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While there is a wide range of opinion among adult-baptism protestants as to whether a Catholic (or other infant) baptism is or can be considered valid, there seems to be (at least in my experience) a general attitude that Catholic communion and marriage are considered valid by protestants. That is to say, if a protestant were to visit a Catholic church and participate in the Eucharist (communion), most protestants would not have a problem with this (whether the Catholic church would allow this is another question). And certainly if a couple got married in the Catholic church, and later became protestant, no protestant church (that I'm aware of) would require a re-marriage (then again, if a couple gets married before they are Christian at all, I've never heard of any protestant churches requiring a re-marriage in this case, either).

However, if a protestant couple gets married, then later becomes Catholic, they must be re-married in the Catholic church (or at least this is my understanding!). And Catholics are not permitted (by the Catholic church) to participate in a non-Catholic communion (with a few possible exceptions?). I don't know if Catholics recognize a protestant baptism, or require re-baptism when a protestant becomes a Catholic. (Related question here)

So my question is: On what grounds does the Catholic church reject communion, marriage, and (possibly) baptism of protestants?

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I think @DavidStratton's answer below gets at the root of things but I just wanted to point out that the Catholic Church definitely recognizes marriages contracted outside of the Church -- perhaps not in every case, but such marriages are certainly not considered invalid in principle. Things become sticky when one of the parties to such a marriage is Catholic but if both are not Catholic then it's much more straightforward. Some non-Catholic baptisms are considered valid as well. (cont'd) –  Ben Dunlap Dec 28 '11 at 21:57
... decided not to continue since the comment was morphing into an answer. –  Ben Dunlap Dec 28 '11 at 22:01

7 Answers 7

up vote 6 down vote accepted

I believe that @Justin Y's answer to an earlier question of mine has the key to the answer to your question as well. My question was "What is the doctrinal or Scriptural basis for a central Church authority"

In his answer, Justin stated this:

A central church authority is a necessary byproduct of believing that certain ordinances are necessary for salvation. Ordinances often have rules for who can be administered to as well as how it must be done. Church authority is a very orderly and efficient way to regulate those requirements. The Old Testament is an excellent example of this. Notice that churches who put more emphasis on ordinances also have more structure (Catholic, Orthodox, and LDS churches, as well as the Jewish faith). And it's not just a good way to regulate the ordinances, but also a good way to regulate doctrine.

The simple answer is that the Catholic Church, like Orthodoxy, as well as some other denominations, teaches that authority must be ordained, or passed along from someone who has the authority to do so. The entire governing structure of the church is based upon these concepts. Therefore, ordinances performed by someone who is not authorized to perform them would be deemed invalid.

In a secular comparison, only accredited schools have the authority to hand out diplomas that are seen as valid. If I were to hand you a diploma for a Computer Science degree, I doubt anyone would accept it as valid because I don't have the authority to hand out college degrees. If you were to apply for a job that required such a degree, they would likely require you to get it from an accredited school, because mine is invalid.

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On your last point, it's not that the Catholic Church sees herself as the only thing that can ordain, it's that only validly ordained priests can pass on the blessing. That's why Orthodox priests are considered validly ordained and Anglicans are not, I'm not certain of the particulars, but in the eyes of the Catholic Church one kept the apostolic succession and the other broke it. The priesthood the crux of all those issues, except baptism, which anyone can administer and marriage which is 'administered' by the spouses upon each other, witnessed by the congregation and blessed by a priest. –  Peter Turner Dec 28 '11 at 18:17
@Peter Turner - thank you for the clarification! I think I'm going to edit because most of what is in there is unnecessary for the real answer I meant to post. –  David Stratton Dec 28 '11 at 18:19

I think @DavidStratton's answer takes a good "root cause" approach but I'd like to look at the surface of things a bit as well. I noted in my comment above that protestant baptisms and marriages are not categorically rejected by the Catholic Church so I'll just focus on communion. There are three main reasons why Catholics wouldn't receive communion from protestants:

  • Intercommunion signifies a unity of faith that doesn't exist. For Catholics the act of receiving Holy Communion is, among many other things, a public statement of faith: "I believe what this Church teaches in general, and I believe in particular what this Church teaches about the Eucharist"

  • Most protestants don't believe the doctrine that in Catholic traditional language is called "transubstantiation". So in a Catholic's eyes, a protestant community holding a communion service is, objectively speaking, doing something other than what the Lord commanded in Luke 22:19. This obviously makes for some insurmountable difficulties.

  • Even those protestants who do believe in transubstantiation, by whatever name, almost certainly don't believe in an ordained priesthood in the same way that Catholics do -- which would almost certainly mean that they don't have what the Catholic Church would consider a valid priesthood. And only validly ordained priests are able to confect the Eucharist validly. So even in the (I assume rare?) case of a protestant community that professes a faith in the Eucharist which is indistinguishable from the Catholic doctrine, there would still be the objective problem of validity of the sacrament.

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Remarriage is not necessary. The Catholic Church recognizes a Christian marriage as sacramental and indissoluble unless there was something that made it invalid. Catholic communion is radically different from Protestant communion since it is the actual body of Christ. Protestants only believe communion is symbolic. Also, Protestant communion is not the body of Christ because only a Catholic priest can consecrate bread to change it to the body of Christ. Protest pastors lack this power because they did not receive it through apostolic succession. Some orthodox religions that broke off the Catholic Church still have valid masses because the priests the apostolic succession was unbroken. A Protestant cannot receive Catholic Communion until they are instructed in the faith and understand it is the actual body of Christ. Once Catholic then they are initiated into this sacrament as other Catholics at their First Holy Communion.

