Why Can’t Non-Catholics Receive Holy Communion?

Dear Catholic Exchange:

I have a friend who is joining the Church this Easter. She believes in the Real Presence and accepts that her non-Catholic family and friends who come to the Easter Vigil will not be able to receive communion. But this weekend she shared with me her uneasiness with not being able to fully explain to them "why" they are not permitted to receive. I have searched on several websites that I often frequent and much to my surprise was only able to come across a few Q & A's or forum postings that minimally addressed this issue from the perspective that, basically, if you are not Catholic and you don't follow the Church teachings (especially that on the Eucharist) then why would you expect to be allowed to receive communion. What I was hoping to find is a more theological explanation — hopefully with some scriptural support. For example, does 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 come into play here?

With deep appreciation for all you do to share the truth that is our Catholic Faith. God's Blessings during this most Holy week to all at Catholic Exchange.




Dear Teresa,

Peace in Christ!

The Holy Father, John Paul II, taught in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia: "The Eucharist, as the supreme sacramental manifestation of communion in the Church, demands to be celebrated in a context where the outward bonds of communion are also intact." I suggest that your friend read chapter four (why not read the entire document?), "The Eucharist and Ecclesial Communion."

On November 14, 1996 National Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the following guidelines on the reception of communion. These guidelines can be found printed on the inside cover of many missals. While any message should be geared for the hearer, this has the essentials: the Catholic belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the value of the Eucharist as a sign of the unity that exists in the Church, and an invitation to pray for the unity of all Christians. Non-Catholics may feel less slighted at the practice of closed communion if told that Catholics must be mindful of the necessity of proper disposal to receive Holy Communion and those separated by mortal sin should not receive.

"For Catholics:

"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 our fellow 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' (John 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 Holy 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 one another.

"For non-Christians:

"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."

United in the Faith,

Eric Stoutz
Information Specialist
Catholics United for the Faith
827 North Fourth Street
Steubenville, OH 43952
800-MY-FAITH (800-693-2484)

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