself. That God would open their heart to the truth and that you will be given the grace to tell it to them in charity.

The first thing that the non-Catholic needs to understand is what, or more correctly stated, who the Eucharist is. The Catholic Church teaches that at the words of consecration, the bread and wine become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only the appearances of the bread and wine remain. Biblically the Church receives this truth from a few places. In the Gospel of Saint John our Lord states it as plain as it can be stated, “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”2 And again at the Last Supper he holds up what appear to be the bread and the wine and says, “This is my body…This is my blood.”3

Receiving communion brings you into union with Christ. The Church is Christ’s body and disunity with his body is a very serious situation. It is his Church, he built her and sustains her as the head. Saint Paul tells us, “The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.”4 Those who have left Christ’s body or have never entered it cannot receive communion, because they are not in unity with his body.

A Catholic, who did not understand why the Church would refuse non-Catholics, once said when a group was discussing this topic, “The Church is not a fraternity.” I suppose he meant that the Church is not some exclusivist club. In one sense he is correct. The Church is catholic, which means she is universal. She is available to all men, of all races, in all times. In another sense he is dead wrong. The Church being available to all does not mean all avail of her. This means she must, as far as possible, make sure her Lord is not profaned and to those who come forward to receive, that they are not heaping judgment upon themselves. This is not some silly ritual, it can even be a matter of life or death.

Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, puts it this way, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”5 Anyone who comes forward in an unworthy manner profanes the body and blood of the Lord. This is serious business, especially to anyone who calls Christ their Lord. The Catholic Church teaches that you must be a baptized Christian and in a state of sanctifying grace to receive communion. This is the very basic minimum requirement. This would be coming forward in a worthy manner. For those who, after examining their conscience find they are in a state of mortal sin, communion, in all but the rarest of cases (i.e. danger of death with perfect contrition, etc.), is not possible.6 For those who are not baptized it is simply forbidden.

Saint Paul continues, “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.”7 Those who come forward to receive who do not believe that they are receiving Jesus are eating and drinking judgment upon themselves. What is this judgment? “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”8 Saint Paul is speaking with the greatest urgency. Sickness and death can be the result of this. Not only physical, but spiritual also; as you have denied your Lord’s presence while still receiving him. I do not think there is any way to overstate the gravity of the situation as Saint Paul presents it to us. Doing this can cause your death. If nothing else moves someone, for those who take Scripture seriously, this is quite the wake-up call.

As you can see the Church has very good reasons for not allowing non-Catholics to receive. If we think about the reasons given above for a moment, it does not seem like such a bad thing to limit people who the Church knows (i.e. non-Catholics) do not fulfill these obligations from receiving the Eucharist. Another Catholic in the same previously mentioned discussion group said, “It isn't like all the Catholics are fulfilling the obligations either.” While that may be true, the difference is that from all outward appearances Catholics do fulfill these obligations. Non-Catholics, generally, either do not believe that the Body and Blood are really present, or do not confess their sins to a validly ordained priest (i.e. someone who has the authority to forgive sin.) They therefore can be kept from the Eucharist on those facts alone. The Church trusts her own members to obey these obligations and since to be Catholic they must believe in transubstantiation and are required to confess mortal sin, she must trust them.9

All Scripture quotations taken from the RSV 2nd Catholic Edition.


[1] Non-Catholics except those stated in CIC 844 §3- “Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.” ^
[2] John 6:55 (Please read the whole discourse to see how emphatically our Lord stresses the truth of the matter - John 6:22-71) ^
[3] Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:14-20, and 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 ^
[4] 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 ^
[5] 1 Corinthians 11:27-28 ^
[6] CIC 916 - “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to…receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.” ^
[7] 1 Corinthians 11:29 ^
[8] 1 Corinthians 11:30 ^
[9] There are exceptions of course, as listed in CIC 915 - "Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion." ^

5 comment(s):

Tracy said...

great explanation!

wildy71 said...

So this is the true body of Jesus, God. The one who knows every grain of sand on the moon, every particle in the rings of Saturn, the one who was God from the beginning of time. The one who knows every hair on your head, every desire of your heart and fear of your soul. Who knows you better than you know yourself, even knows the hour of your death. Jesus who died on a cross for all people, who told his disciples to go out into peoples homes and eat what they were given. This Jesus, the creator of the universe, the king of creation, who is love, who loves all, and is not dependent on your belief in order to be physically present in body, this is the one who doesn't want to be physically with non-catholics?

Todd said...

I think the post is clear, but in case it was not - Our Lord does not want to be sacramentally received in the Eucharist by those who are not properly prepared to receive him. This includes Catholics. The responsibility of the Church is to make sure our Lord is not profaned and that those approaching to receive him do not heap judgment upon themselves. The reasons the Church does this are given above if you would like to read them. Let me know if you would like to discuss something specific in regards to those reasons.

Jan-Michael said...

Catholic practice depends on the Diocese actually, not on The Vatican. That is why in many places, Manitoba, Canada all are able to receive Holy Communion/eucharist in a RC Church from the Priest. As a person non RC outside Manitoba Canada I wrote to The Vatican. There is a form on-line and that led to a meeting with my RC wife's priest who after a short talk simply asked I examine my Heart, not attend Confession and receive. Further that permission applied just to Toronto, Canada Diocese though I am able to use that permission to be welcome at any RC Church world-wide. This self examination is in keeping with Scripture:

Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, puts it this way, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”

Johnann said...

Roman Catholic priests do not have wives. An example to the exception to the rule would be say a Luthern priest, who converted to Catholicism, was married and wanted to remain a priest.

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