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Who Can Receive Holy Communion

A question that is often asked by many people is who can receive Holy Communion?  This is a very easy question to answer, but requires some explanation in order for one to fully grasp what is it meant.

 Why do I say this?  This is because the question of ‘who can receive communion, is often asked by a person with a particular situation in mind.  You yourself reading this are most likely reading this because you want to see if you or friends that you know are allowed to receive communion.  You probably have heard there were conditions to receiving communion.   So let me say from the beginning that as each situation differs, someone’s ability to receive communion is often dependent upon that person’s unique circumstances.

But there are conditions to partaking of the Eucharist.  There are conditions to receiving communion, and because we hold the Eucharist in the highest regard, being the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, we ought to and must follow the conditions set out for us.  If we fail to do so then we fail to take seriously the reality of Who we are receiving.  God calls each of us to Himself, but he calls us to ‘conform our hearts to His heart’.  God calls us unconditionally, irregardless of race, sex, age, or sinfulness; but he does place conditions on how we are to be and act in order to remain with Him.

 If you doubt that Christ Himself gives us these conditions, then I refer you to scripture.  In the passage of the wedding feast in scripture, a man was invited to a wedding feast, but was thrown out into the darkness when he was found to not wearing a wedding garment.  Implicit in this story is the fact that the man came to the feast but was not willing to abide by the conditions of the feast.  God calls all people as they are right now with no regard to our sinfulness; but he does not allow for them to stay in our sinfulness if we wish to stay with him.  He calls us to continual conversion.  If we do not participate in God’s call to further conversion, then it we ourselves who walk away from God.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son the Father did not go and find his son and pull him out of the mire and muck that the son had placed himself in; no, the father waited until the son choose to return to his father’s house, and only when he did that did the father run out to met him with joy.  The father did not drop his standards to that of his son’s; he waited until the son choose to raise his own standards to those of his father.  We must never forget that for those persons that cannot receive communion, the fact hat they cannot might be a source of much pain for them, and rightly so.  If possible we want to give them the opportunity to be capable of partaking in the Eucharist.  But in order to give them the opportunity to be capable to receive we have to maintain the standards given to us by Christ, which have been mediated to us through the Church.

So what are these standards and conditions?  Well, simply put, in order to receive in the Catholic Church, one must

  1. Believe what the Catholic Church believes and what the Church teaches is true
  2. Have received Christian baptism for the forgiveness of sins and new birth
  3. Live in keeping with what the Catholic Church teaches which is the same as what Christ taught and continues to teach


“Where do these conditions come from?” you might ask.  “I don’t see Jesus telling us this in the Bible.” one might argue.  Well these three conditions which the Catholic Church holds to be true and necessary are found specifically in one of the writings of one of the earliest Church Fathers.  These three particular conditions were written down by St. Justin Martyr around 150AD, 1850 years ago.  So did St. Justin Martyr just create these off the top of his head?  No.  We believe that he would have received these conditions directly or indirectly from the Apostles, who were instructed by Christ himself (Lk 24. 44-49).  We believe that Christ instructed the apostles in many matters, and in those matters in which they were not instructed, the apostles were given the power and authority by Christ himself to govern on earth (Matt 28.18-20).

Hence, the first condition that has to be met in order is that one can receive the Eucharist is that one must believe what we (the Catholic Church) believe and teach to be true.  This is not only a condition for Communion, but for Baptism as well, which is the second condition.  You must believe everything that the Catholic Church teaches to be true.  If you do not believe that what the Catholic Church teaches is the truth, then why do you want to receive the Eucharist?  “Well, what if I have doubts about what the Catholic Church teaches in some areas?” you might be asking.  Having doubts is a natural element of faith that encourages us to look deeper into our faith to try to come to a better understanding of our faith Doubts are natural ways that encourage us to grow in faith.  If we doubt then we must investigate our doubts; God can use our doubt for our benefit.  Doubting is different from disbelieving.  Disbelieving is a choice that you make to choose not to believe something.  If you disbelieve any teaching of our Catholic faith, then you must not receive communion for the sake of your soul.  Why?  Because when you receive communion you are proclaiming to heaven and earth with your “Amen” “I believe that this Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, and I am receiving Him because I believe that all that Jesus Christ teaches is the truth.”  As Catholics we believe that Jesus Christ gives us the truth through the Catholic Church; so as Catholics, we believe that if we ‘disagree’ with a teaching of the Catholic Church, we are not ‘disagreeing’ with a human institution, but we are disagreeing with the very teaching of Christ.  So to receive the Eucharist and to say “Amen” when you ‘disagree’ (remember ‘disagree’ is not to be confused with ‘doubt’) with the Church’s teaching, is to deny Christ at the same time you are receiving Him.  It is an extremely serious and grave sin, for it is sacrilege of the mind and heart against the Eucharist.

