Churches know Eucharist differently

Friday, December 06, 2019 - Updated: 5:05 pm

QUESTION: At our son’s wedding, the non-Catholic mother of the bride came up for Communion and the priest asked if she was a Catholic and she said, “No,” and then he said, “May God bless you.” I was embarrassed. She is a good Christian and a wonderful person. I felt that our church had turned her away. Why do we do that?


ANSWER: Frequently enough people come forward to receive Communion and seem confused as to what to do. Most priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion recognize that these people may not be Catholic. In most cases, those distributing Communion would do what the priest in the question did. That is because the Catholic Church maintains a policy whereby only Catholics receive holy Communion at Mass.

Some think that the Catholic Church holds to its position because it judges others to be unworthy of receiving the Eucharist. However, that is not the issue. It is not a judgment about personal holiness or worthiness. Rather, it is because various churches understand the Eucharist differently.

The word communion is frequently understood to mean the body and blood of Christ as received. But this word is also used to describe an ancient belief that there exists a unique communion (community) among the church’s believers, pastors and teachers. That “communion” is the basis upon which a group of Christians could be called church.

In this way, the Communion we receive as Eucharist is clearly related to the “communion” we are as church. When the one distributing the Eucharist holds the host before us and says, “The body of Christ,” and we answer, “Amen,” a dialogue has taken place. That dialogue is not simply one of theological knowledge, but rather one of faith and communion with other Catholics. It would be difficult for Christians of different faith communities to share in that dialogue in precisely the same way. This is not because of unworthiness, but because there is an incomplete sharing in ecclesial communion between them.

Part of the challenge is how this position works practically. It seems awkward to “proclaim” this teaching in the middle of a wedding or funeral. Often the position is stated in worship aids that are made available. But practicing Catholics need to take responsibility here as well. They know the church’s position and should share it with the non-Catholics who are with them at Mass. It is not appropriate for them to walk their friends up to Communion and wonder why the priest did not give them the Eucharist. We all have to take responsibility for the beliefs that we hold.

Often enough, people infer that the position of the Catholic Church on this matter is narrow and judgmental. But the Catholic Church is not making judgments about other Christians or their religious communities, but holding that the Eucharist is essentially rooted in the identity of a particular Catholic community. The Catholic Church contends that if one is not fully sharing in the life of our community and in full union with its believers and teachers, it would be inaccurate to share the Eucharist, the greatest sign of our unity. Likewise, Catholics are not permitted to receive Communion in other churches for that same reason of incomplete communion.


Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.

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