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I think the title sums it up. I'm a protestant Christian, and have many Catholic friends. When I visit their churches, is it permissible for me to participate in the Eucharist/Communion ceremony by partaking of the bread and wine?

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9 Answers 9

up vote 18 down vote accepted

The only safe thing to do is to ask the priest beforehand. To willingly participate in someone else's communion when they would say "no" if they knew your story is offensive. As a result, the only option I see is to ask them.

If you explain your position, and that you are [insert denomination here], but visiting their congregation with your friends, is it OK if I participate in Communion. The biggest sticking point is likely to be transubstantiation, and it's a biggie.

If they say no, they will most likely still permit you to receive a blessing, which everyone is entitled to.

As a case in point, myself being a Lutheran would probably be permitted to take communion in a Catholic church, but I may decide that I myself am not comfortable with it. My father, a Lutheran his whole life, has worshiped in Catholic churches on many occasions and did not used to take communion, but after lengthy discussions with the archbishop of the diocese (who he became friends with through his work) he has since started taking it when he attends Catholic mass.

Sorry, I don't mean to say that you have offended them, but that is a risk you run when you don't ask

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No references for this answer. Other answers abundantly back up their position. –  DJClayworth Sep 7 '11 at 19:53
Hmm, didn't realise this was Wikipedia. But I'm not quite sure how I would give a biblical reference for "ask them". It's just plain common sense (and courtesy). –  Mark Henderson Sep 7 '11 at 22:19
If you look at the other answers, they DO give references. That's what I was looking for. –  DJClayworth Sep 7 '11 at 23:38
Wow, talk about relativism! So now every priest can be the judge on matters already dogmatically defined? Just look at the Council of Trent. If for approximately 500 years Protestants were denied Communion, it was because everyone understands that you can't do it. Now it's argued that under "certain circumstances" it might be licit? –  Geremia Jun 24 '14 at 1:11
@Geremia - I don't see how that's particularly relevant, considering my answer is "ask them first". shrug –  Mark Henderson Jun 24 '14 at 1:25

The answer is: "more than likely not".

Catholics do allow others to take part in the Holy Communion, but they maintain tight restrictions on this.

Guidelines for the Reception of Communion

For Other Christians

... Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion.

...Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these Churches.

For Non-Christians

...While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family.

Link to article

So, when they say "not fully united", Protestants generally fall into this category. (I'm not sure where those other churches fall in the "Protestant-Catholic" spectrum, so I'm leaving this a bit generic.) So, therefore, Protestants are not admitted to Holy Communion.

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So, according to this, my not being a member of an Othodox Church (being Batized in a Baptist church and currently attending a Methodist church), I am considered a non-Christian to the Catholic Church? –  Patrick Aug 26 '11 at 15:39
No, no. That was an excerpt. I'll add more to clarify. –  Richard Aug 26 '11 at 17:10
ah, I missed that part of your link. Thanks for the clarification. –  Patrick Aug 27 '11 at 4:59
As far as I understand it, the important issue is in the belief of transubstantiation. The Churches listed which the Roman Catholic Church does not object to receiving communion I believe hold the same faith regarding the Eucharist. That is, they also believe that the substance of the bread and wine have changed to the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Churches which do not share this belief are not ordinarily admitted to communion. (A Bishop can allow it for extraordinary circumstances.) –  karategeek6 Aug 31 '11 at 15:47
I'm an Orthodox, and even though in theory I could take communion in a Roman Catholic church, my own church would tell me not to. Receiving the Eucharist in a Roman Catholic church, as an Orthodox, would imply a unity which does not in fact exist. –  Kyralessa Oct 4 '11 at 1:21

tldr version: It is not normally permissible by Cannon law for you to partake of the bread and wine. However, you can still join the communion line and indicate you would like a blessing by placing your index finger over your lips (similar to shhing someone) or by crossing your arms over your chest in the shape of an 'X' when you approach the minister.

The Cannon law regarding reception of Holy Communion is given below.

Can. 844
§1 Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments only to catholic members of Christ's faithful, who equally may lawfully receive them only from catholic ministers, except as provided in §§2, 3 and 4 of this canon

§2 Whenever necessity requires or a genuine spiritual advantage commends it, and provided the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, Christ's faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a catholic minister, may lawfully receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick from non-catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

§3 Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the eastern Churches not in full communion with the catholic Church, if they spontaneously ask for them and are properly disposed. The same applies to members of other Churches which the Apostolic See judges to be in the same position as the aforesaid eastern Churches so far as the sacraments are concerned.

§4 If there is a danger of death or if, in the judgement of the diocesan Bishop or of the Episcopal Conference, there is some other grave and pressing need, catholic ministers may lawfully administer these same sacraments to other christians not in full communion with the catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the catholic faith in respect of these sacraments and are properly disposed.

§1 States that only Catholics may receive communion, with a few exceptions.

§2 deals with Catholics receiving sacraments from a non-catholic minister.

§3 Allows members of certain specifically named Churches to receive.

§4 Allows any non-Catholic Christian to receive Holy Communion under extraordinary circumstances, "provided that they demonstrate the catholic faith in respect of these sacraments". In respect to Holy Communion, the Catholic faith is that of transubstantiation, that is, the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.

Thus, it appears that Christians who do not hold the belief of transubstantiation as the Catholic Faith teaches are not admitted to Holy Communion.

