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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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
The answer is basically “no,” there is no Protestant denomination whose members would be admitted to Communion.
The Church admits to Communion Catholics (evidently) and all those Christians who belong to a fully apostolic Church: that is, to a Church that has maintained apostolic succession and has the Catholic Faith regarding the Eucharist. This includes all Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox, the Armenian Orthodox, and the Assyrian Church of the East. (There may be some smaller chuches that I am omitting.)
(For the benefit of readers, the Catholic Church, and all the churches mentioned above, teach that in the celebration of the Eucharist, the bread and wine are fully converted into Jesus Christ. Once the Consecration has taken place, no bread or wine remain, but only Christ. Or else, in more technical terms, the substance of the bread and wine is changed to the substance of Jesus. The appearances, or accidents, remain those of bread of wine. This doctrine, which is based on the institution narratives in the Bible—that is, Mt. 26:26-29, Mk. 14:22-25, Lk 22:19-20, as well as John 6 and St. Paul’s instructions on the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians—was given the technical term transubstantiation in the late Middle Ages.)
The reason that Protestants are not admitted to Communion in the Catholic Church is that the vast majority do not accept this understanding of the Eucharist. Moreover, the ministers in Protestant churches do not have the ability to confect the Eucharist; indeed the vast majority of Protestants do not accept the concept of apostolic succession (and those denominations that have preserved some aspect of it—such as the Anglicans—in fact, lost their apostolic succession at the time of the Reformation; see Apostolicae curae by Pope Leo XIII).
The Code of Canon Law Can. 844 goes into the specifics, including certain exceptional circumstances under which Protestants might receive the Eucharist:
Hence, in general, only Catholics should receive Communion from the Catholic Church.
Canon Law says, regarding non-Catholics receiving Communion:
Members of Eastern Churches (and any church in a similar circumstance) may approach Communion in a Catholic Church; however, they are urged to follow the disciplines of their own churches. (See below.)
Hence, Protestants could receive Communion when in danger of death or in some other grave necessity, provided they professed the Catholic faith.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1996 issued a set of guidelines for receiving communion that summarizes the Church’s position very well. The relevant passage says,
There are two sides to this issue. The first is whether the Catholics consider it appropriate to share communion with those who understand it differently. As a Christian, I want to avoid offending any fellow believer, so I think it would be important to ask if in doubt.
The second point is your own conscience. If you feel that the ceremony or understanding of the Roman Catholics is inappropriate to your relationship with Christ, then you might want to avoid partaking even if they allow you to.
Communion is meant to be a shared experience and an affirmation of your relationship to Christ. I believe nearly all denominations that practice it regard it as an important moment, not to be done lightly or in a wrong spirit. On the other hand, I would seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit if unsure. I know of one occasion where a Roman Catholic priest, in a mixed-denomination situation, invited non-Catholics to partake. In that case, I might ask the Holy Spirit and partake if I felt no twinge of conscience.
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?
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.
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:
I don't think you should. Here's what the reformers thought (quoting from the Heidelberg Catechism):
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
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.
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.
§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.
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.
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.
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.