“So anytime I disagree with the Catholic Church I am guilty of sacrilege!” you might be saying.  “That must be wrong, because what about the scandals over the past fifteen years?  It was the Church and its leaders who are guilty of perpetuating the abuse.”  To disagree with what leaders or persons in the Church are doing is completely different than disagreeing with what the Church officially teaches.  As a Catholic, in order to receive communion worthily, one must only believe in what the Church teaches in regards to faith and morals.  Disagreements, with a person or persons in regards to how they act, are not wrong; it is sometimes even necessary to speak and act out in disagreement when something evil is afoot. Disagreement with ones priest, pastor, bishop, or even pope in how they administer their office within the Church is certainly not immoral; although I would caution being overly judgmental when judging a persons actions.

But this is far different than disagreeing with the teaching of the Church on what we believe.   Friedrich Nietzsche, the famous atheist philosopher, even said that the reason he did not believe in Christianity was not because he could find fault in its teachings, but because he could find no Christian who lived its teachings.  This is our calling as Catholics.  We are called to know our faith and to live it.  Oftentimes we think that we are living our faith when we in fact know little about what we believe in.  How can we live our faith unless we know what we profess we believe in?  We must investigate and understand what we profess to believe so that we can actually live out what we believe.  This brings us to the third requirement.

We must know what the Church teaches in regards to faith and morals in order to live out what she teaches.  Therefore we can not be lazy in our understanding of the faith.  Knowing what the Church teaches takes more effort than going to Church once a week.  It takes study, and prayerful reflection.

We must live out what the Church teaches in regards to morality.  If we ‘disagree’ with a faith teaching of the Church; then we should not receive communion.  Remember we do not want our “Amen” to be a lie.  So what is a faith teaching of the Church?  A faith teaching is one of the ‘dogmas and doctrines’ of our faith.  These deal mostly with undeniable truths about the identity of God, and our relationship to Him; most of them our stated in the Apostles Creed that we say almost every Sunday during Mass.  Have we truly investigated what each of those phrases mean?

What is a moral teaching of the Church?  A moral teaching is a teaching given to us by the Church on how we are to live and act in the modern world.  Since we do not create the truth, but rather the truth is revealed to us by God through Jesus Christ; it is the role of the Church’s legislative body, the Magisterium, to interpret how we are to live in light of the truth revealed by Jesus Christ.  This often deals with our common daily actions.  When we find ourselves living in such a way that is contrary to how Christ is telling us to live, we should not receive communion until we have set our improper situation right.

I will give you an example.  One of the most common situations a person finds themselves in the case of someone who is divorced and remarried.  Because of the Catholic Church’s teaching, which comes from Jesus, on the indissolubility of marriage, a person may not get remarried after a divorce.  Contrary to popular belief, a Catholic person may get divorced and still receive communion.  A Catholic person cannot receive communion if they have gotten remarried after a divorce without receiving a declaration of nullity  (annulment) for their prior marriage.  Remarriage, without a declaration of nullity for a prior marriage,  is against the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.  So if a person is remarried they should not receive communion until one of two things happens: one, their prior marriage is deemed to be sacramentally invalid, which can be done through the annulment process.  If that option is not available then in order for the person to receive communion, they must separate from the person they have remarried, or else not receive.  The remarried person is encouraged to still attend Mass as is any non-Catholic, but if a person is not living and has no intention to live what Jesus Christ and His Church teaches to be moral, then they cannot partake of any of the Church’s sacraments.

Protestant individuals from time to time have expressed a desire to partake of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, but this would be disallowed for the same reasons that we would disallow reception of communion to Catholics.  If one does not profess to believe in, enter into, and then live what Christ and the Church teaches then it would be a lie to receive communion, because as Catholics we believe that one of the most important things that we experience when we receive communion is unity with Jesus Christ ‘and’ ‘his Body’ ‘the Church.’  There should be no disunity in the Body of Christ; and differing beliefs on these fundamental beliefs would cause disunity.  Persons who receive the Eucharist who are not of Catholic belief, whether they are Catholic or non-Catholics, are causing much harm, whether they intend it or not, to Eucharistic Body of Christ by their disunity of belief.

Now the Church leaves it to the conscience of each and every individual person to make sure that they are adequately prepared to receive the Eucharist.  Let every Catholic take that seriously.  Prepare yourself to encounter our Savior in the Eucharist; be one in belief and faith with the Holy, Universal, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.  To all Catholics who do not believe or are not living in accord with the teachings of the faith, know that Christ loves you wherever you are and is always willing to invite you to come once again and reside in His house with Him; but when you choose to do so do it in honesty.  To all other Non-Catholics, especially our Protestant brothers and sisters, come and join us in prayer and praise, and let us find the common bonds of unity that do unite us together so that we can truly worship the Lord in word and deed. 

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