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May 30, 2018

Can Catholics Receive Communion in Non-Catholic Churches?

Matt Dunn

In anticipation of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, today’s question comes from Lauren, who wonders about receiving communion from other (non-Catholic) churches. If attending a service where the congregation receives bread and wine but only considers it a symbol, Lauren asks if Catholics can receive, since we agree (at that church), it is only a symbol and not the Body and Blood of Christ.


This question implies a lovely and accurate understanding of the Eucharist and what it means. More commonly asked is why under most circumstances non-Catholics are not permitted to receive at Catholic Mass. Since we believe that the substance of the bread and wine changes to the Body and Blood of Jesus at the consecration, while many non-Catholics do not, it understandably follows that they would not participate in the Eucharist at Mass. If the priest proclaims the host “The Body of Christ,” their assenting “amen” would lack authenticity.

However, this issue touches on something slightly different. If that congregation believes their bread is not the Body and if the well-informed Catholic believes the same about that bread (since we don’t see it in as consecrated in a Mass by a validly ordained priest), they both seem on the same page, do they not?

To understand the issue, let us look at the definition of the word communion. The word comes from the same root as “common,” and implies togetherness, sameness, unity regarding what occurs. While there is some union between the two faiths with regard to that host, in that no one there believes it to be anything other than bread, they do not share unity with regards to what it means to break bread among Christians. Remember what Scripture tells us about Jesus’ words at the Last Supper:

“when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25).

He Meant It Literally

Jesus did not just state that the bread became his Body and the wine became his Blood, he is telling us to do the same. We, as often as we eat and drink it, are to remember what he said, that it is truly his Body and Blood. If we eat and drink bread and wine in this same context, but which is not his Body and Blood, we are not honoring the Lord’s request, as we are not recalling his words which proclaimed it his Body and Blood.

Remember, the Body of Christ is not just what the bread becomes, and it is not just the physical body used by Jesus when he walked on earth. We also believe, as Romans 12 teaches us, that the individual members of the Church are also parts of the one body in Christ. This body, right now, is sadly separated, and thus communion in the body would be impossible as there is no union of thought with regards to what that body is. 

Jesus at that same Last Supper where he instituted the Eucharist, spoke exactly of this, thinking of future generations of Christians: “I do not pray for these [the disciples] only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one” (John 17:20-21). We are those who have heard, indirectly, through the word of the apostles, who passed the Faith down from generation to generation. Unfortunately, despite Jesus’ prayer to the Father, we are not all one currently. And to claim a union in the Body of Christ which does not currently exist would not be speaking the truth.

It Is The Sacrament

Catholics also believe that Communion is not just a remembrance, but a sacrament—indeed the Blessed Sacrament. With regard to this, the Church, in Canon 844, teaches:

“Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone.”

This Canon not only states that only Catholics should receive the Eucharist at Mass, but that the only place we should receive it is in the presence of a Catholic minister (in this case, a priest, deacon, or Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion). By so doing, the Church is protecting the faithful, making it so that we always understand that each time we receive (or, put differently “as often as you eat this bread and drink this chalice”), we are enjoying communion with our brothers and sisters, and in fact with Christ himself, as he intended.

Image by Luke Jones on Flickr.

You May Also Like:

Corpus Christi: The King(dom) is here!

Christ Spans the Centuries in Eucharistic Miracles: Buenos Aires & Lanciano

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass: Understanding What We Say and Do in the Liturgy (Book)

A Biblical Walk Through The Mass (Study Program)

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  • I beg to differ…I grew up Catholic and have since joined the Lutheran Church. We too believe it is a sacrament and truly becomes the body and blood of Christ. And just a point…Jesus himself dined with prostitutes and tax collectors…is it not the Lord’s table? Where anyone is welcome? Jesus never said, “Only the chosen few can partake at My table.”

    • As Catholics, we do not believe, Lutherans have or share in the Sacramentals. Lutherans do not have Apolstolic Succession nor do they posses the true, deep and authentic faith of the One True and Holy Apostolic Church; the Catholic Church. Jesus formed one Church, not many. Because we have the grace and knowledge of the One True faith, as some may say- the “fullness” of faith, the Catholic Church is the only Church to have valid sacraments including the only valid Eucharist; some Eastern Orthodox excluded. We don’t deny sinful people the sacraments, but you must be in good-standing with the Church to receive them. Prostitutes and Drug Addicts alike, but they must not be actively living in sin, confess their sins (another Sacramental) in order to receive the Eucharist licitly. And for the reasons, we are not permitted to take “communion” knowing it is not a Valid Eucharist… or “remember me” ceremony. We would be denying the truth as The Church teaches and stands by. We would be sinning.

    • They may believe that, but one difference is, we, as Catholics, Worship The Holy Eucharist, because we truly believe it IS our Lord Jesus Christ.
      Only a Priest is allowed to pour out The Blood. Anyone else doing so is making a mockery of our Lord.