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The Roman Catholic Church recognizes not only Protestant Church marriages but also sees those marriages as sacramental in nature (Just like Catholic marriages) provided both Husband and Wife are baptized. The Roman Catholic Church however, looks upon non-Christian marriages as valid (for instance a Jewish, Muslim or Indian marriage). But, in the eyes of the Church, they are "Natural", that is non-sacramental marriages.

A word of caution, unlike the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church takes a literal view of marriage based upon the Gospel of Saint Matthew Chapter 19. Additionally, Christ began His Ministry at a wedding festival (Cana), and ended his human life on the Cross. The Church has always viewed the Church as the Bride of Christ. And Christ being the perfect spouse, always remains faithful. It is the Church's belief that whenever a Man and Woman come together as Husband and Wife they enter a mystical union (whether they "feel" it or not) that mirrors Christ's love for His Church. The Gospel of Saint Matthew reflects this theological reality. To the Church marriages and the Cross are intimately linked. Ergo, in past eras the Church rarely gave of Statements of Nullity (annulments) for marriages. Furthermore, the Church calls marriages, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (or the making of mothers).

If a Protestant Couple converts to Catholicism they do not have to get remarried. They could have their marriage blessed by a priest just to have an official record of their marriage entered in the local parish and diocese. But, if a Protestant divorces and then converts to Catholicism and later wishes to marry another Catholic, the Protestant will have to go to the diocese's Marriage Tribunal and petition to have their previous marriage annulled. This is where much contention begins. The average time frame for an annulment is 2-3 years. And there is no guarantee that the Tribunal will approve it. I'm no canon lawyer, so I don't know what kind of circumstances the Tribunal looks at other than things like baptism, an understanding what marriage is, the willingness to have children, etc...

The Church may seem to many people to be hard-hearted and filled with too many rules - especially concerning marriage. But, it takes the long view. It also follows what Christ preached (and in marriage Christ was even harder than Moses). Currently, there is a block of Catholic theologians and clerics who wish to change this. The Synod of the Family will address this issue once again. But, I don't expect any doctrinal changes.

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This is a good answer. It would be much better if you quoted the canon law or the catechism or some other official Church statement. Also, the question asks about baptism and communion too. Perhaps the question is too broad. Here's a +1 for the great work. I hope to see you post again soon. –  fredsbend Oct 9 '14 at 19:40

I'm not sure, but I don't think that it's required to get re-married if a couple converts to Catholicism. While researching an answer to this question on annulment, I found multiple sources that say:

...every marriage, whether between Catholics, Christians of other denominations, or non-baptized persons, is presumed to be valid.

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Regarding the scriptural authority for the central church, Christ gave us the church first not the new testament. He celebrated two masses before ascending to heaven. One the last supper and the second on the road to Emmaus. The new testament was written much later than the ascension and the compilation of the new testament complete with translations did not occur until around the 4th century through the work of a Catholic Priest, now known as St Jerome. So the Holy Church is the mother of the Bible not the other way around. God speaks to us through the Bible. He provided the apostles the ability to forgive or retain sin, Consecrate the Eucharist and grow His Holy Church through baptism and preaching. Saint Paul was clear about adhering to both the written and oral traditions we have been taught. The Catholic Church also considers Christians with belief in the Trinity to be members of the Catholic church and we are all God willing headed to the same place! For questions on the Eucharist, I recently saw an excellent video entitled Science Tests Faith. I love my fellow Christians but I will confess I am saddened that the belief in the body of Christ has been somewhat lost along the way. He did say "This is my body" Watch the video and give it some thought. God bless everyone.

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Hi, and welcome to Christianity SE! When you get a second, you may want to read about writing effective answers - I think you touch on a good answer, but start on a tangent (or perhaps I just don't see the link between scriptural authority and Catholic recognition of the Protestant sacraments). Also, including a link to the video you mentioned would be a great improvement as we won't have to search for it. –  Ryan Frame Oct 7 '13 at 4:17

I think there are two reasons protestants may tend to be more relaxed about this than Catholics.

The first comes down to the word "Sacrament". Many, perhaps even most, protestants just don't believe in sacraments as such. Sure, we believe there are things we are commanded to do as part of our worship, but instead of rising to the level of a sacrament we would instead say that a Christian who fails to do such things sins, and praise God for the grace made possible by the blood of Jesus. So because of the idea that the sacraments are less directly connected to salvation and membership in the body of Christ, it makes less sense to be strict about rules of who, when, and where.

The second is that protestants have a more direct line to God, so to speak. We don't seek approval of any priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope, and therefore don't need their permission to participate in any act of worship. Neither would we want to deny that worship to anyone else, but instead want to make the Good News accessible to as many as possible as easily as possible.

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This seems to explain why protestants are more relaxed, or have "lower standards." It doesn't directly address the question of why Catholics reject protestant sacraments. The answer to that I can see hinted at here, but mostly by inference. –  Flimzy Jun 5 '12 at 20:55

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