Many churches that share our faith in Jesus allow individuals who aren’t members of that church or denomination to receive communion. At the same time, the Catholic Church insists that one must be a believing, practicing member of our Church to receive communion. This is certainly a notable difference.
The Church maintains her belief that one must be a member of the Church who is regularly practicing the faith to receive communion for good reason.
The Catholic Church professes absolute faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. When Jesus says in John 6 that His Flesh is true food and His Blood true drink, we believe this literally. While the host may appear to be bread and the contents of the chalice wine, we know that it is truly, really and substantially Jesus’ Body and Blood. We also believe that it is Jesus Himself who offers the Mass through the person of the priest who has been ordained in an unbroken line back to the apostles. Receiving Communion without believing these things is at the very least disrespectful to our faith about the Eucharist.
Holy Communion not only brings us into communion with Christ, it brings us into communion with Christ’s body, the Church. This means that we have reconciled with Christ and others. It also means that we are one in faith and belief with the wider body of believers in the Catholic Church. If we receive the Eucharist but are not one with the Church, our communion is untrue.
Further, St. Paul warned the early Christians of the dangers of receiving communion unworthily. In 1 Corinthians 11:27, Paul writes, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the Body and Blood of the Lord.” In order to receive the Eucharist worthily, we need to first believe what the Church believes about the Eucharist. We also need to know the disposition of our soul. If we are in a state of grave sin as the Church defines sin, we must not receive communion. To receive communion without first discerning on these two items, Paul warns, means that we will have to answer to the Lord on the day of our judgment before Him.
With the whole Church, let us pray that the divisions between Christians are worked out so that the unity of the Church may be restored. Then we may gather around the one eucharistic table and receive communion together with a true meaning, true understanding, and a heart truly prepared to receive Jesus.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael Parish in St. Louis.