This however, does not mean you cannot join in the worship and community of the Mass. At communion time, you can participate in the community by requesting a blessing rather than reception of the Eucharist. This is done either by placing your index finger over your lips or by crossing your arms over your chest when you approach the Eucharistic Minister.

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RE: Finger over lips. Where do you do that? Is that a different sign than crossing your arms across your chest? –  Peter Turner Aug 31 '11 at 17:44
@Peter They both mean the exact same thing, I just thought finger over lips was quicker to explain. I'm from Louisiana and I thought both the crossed arms and fingers over lips were universally recognized. I've edited the answer to include both. –  karategeek6 Aug 31 '11 at 19:06

According to Catholic teachings on this topic? Generally no (as others have referenced).

Would a particular priest be stupid and allow it? Maybe - some didn't have the best priestly formation.

Would it be good for you spiritually? No.

The most compassionate explanation I've heard is this:

When you go up to receive communion the priest says "Body of Christ" and you reply with "Amen". This "AMEN" is an agreement that what the Catholic Church teaches about transubstantiation is TRUE and that the Church has the AUTHORITY to DO this. You are agreeing that the Catholic Church has the authority to make Christ physically present - body, soul, and divinity - in the blessed sacrament.

  • If you do believe this - why aren't you Catholic?
  • If you don't believe this then the Church is either crazy or idolatrous. Why do you want to receive something that so fundamentally conflicts with what you hold to be true?

To say "yes I believe" when you in fact don't, is a lie. To speak a lie like this, about such a crucial topic, will tear at you spiritually and can damage your relationship with the Lord. Out of concern for your spiritual well-being the Church asks non-Catholics to refrain from receiving:

For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Corr 11)

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I have seen some Catholics be very offended by Protestants taking the Eucharist. However, I also know many confessing Catholics who have no idea what transubstantiation is about and hold quite a Protestant view about Communion.

Being a Protestant raised in a Catholic family, this is a question I've asked myself. In general, I avoid taking it, but that can sometimes raise discussions if I don't take it like everyone else does during Christmas mass when visiting family for holidays.

I think Farseeker's point of asking the priest is a good one, when it is possible.

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No, it is not permissible for one who does not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist to receive Communion. You surely do not, or you wouldn't refer to is as the "bread and wine".

This article at Catholic Answers is very clear.

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Many Catholics don't even understand the meaning behind "the Real Presence of Christ"... so it's hard to say they believe it :) –  Flimzy Oct 3 '11 at 16:55
Not all Catholics understand the deep philosophical and theological implications, but they are pretty clear that they are consuming much more than dry, tasteless wafers and bad wine. –  tomjedrz Oct 3 '11 at 17:52
Even protestants who don't believe in the Real Presence of Christ believe they are doing much more than consuming tasteless wafers and bad wine. –  Flimzy Oct 3 '11 at 17:59
***************** –  Ztucker Dec 23 '13 at 16:33

You ask if you "may". To answer that, it is necessary to check first what authority are you seeking to "allow" it to you. Do you care about offending other Catholics in some particular church assembly? About crossing the Catholic rules or doctrine? Do you want to know if a particular priest administering the communion will have any objections?

  • most protestant churches have nothing against their members participating in Catholic communion
  • from the Catholic side there are some conditions
    • if you are after official Catholic church doctrine, you need to follow the following rules (see also Who Can Receive Communion?):
      • you need to believe the bread and wine are becoming the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation)
      • you should be allowed by a bishop (CCC 1401, CIC 844 §4)
      • you need to follow the same rules as Catholics do, i.e:
        • do not eat or drink anything else but water one hour before the communion
        • you need to go to confession before communion
    • in practice, individual Catholics including priests apply much more liberal rules, sometimes they even actively encourage protestants to participate in the communion. If you are interested about this, you need to ask the priest, or the people visiting the church if the priests attitude is known to them.
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I once was present at a Catholic mass, and the priest, knowing that a large number of protestants (Calvinists) attended the event, explicitly stated that the protestant brothers* can also participate if they wish to do so.

So, the event and the historical, cultural etc. background can have an influence. Usually it's safer to ask, especially if you are foreign to the community and don't know their customs.

* note that the language the mass was held in is genderless, so "brothers" was gender-neutral

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I don't think you should. Here's what the reformers thought (quoting from the Heidelberg Catechism):

Q80. What difference is there between the Lord's supper and the papal mass? A. The Lord's supper testifies to us, first, that we have complete forgiveness of all our sins through the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ, which he himself accomplished on the cross once for all; [1] and, second, that through the Holy Spirit we are grafted into Christ, [2] who with his true body is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father, [3] and this is where he wants to be worshipped. [4] But the mass teaches, first, that the living and the dead do not have forgiveness of sins through the suffering of Christ unless he is still offered for them daily by the priests; and, second, that Christ is bodily present in the form of bread and wine, and there is to be worshipped. Therefore the mass is basically nothing but a denial of the one sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.

[1] Mt 26:28; Jn 19:30; Heb 7:27; 9:12, 25, 26; 10:10-18. [2] 1 Cor 6:17; 10:16, 17. [3] Jn 20:17; Acts 7:55, 56; Heb 1:3; 8:1. [4] Jn 4:21-24; Phil 3:20; Col 3:1; 1 Thess 1:10.

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This may answer the question, but it's worth noting that the Heidelberg Catechism, written in 1563, now misrepresents Catholicism by using the broad misunderstandings of the Reformation. –  Andrew Leach May 7 '14 at 18:24

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