ROME, 12 SEPT. 2006 (ZENIT)
Answered by Father Edward McNamara,
professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.
Q: I was at a Catholic wedding where the priest only gave the holy
Eucharist to the two newlyweds. Later I found out that he did this
because he feared a mixed congregation
some who might not be Catholic or who might be in the state of mortal
and didn't want to risk giving the holy Eucharist to such a person.
However, there were many faithful there who felt hurt and offended that
we couldn't receive the Eucharist. Was this an appropriate action on the
part of the priest?
J.S., St. Louis, Missouri
A: While the priest showed commendable respect and reverence for the
Eucharist, I do not believe he acted correctly in this case.
In diverse societies such as the United States, celebrations such as
weddings and funerals almost always convene people of many stripes and
different faiths. Therefore the danger of someone incorrectly receiving
Communion is very real.
But it is not a new problem, and parishes across the country have found
many viable solutions.
In some cases the pastor or another person makes an appropriate
announcement either before Mass or before Communion. This announcement
tactfully explains that, because it is central to our faith, Communion
is reserved to Catholics in the state of grace.
Another means is to clearly print the requirements for Communion and
distribute it to those present or even include it in the special
booklets that are usually prepared on occasion of weddings.
If he has taken appropriate steps to inform those present of the
importance of receiving Communion in the state of grace, then
responsibility for an unworthy Communion falls exclusively upon the
conscience of the person who receives it.
It is not the priest's task to take pre-emptive action against possible
offenses against the Eucharist by limiting the distribution of the
Also, the priest should not deprive the faithful who are in the state of
grace of the opportunity of fully participating in the Sacrifice of the
Mass by receiving Communion. In doing so, he unjustly deprives them of
their rights as baptized Catholics.
In conclusion, I offer an excerpt from a sample text to be printed in
participation aids. This very useful (document is published by the U.S.
bishops' Committee on the Liturgy.
"Guidelines for the Reception of Communion
"As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist
when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion
devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive
Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and
normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of
grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior
sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no
opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of
the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the
intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent
reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.
"For Other Christians
"We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist
as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the
action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one
another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray
that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ's
prayer for us 'that they may all be one' (Jn 17:21).
"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. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional
circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the
directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon
844 § 4). 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 (canon 844 § 3).
"For Those Not Receiving Communion
"All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in
their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with
"We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in
Jesus Christ. 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."
* * *
Follow-up: Withholding Communion [9-26-2006]
In light of our piece on withholding Communion (Sept. 12) I wish to
address a question from a priest writing from Yangon, Myanmar (formally
Burma): "Does the real presence of Jesus remain in the Blessed Sacrament
when it is consumed by an unbeliever?"
A distinction needs to be made: Christ's real presence in the Blessed
Sacrament derives from the consecration and does not depend on the
personal belief of the person who receives.
The Real Presence thus briefly remains in any person who receives the
Another factor altogether is the increase of sanctifying grace which
accompanies the reception of holy Communion. In this case only the
baptized believer receives a spiritual benefit; the non-baptized lacks
the initial gift of sanctifying grace which is developed by holy acts
such as receiving Communion.
If an unwary nonbeliever receives holy Communion in good faith, God may
freely grant him or her special actual graces corresponding to the
sincerity of the intentions with which the Host was received.
Among such graces could be to awaken interest in the meaning of this
gesture for Catholics and a desire to know more about the Christian
faith in general, eventually leading to embracing the faith.
Of course, this would depend on Divine liberality and such a remote
possibility may never be used to flout the Church's norms on
According to these norms, Communion may never be given to someone who is
For the non-Catholic baptized, we have mentioned the norms in our
columns of Aug. 17 and 31, 2004. ZE06092623