|It is frequently asked whether
non-Catholics can receive Communion at a Catholic Mass. Quite often
this comes up in the context of family events - weddings, baptisms,
funerals - situations which put a great deal of pressure on families
and Eucharistic ministers, Ordinary and Extraordinary, to allow it. As
a result it happens quite frequently that Communion ministers
believe themselves authorized to extend Eucharistic hospitality,
either for the sake of kindness or a genuine sense of unity among
the members of the Congregation. While such motives are admirable,
the result nonetheless falsifies the sacramental meaning of the
Eucharist as both a sign of communion with Christ and communion with
the Catholic Church.
In order to safeguard the sacrament, and to ensure that Christ is
received with the proper dispositions (something very important for
the authentic good of the person receiving Him), the Church has
enacted certain norms for determining those occasions when
intercommunion is legitimate. In the 1983 Code of Canon Law the following is
Canon 844 (c.671 in the Code of
Canons of the Eastern Churches)
1. Catholic ministers may licitly administer the sacraments to Catholic members of the Christian faithful only and, likewise, the latter may licitly receive the sacraments only from Catholic ministers with due regard for parts 2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, part 2.
2. Whenever necessity requires or genuine spiritual advantage suggests, and provided that the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided, it is lawful for the faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister, 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 may licitly administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the oriental churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask on their own for the sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the oriental churches as far as these sacraments are concerned.
4. If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided
they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed.
5. For the cases in parts 2, 3, and 4, neither the diocesan bishop nor the conference of bishops is to enact general norms except after consultation with at least the local competent authority of the interested non- Catholic Church or community.
In keeping with the sacramental meaning of the Eucharist this
canon reserves the sacraments to Catholics, that is, those who are
in communion with the Church. It then addresses the question of Catholics
receiving the sacraments from non-Catholics. It sets the
following strict conditions:
a. necessity or genuine spiritual advantage
b. when the danger of error or indifferentism is avoided
c. it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic
d. a church which has valid sacraments
This last condition is the key one, since it eliminates ALL the
Reformation churches (Anglican, Episcopalian, Presbyterian,
Methodist, Baptist etc.), none of whom have valid sacred orders, and
therefore, a valid Eucharist. The possibility of a Catholic
receiving from the minister of another church, when the first three
conditions are fulfilled, is limited to the Orthodox Churches, other
Oriental Churches, Old Catholics, Polish National and others whose sacraments
are recognized by the Holy See. As paragraph 3 notes, the members of
those churches may likewise receive from a Catholic minister, when
they ask and are disposed.
- Under what conditions, therefore, may non-Catholics from the
Reformation churches receive? Paragraph 4 addresses this matter
and sets stricter conditions than for non-Catholics who belong
to Churches which have a valid Eucharist, true Eucharistic faith
and valid Penance. These conditions are:
a. danger of death, or, other grave necessity,
b. the norms of the diocesan bishop, or, the conference of bishops
c. cannot approach a minister of his or her own community
d. asks on his or her own for it,
e. manifests Catholic faith in the sacraments
f. properly disposed.
These last two conditions are very important. When Catholics and
Orthodox present themselves for Communion, either to their own
minister or that of another Church with valid sacraments, Eucharistic
faith and proper disposition is assumed, given the introduction to
both Penance and the Eucharist at an early age in Churches which
have a Catholic Eucharistic faith. However, when a non-Catholic
presents himself the norms presume an investigation to determine the
person's faith, and to determine the necessary moral conditions for
a proper reception of the Eucharist. That all these conditions are
met, especially the last two, cannot be determined by a minister of
Communion, ordinary or extraordinary, in the Communion line.
This is why the USCCB guidelines, which are published in the back of
every missalette, exclude weddings, funerals and other such
occasions as appropriate for intercommunion. The occasions would be individual,
normally determined by a pastor after consultation with the bishop,
or, in accordance with norms drawn up on the basis of this canon