With rumblings in seemingly every quarter these days about who among Catholics may receive the Eucharist in law and in practice, perhaps we need clarification also on the matter of non-Catholics receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Fr. Earl Fernandes, Dean and Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio, responds to an inquirer on the subject in this his July column for The Catholic Telegraph.
Dear Father, Why aren’t non-Catholics allowed to receive the Eucharist? I’ve talked to my Parish Priest and his response was two-fold: They need to be in union with the Catholic Church, and they must believe that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ, not just a symbol of Christ’s Body. Is there any additional clarification that I can offer them so that they can better understand?
Your parish priest is on the right track. The 1993 Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (129) states that: “A sacrament is an act of Christ and of the Church through the Spirit. Its celebration in a concrete community is the sign of the reality of its unity in faith, worship, and community life. As well as being signs, sacraments–especially the Eucharist–are sources of the unity of the Christian community and of the spiritual life, and are means of building them up. The Eucharistic communion is inseparably linked to full ecclesial communion and its visible expression.”
As Catholics, we recognize the baptism of other Christians. Through baptism, a real though imperfect communion exists with other Christians. This common bond of baptism directs the baptized toward fullness of life in Christ. These two principles then animate the ecumenical movement and the desire for fullness of life culminating in the sharing of Eucharistic communion. However, despite the strides made over the past century, full communion and its visible expression do not yet exist.
In general, the Catholic Church permits access to its Eucharistic communion and to the sacraments of penance and anointing of the sick, only those who “share its oneness in faith, worship and ecclesial life.” There are exceptional circumstances specified in the Directory under which those who do not share full communion may receive these sacraments: they must ask for the sacraments of their own initiative; they must manifest Catholic faith in the sacrament; they must be properly disposed; and, they must be unable to have recourse for the sacraments desired to a minister of his or her own church (130).
Continue reading Who May Receive the Eucharist?
Feature photo, Eucharist, courtesy of Creative Commons/Wikipedia.