      • Lorry Davis, Please quote scripture to prove your comment. God is the God of all and my faith holds just as much weight with God as yours does. Matthew 28:20 He is always with me, Psalm 130:17 He thinks about me, Jeremiah 29:11 He has plans for me, Exodus 14:14 He will fight for me, Isaiah 43:1 He knows me by name. I am completely offended every time the Catholic church refuses me Jesus, by not allowing me to commune. He is not yours, He is OURS. God is love, 1 Corinthians 13:7 love bears all things, believes all things (looking for the best in each one). If you want to own God then figure out how to love your neighbors.

    • Dawn, you need to talk to your Lutheran Pastor as he/she will tell you what you are saying is only partially true. Your Lutheran Church may consider what they are calling communion a sacrament, but it’s only in a Catholic Church that it is possible for the bread and wine to be turned into the true body, blood and the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the beliefs that has divided us.

  • While it may be a “sacrament” in other denominations, one of the things that is failed to remembered is that these Christian Communities are not in communion with Rome or accept the supremacy of The Chair of Peter.

  • Thank you! I am a returning Catholic in RCIA and do confession and receive the Eucharist regularly. I am attending a Methodist service today and was unsure if I should partake in Communion. Thank you so, so much! Ascension is reliable source and I truly value the info. God Bless!

  • When a Catholic receives “Communion” or “the Lord’s Supper” at a Protestant church, they are saying with their body, “I believe as you believe.” But they don’t. So, for the Catholic to receive in a non-Catholic church is a lie. Just so when a non-Catholic receives Communion in a Catholic Church they are saying to all the Catholics there – with their body – that they believe as we believe. But they don’t. So they are engaging in an egregious lie. Which is why non-Catholics are not allowed to receive Communion in a Catholic Church and Catholics should not receive “the Lord’s Supper” in a non-Catholic church. It’s like sex outside of marriage. If there in no union, there should be no communion.

  • I attend Protestant church services at times with my family (on vacation or when celebrating a baptism, etc). I consider the communion at the (Presbyterian) church to be an “Agape meal” and thus partake the grape juice and white bread cube in unity with others around the church and in the Christian world. I was Presbyterian growing up and converted to Catholicism in my 20’s.

  • 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” Jesus’ body died once and was resurrected. Now he is seated at the right hand of the Father . His body does not becoming manifested in any physical way at communion . The Eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia meaning “thanksgiving.” Christians are to remember his death until he returns as his own people . Each time we sit together to remember the price he paid to redeem us , we are to be thankful . This is indeed a sacrament for each and every Christian . As a Christian , I should be able to go to HIS table and remember his death as often as I drink the wine and eat the bread as a symbol of remembering his death until he returns . The bread and the wine are simple symbols . A symbol is never meant to be greater than the thing it symbolizes . The simple symbols of bread and wine represent Christians “eating and drinking” his body and blood spiritually . To think any differently is to share in the error the Romans believed of early Christians that they were cannibals. They did not know the scriptures or the power of God . Remember how Jesus replied to the Jews who were so proud of Moses giving them “bread from heaven.” He said , “It is my father that gives the true bread of heaven.” The manna was a shadow of the true bread that Christ gives to everyone who has received him by the Spirit of God .

  • I can fully appreciate the knowledge passed on here by our Catholic brothers and sisters as I grew up Catholic as well. I am a confirmed Catholic. I would just like to leave you with a thought…I know MANY Catholics who receive the Sacrament of Communion yet are filthy human beings outside of church. I also know MANY non-Catholics who receive Communion in their churches and they are the most humble, genuine human beings who go out of their way to love each and everyone that comes into their lives. They don’t judge anyone. So am I to believe that this non-Catholic will not receive the favour of God in the end?

  • I find the Catholic stance on communion to be very confusing. I was raised and confirmed in the Lutheran Church. I was taught that Christ is present in the bread and the wine. Luther believed in Consubstanitation, which means that Christ is present in the bread and wine, but it is still physically bread and wine. That is different than saying that the bread and wine only represent Christ, which some protestant churches also believe, but Lutheran churches do not take that position. Catholics have to jump through a lot of hoops to say that the bread and wine physically transform into Christ’s body and blood, but also acknowledge that somehow it still looks like bread and tastes like wine. I have a lot of Catholic friends, and none of them believe that the bread and wine are physically transforming into flesh and true blood at the molecular level, and they believe that Christ is present in the bread and wine. That is the Lutheran position of consubstantiation! Given that, it seems to me that the difference between what most Catholics believe about how transubstantiation works, and what most Lutherans believe about how consubstantiation works, are non-existent. It is a shame that the Body of Christ (the true church) is being divided by man in this way.

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