Who is called to receive Holy Communion at Mass is a point of misunderstanding and sometimes irritation to many non-Catholics. For many Christians, Holy Communion has evolved into an expression of hospitality and fellowship with one another. For Catholics, extending as far back as the time of the apostles, Holy Communion was and continues to be something more and distinctly different. Holy Communion is not us inviting visitors to a table fellowship for the sake of friendliness. Rather, Holy Communion is Christ inviting his own to a most intimate expression of their mutual love, bond and total commitment to one another. Receiving Holy Communion indicates that a person wishes to be in communion with Christ and his Body, the Church. This means each and all of these three things:
It means being in communion with
the Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament…
…by acknowledging that the bread and wine are changed, in substance (transubstantiated), into the Body and Blood of Jesus;
…by acknowledging that this is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit and the authority of Jesus’ word expressed in the liturgy (ritual action) of the Mass;
…by acknowledging that the Sacrament is the whole and real Presence of Jesus as God and man;
…and by receiving the Sacrament as him – the risen Lord.
It means being in communion with
the Body of Christ and all its members…
…in Heaven: with Mary the Mother of God and the saints reigning with Jesus and interceding through him, with him, and in him as members of his Body.
…on Earth: with the Pope as the successor to the office of Saint Peter and chief shepherd of the Church, with the bishops as successors of the Apostles, with the clergy, and with the Catholic faithful throughout the world.
It means being in communion with the Mind of Christ…
…by free assent to all that the Catholic Church teaches in its doctrine to be revealed by God,
…and by striving to live the moral life the Scriptures and the Church call a disciple of Christ to live.
In the Catholic faith, all of this goes together integrally as “Holy Communion.” The reception of Holy Communion expresses that the person receiving freely embraces it all.
Respecting the Integrity of Those Who Believe Differently Than You
While we respect the fact that other Christians may not share our understanding of what the Holy Eucharist is, or our convictions about what receiving Holy Communion means, we none-the-less ask them to respect the integrity of our Catholic faith and the provisions of our Church order concerning receiving Holy Communion at Mass.
While Catholics do not practice inter-communion with Christians of other denominations,
we regard them as fellow disciples of Christ and are honored by their presence with us – as we are honored to be present with them in their houses of worship. By being present on occasion in each other’s houses of worship, listening to each other’s prayers, and observing how we respectively express our Christian faith in worship, we believe that Christ draws us closer to one another in mutual respect – even as we retain our questions about each other and our sincere disagreements with each other. We feel that growth in understanding and willingness to respect the integrity of one another come before communion. The presence of other Christians is always a joy to us. At Mass, however, we express welcome and show hospitality to those present who are not Catholic in ways other than receiving Holy Communion.
Our Reciprocal Witness to Fullness of Life in Christ
In not practicing inter-communion we witness to our fellow Christians that the Holy Eucharist and receiving Holy Communion is more than they believe it to be – so much more that we cannot make it less in order to join them. Witness in love does not just go one way. Our fellow Christians often witness a number of important things back to us that we tend to make less – like the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus and the vital importance of having a knowledge of the mind of Christ through a devoted reading of the Bible.
Respecting the Faith of Other Christians
People belong to other Christian church traditions for reasons. Methodists have reasons for being Methodists. Baptists have reasons for being Baptists. Lutherans have reasons for being Lutherans. Pentecostals have reasons for being Pentecostals. And yes, Catholics have reasons for being Catholics. We have to want to know and try to understand these reasons and be willing to respect them.
Our very reason for being Catholic is that we want to be faithful to Jesus and do all that he commanded us to do. Jesus said:
Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:20
This is how we understand ourselves as the Church:
(The Church) receives from (Jesus) the fullness of the means of salvation which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and the ordained ministry in apostolic succession.
Catechism of the Catholic Church #830
Most people join a particular Christian denomination for the same reason: they believe that this is where they will be able to follow Jesus most faithfully and be led to do what “he commanded them to do.”
Steps Along the Road to Christian Unity
Assume that Christians of different denominations are motivated by the same motive as you: a desire to follow Jesus faithfully and do all that he commands us to do. Pentecostals speak in tongues, not because they are “crazies” but because it is spoken of in the Bible (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Baptists insist on accepting Jesus as one’s personal Savior and having a personal relationship with him, not because they are “fundamentalists” but because Jesus asks it in the Bible (see Matthew 4:18-22). Catholics believe that the bread and wine of the Eucharist are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus, not because we are idolaters, but because this is what Jesus in the Bible says that it is. (see Mark 14:22-24 and John 6:51-59)
Want to know how Christians of other denominations are trying to follow Jesus faithfully in their beliefs and practices. Let yourself be challenged by their faithfulness to Jesus and their desire to do what Jesus asks us to do.
Be ready to explain how what you do as a Catholic flows from your desire to be faithful to Jesus and do all that he says in the Scriptures we must do. Put aside and renounce all derogatory remarks and labels about other Christians:
terms like “religious fanatics,” “crazies,” “the religious right.” Ask others not to use them. Discard half-truths and weird stories about other Christians that have been passed on to you. Refuse to listen to them.
Do not allow yourself to be “hooked” into harsh or bitter reactions to some who make abusive comments about your faith because of ignorance or the weak roots of their own faith.
Respect the integrity of the worship, prayer and church discipline of other Christians. Do not intrude upon it unwelcomed. Do not do things that compromise what your faith and church ask of you. Don’t go through religious motions just to be nice or fit in.
Accept opportunities to be with other Christians in their houses of worship and to join them in common prayer. However, honor the boundaries of their church discipline and your own church discipline.
The road to Christian unity is not to pretend that “we are all the same anyway.”
There are differences and reasons for the differences. Nor is the road to Christian unity to parlay away a couple of our convictions if they will let go of a couple of theirs.
The road to Christian unity is for each of us to be faithful to Jesus by wanting to do all in the Scriptures that he asks us to do, to recognize that this same desire is at work in each other, and, to honor it. In this way we will grow to understand how and why we are living it out in the way we do.