Co-authored by participants of SDM
This is a subject often misunderstood by those of non-Catholic faiths and even by Catholics at times. Catholics on occasion will attend Protestant worship services such as weddings and funerals as well as attendance at times with family members who are of a particular denomination. This is permitted by the Catholic Church with the understanding it is not a substitute for the required Sunday Mass. In addition, one can not partake of the communion presented in a protestant congregation if offered. For an in depth understanding of the reason behind this, one must first understand the unwavering beliefs the Catholic Faith teaches and maintains both through various passages of scripture as well as Canon Law. For it is through these beliefs and unquestionable trust in the Word of Jesus Christ that reflect our Catholic devotion. Founded in this recognition, there is only one Eucharist instituted by Our Lord, which is recognized to be a sacrament by the Catholic Church and only one teaching that even the distance of time can never change, that being the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in the communion elements. Here are but a few of the passages relating to this devotion rendering the Catholic faithful incapable of receiving communion under the offering of other pretenses as exemplified in other denominations.
Jesus said to them, “….Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.” (John CH6; 47-59)
[Also refer to additional verses: (Matthew CH26; v26+), (Mark CH14; v22+), (Luke CH22; v14+), (Luke CH24; 30+), (1 Corinthians CH10; v16+), (1 Corinthians CH11; v22+) and Here for more information on the Eucharist.]
The proclamation of the consistancy of Church teachings throughout Christian History:
Ephesians CH4; 3 “striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”.
1 Corinthians CH1; 10 "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind, and in the same judgment."
The Catholic faith has maintained throughout its lineage of almost 2000 years the consecrated Eucharist consisting of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ can not be received by those in a state of sin or received “unworthily. As Scripture declares in 1 Corinthians CH11; 27-29 “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. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself."
Because Catholics believe the changing of the consecrated Eucharist to be what is called "transubstantiation", they are likewise not able to receive communion in another denomination because this implies they accept the belief of that particular faith, which as we know is considered to only be representative of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.
If the Apostles were to believe and teach that the bread and wine are merely symbols representing the Body and Blood of Christ, it would then be completely inappropriate and inaccurate regardless of ancient language, to say we “participate in the Body and Blood of Christ”. Symbolic means to be a symbol of or representing something or someone that is not present. Therefore it is only rational and with common sense in making reference to such participation would then be in the commemoration or tribute to, not the participation directly in the Body and Blood of Christ. To say one participates in the Body and Blood of Christ as Scripture confirms, the true elements must be present. In the Protestant belief system, the elemental graces are considered present but the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ do not occur as communion is not a sacrament, is not presided over by those individuals capable of changing the bread and wine through the sacrament of Holy Orders(Catholic priest) and therefore again only regarded as representative or symbolic.
It would be irrelative for condemnation to be imposed against one for receiving only bread and wine unworthily. As warned in 1 Corinthians Chapter 11, "whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord."
So why has Scripture declared such harsh warnings of condemnation against those knowledgeable of the true teachings of Christ regarding taking the Eucharist unworthily? Because Jesus’ proclamation was specific, intentional and unwavering that the Bread and Wine after His consecration was His Body and Blood of the New Covenant and as such the warning becomes extremely relative that consuming the Eucharist in a state of serious sin is the desecration of His Body and Blood. Such can not occur if only bread and wine were consumed.
Canon Law of the Catholic Church regarding the transmission of communion under all circumstances;
Can. 844 §1. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, §§2. (Note: This statute pertains to everyone except under extreme limited circumstances as outlined in the following subsections #2, 3, and 4.)
§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.
§3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches.
§4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.
§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community. (Note: to simplify the above subsections, only those Churches (Byzantine Orthodox for example) where the Sacrament is officially recognized the same doctrinally as in the Catholic Church or "the Apostolic See" as worded above and performed under the authority of Apostolic Succession. This restriction is not limited to but includes Churches of protestant denominations.)
Now addressing the cause that renders Catholics incapable of receiving communion offered within Protestant denominations, Protestant faiths in general do not accept the consecrated bread and wine as the true Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ in communion regardless of faith or system of beliefs, but rather believe Christ only “meant it figuratively”. In their disbelief they offer their communion strictly as symbolic, although some consider it a means of the same graces.
Every Christian recognizes Jesus as the “Lamb of God”. He is the one sacrifice of all time that replaced the sacrificial lamb of the Passover. That Passover lamb had to be consumed and the blood separated and used to identify the faith of the Jews for their salvation by God’s order. When Jesus assumed His roll in human form as the salvific Lamb of God through His covenant He declared it His own Body and Blood for our unquestioning faith and acceptance in His Word. Just as the Jews were ordered to eat the flesh of the Lamb, His flesh must be consumed in order that man attain freedom not from the Egyptians, but freedom from the holds of sin, our salvation, that we may “have life”, unlike the manna from heaven where man died. This life IS the life of salvation originating from the metabolic form of an earthly food of which He as God created from nothing as all things came to be created. Bread and wine no less a creation than man himself and it should not be too difficult to accept that the creator could take to Himself any substance and bring it into an extension of Himself for man’s salvation. Is it a test of Faith? Yes, but no less or more than a human being rising from the dead. For without accepting His body and Blood as Catholics believe, man would have no life in him. And this faith in His proclamation has been unchanged since the very 1st century recorded by the first Christians when Jesus walked the earth.
In conclusion then, for a Catholic to accept communion offered in any other form than through the sacrament of the Eucharist would be to personally and publically express acceptance to that form of presentation of the communion as offered symbolically rather than as the sacrament of the New Covenant in Jesus’ Body and Blood. As we see in scripture, even at that time there were those who did not accept this belief and walked away from Jesus rejecting His word unlike the 12 who without question trusted in the word of Christ when he said "This is my body and this is my blood." A Catholic receiving interfaith communion (not of the Catholic faith) also implies its symbolic presentation as an acceptable means of receiving Christ regardless of His word.
It has been declared since the inception of Christianity in the 1st century in the ancient writings of the direct disciples or students of the apostles referred to as the Apostolic Fathers themselves that to deny the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist is heresy. It must be noted, however, with the Reformation came many beliefs that denied the true presence and the separation in time of 500 years of Christian history has impacted many who not knowing better truly do not believe in the Eucharist as practiced by the Catholic Faith. These would be considered the "lost sheep" and the duty of those of the Catholic faith to continually pray for a reunification of all churches into the "one true church" founded by our Lord and Savior so they too can savor the blessings through the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ.