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Our readers asked:

What exactly is the difference between Catholic and Lutheran belief in communion? They sound pretty alike to me.

Fr. Joe Answers:

You are correct in sensing that there is more unity than difference in the way Catholics and Lutherans understand and celebrate communion. In fact, since the Second Vatican Council there has been a “coming together” of these different Christian Churches with respect to communion. The Catholic Eucharist (Mass) is now celebrated in the language of the local community rather than in Latin. The communal celebration of the Mass is much preferred to the private celebration by a priest that was common before Vatican II. And Catholics have restored the ancient practice of communion under the forms of both bread and wine.

In dialogues between Lutheran and Catholic theologians in 1968, Lutherans agreed that the celebration of the Eucharist involves a sacrifice of praise and self-offering that unites the believer with the sacrifice of Christ. At the same time, Catholics joined Lutherans in affirming that the sacrifice of the cross was a unique, one-time event that is not “repeated” in the celebration of the Eucharist. Both Lutherans and Catholics affirmed that in the Eucharist Christ is “present wholly and entirely, in his body and blood, under the signs of bread and wine.” This “presence” of Christ in the Eucharist is more than a commemoration; it is an “effective sign” that “communicates what it promises” (“Building Unity,” Ecumenical Series IV, editors Burges and Gros: Paulist Press, 1989).

There remain some differences between Catholics and Lutherans with respect to communion. Some are matters of vocabulary. Each church forms a kind of culture with its own vocabulary and terminology. For example, Lutherans will refer to communion as “The Lord’s Supper” while Catholics prefer “Eucharist” or “Mass.” A shared vocabulary helps a group feel comfortable and at home. Sometimes differences in vocabulary make it seem that there are differences in meaning where none actually exist. It’s very important to learn and attempt to understand the vocabulary of another church in order to have a meaningful conversation.

True differences in belief and practice also remain. While both Lutherans and Catholics will bring communion from the church to members of the community who are sick, Catholics maintain the practice of reserving the communion bread in the tabernacle, which becomes a place of prayer and devotion. Lutherans do not hold the same belief that the presence of Christ continues in the bread and wine after the time and place of the celebration of the Eucharist.

Lutherans would also question the Catholic practice of offering Mass for the intentions of those who have died. While Lutherans believe in the value of offering prayers for those who have died, they would have reservations regarding Catholic belief that the Eucharist is effective as an “atoning sacrifice” for those who have died.

Catholics hold to the term “transubstantiation” to describe the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. They borrow terms from the philosophy of Aristotle to express the belief that during the Eucharist the substance of bread and wine is changed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ, while the accidents of bread and wine (what they look, feel and taste like) remain the same as they were before. Lutherans prefer to avoid the term transubstantiation and use other terms to describe their belief in the full reality of Christ’s presence.

Since I am not Lutheran, I may not have done full justice to the Lutheran position on the Eucharist, and would welcome any corrections from those who know more. However, I feel certain that there is much more agreement between Catholics and Lutherans on this matter than we often realize. I thank you for your most interesting question and hope this has helped to provide an answer.

The Author : Fr. Joe
Fr. Joe Scott, CSP, has been a campus minister, pastor and editor as a Paulist priest.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Floyd Shoup

    I have enjoyed the above conversation. I have been a Lutheran for 20+ years, and came to Christ through a “born again” experince. God broke into my life as a young man and I was “saved” without any discision on my part, without any work on my part. It happened through prayer of others on my behalf. That said, I love the Lutheran doctrine, believing what Luther taught (after his own personal revelation.) When it comes to the Eucharist, we do believe that Christ is present in the bread and the wine, and scripture is too significantly revealing to believe otherwise. It is surely a mystery as to the how/why/what type of presence it is, and we should probably let it go at that. The unfortunate thing about us humans is that we all want to be right, spending a great deal of time and energy devoted to proveing just that. When we submit to the temptation of flexing our theological muscles too much, we chance losing our child-like faith, building a form of religious callous, which numbs our personal faith, and our feeling toward each other. Jesus told us two commandments will cover everything else. (paraphrased)”Love God, and Love Neighbor.” It’s about love and service to God by making Jesus known afterall, isn’t it? Keep up the good conversation.

    • Mike

      believing what Luther taught (after his own personal revelation.)

      what was that “personal revelation” by the way?

  • shelley

    It is not a mortal sin for Catholics to receive communion in a Lutheran church. It would only be a mortal sin to receive communion in a church that denies Jesus is lord. I am a Roman Catholic and I think there is very little difference between Catholic and Lutheran. Transubstantiation is the major item and it seems to be semantics. Unfortunately I do not think Benedict is the leader to fix the schism of words. He is busy making words a problem within the Church. Recently he changed a lot of words in the liturgy. He changed “one in being with” to “consubstantial with” because it is more like the Latin word. I am 54 years old and have a two degrees English and Communication Theory I have never used that word in my life time. I believe it to be a dis-used word in American culture, it therefore has no meaning. It may as well be a made up word. It is presnirted disconfbulated thinking. I think it is time to dispense with such immature notions that the words matter THAT much.

    It is really about the love of Christ. Simple really. Christ was a simple man with some simple messages about how we should live.

    Catholics do not believe in unborn killing babies, however, there are circumstances such as the health or welfare if the mother are seen to be a decision that must be made in good faith after prayer and meditation by the husband and wife or mother. It is a grave decision that is between the parents and God. No one else will be with you on your judgment day.

  • Kate

    I have a really serious question. Do Catholics believe that abortion is okay if it is going to hurt the mother?

  • carno

    I am Catholic, but became so as an adult through my own desire to understansd more of what I was around as a child. ( father raised Catholic, but did not raise us religiously after divorce with my mother, went to church with grandparents sometimes) I was taught that Catholics could receive communion in a rc church but not orthodox? And that other religions could not receive in a cTholic church unless being Catholic. I feel that its more comfortable to receive communion in a church of my faith, and respectful to my beliefs, but I see how that doesn’t sit well when it comes to rules of who can and cannot receive communio. at a Catholic mass or a mass of another denomination. I believe that the rite taken for communion as a Catholic differs from that of another faith which I have not done and I am devoting myself to the Catholic faith through communion and confirmation. My fiance was baptised Lutheran and was introduced by his aunt as a child to the Lutheran church. He understands that had he received communion rites lutheran he wouldn’t receive commmunion at mass with me, out of simply respecting the difference in beliefs around communion with these two faiths

  • David

    This is a fascinating discussion and I have learned a great deal. I am a devout Catholic but very open and accepting of others and their points of view. My wife is in religious “limbo” as of yet but was raised Lutheran. My brother recently came out to us and I know what the Catholic Church teaches regarding homosexuality. I am wondering what the Lutheran teachings are? I have always just felt that God is love and am accepting and respectful of all of God’s creatures and let God judge us all in the end. But hearing so many similarities between the two religions makes me wonder if I should consider becoming a Lutheran depending on if their stance is different regarding homosexuality.

  • josh

    I am lutheran and my wife recently became lutheran ( formally Catholic). Now we have two children. My wife has been talking to me about rejoining the catholic church. She does not demand that our children and I join with her, but she does feel that the catholic church is the closest religion that matches her mental model and heart. My question is if all christians will go to heaven if they beleive Jesus died for them, rose again,and is the one true Saviour. Then does it really matter what religion they are? Is it a problem to have a lutheran and a catholic co-exist in a marriage with children or should one religion be decided for the family until the kids are old enough to decide for themselves?

  • Alexandra

    Although I am Lutheran and we have our differences with Catholics, I am sick and tired of the Catholic-bashing that I see some churches doing. If someone believes Christ died for them on the cross and rose again, the Bible says they’re saved. Stop being so judgemental. Look at your own church.Some of these new churches are accepting MODALISM. VERY BAD stuff. It denies the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–plz avoid them!! And pray for them to realize their error(s)! We ought to be praying for the whole visible Body of Christ, here on earth, anyway.

  • Alexandra

    @paula @Erik Z I am a Lutheran and we Lutherans absolutely do believe Romans 10:9+10. We just do not necessarily use the term “born-again”. We use the word “saved”. Meaning “saved by the blood of Christ”.The term “born-again is fine,but we don’t feel we need to change our language whenever someone else does,although some Lutherans may use it.Do not be judgemental about the sacraments. These are serious things to we who believe. And It is Biblical!!You should learn about these things. @paula You are getting hung up on a word–religion. We mean it in the way it was formally used,ie., Religion=Christian Faith.I don’t see why other Christians have to change a word just because a pentecostal or some other church assigns a bad meaning to it, to make the other churches look bad.What do you think everyone on here is talking about? The answer is their Faith, of course, which is a REAL Living relationship for all who believe in Jesus.Why should we keep changing our venacular?? We Christians know what each otheris saying + really means.

    • Mike

      when Paul wrote that letter:
      Paul wrote the letter to introduce himself to Christians in Rome whom
      he had not yet visited, despite his yearning to do so.

      the Christians Paul was speaking to were also early Catholics, belonging to the Catholic Church not the Lutheran Church or any other Church for that matter, therefore it only applies to the Catholics. be cause that is who Paul was taking to, not everyone else.

  • Alexandra

    @Erik Z I am a Lutheran and I, like my fellow Lutherans,believe Romans 10:9+10. We just do not necessarily use the term “born-again”. We use the word “saved”. That is saved by the blood of Christ.The term “born-again is fine, butis an older Baptist word.

    • Mike

      Paul wrote the letter to introduce himself to Christians in Rome whom
      he had not yet visited, despite his yearning to do so.

      the Christians Paul was speaking to were also early Catholics, belonging to
      the Early Catholic Church not the Lutheran Church or any other Church for
      that matter, therefore it only applies to the Catholics. because that is
      who Paul was taking to the Catholic’s, not everyone else.

  • paula

    I read this the other day, A christian, is a relationship with the Lord, not a religion.

    • Mike

      people will say anything to keep you from going to church

  • Jennifer

    I’m still have so much to learn. I am referring to Mikes comment at the top. He said Lutherans don’t pray for the dead. Catholics have Rosary’s when someone dies. What kind of services do Lutheran’s have for the dead? Do Lutherans pray the Rosary. I’ve prayed for my love one’s that died to let them be at peace wherever they are.

  • Mary

    It is acceptable for a Catholic to take Communion at a Lutheran Church. I was at a wedding for a friend who was Catholic and is now Lutheran. They made an announcement before the service started that told the Catholics that it was acceptable to receive Communion at the wedding. I do not know or understand why it is not permitted the other way around.

    • Mike

      because the Person Responsible for the Lutheran Church, is a ex Catholic Priest. When he left the church, he did not have the authority given to him to take everything with him that he wanted.

      it is like you or someone working somewhere, and you quit that job, you do not have the authority to take what ever you want from that job?

      you can only take what you came with. basically yourself and the clothes on your back.

      this is why you see the similarities in the Lutheran Church.

      too Luther too no longer had the authority to consecrate the bread and wine to have God change it into the Body and Blood of Jesus.

      just like one that use to work at a business, he no longer has the authority to do anything that is related to that business.

      yet he did it anyways.

      and he changed theology too putting a lie in where there once was truth.

      this is why you see the stimulates between the two. but it is not longer the same.

      Luther too broke one of the ten commandments in leaving to begin with. not to steal.

      putting him in mortal sin.

      think about it.

  • Gary

    Another issue that I have learned first hand about is that divorcees are not allowed to take communion in the RC church unless the marriage has been annulled. It is considered a sin. As a Lutheran I find that stance troublesome. Why wouldn’t someone that needs to be renewed, refreshed, and forgiven, be denied access to that gift?

  • Brian

    I am a Lutheran and I take communion almost everyday in a Catholic church. At first I was told I could not take it but could be given a blessing. I said that Jesus said himself for ALL to take. He did not say Catholics only. For this reason I take communion and I hold the meaning of it in my heart as to the belief that the bread is the body of Christ and the wine is the blood of Christ, in memory of him, as he siad himself. I feel let no one or no church rule keep you from your belief in God. Do you realy think God cares if you are Catholic or lutheran as long as you believe in him. Go to John 3 16 and it does not say ” Catholic or Lutheran”It says ” God so love the world he gave his only son,and WHOEVER shall believeth in me shall not parish but have ever lasting life.

    • Mike

      The early Jew that became Christians that Jesus taught through His diciples were Catholics, belonging to the Early Catholic Church not the Lutheran Church or any other Church for that matter, therefore it only applies to the Catholics.

  • Michael

    Dylan – what exactly does excommunication mean to you if an excommunicated person can still receive Holy Communion? And a divorced person may still receive Communion in the Catholic Church… it’s when a divorced person remarries that the situation becomes a bit sticky.

    • Mike

      that is a contradiction in terms. if you are or anyone is excommunicated then they are not allowed to receive. if they do then that sin is on them and not the priest if the priest gives it to him or her without his knowledge. if they can still receive then they are not legally excommunicated by the Church.

  • Michael

    The reality is that we are not really united (at least not fully anyway), else we would not be discussing Lutherans vs Catholics. So, yes it is inconsistent with our profession of faith as Catholics to receive Holy Communion in a non-Catholic Church. First of all, because if the church does not have valid orders, then they cannot even consecrate the Eucharist in the first place – never mind if that particular church believes in the real presence or not. As Justin Martyr said back in 155 A.D., “No one may share in the eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true,… “

    • Mike


  • Earl C

    My wife and I take the Lords supper together – she is catholic and I attend Lutheran services. My children are baptized catholic. I enjoy both places of worship and feel unity not division. catholic means universal not divided. It is to my understanding we share the Nicene creed of beliefs. We have been married for 30 years.My understanding is the catholic church reaches out to other christian and even other religions they just think they have a more perfect path to God but not the only path. We both believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and savior and in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father and the Son, the son was fully man and divine. We both believe we are saved by grace and involve ourselves in community service, charity and giving. We are content and at peace. As for the pope I see him as a religious leader and his relationship with God is between him and God none of my business. He will be judged along side of the rest of us by Christ. The bible tells us to love even our enemies , how can we not love each other.

  • Erik Z

    If you confess with your mouth that Jesus christ is Lord thou shall be saved

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1241828119 Scott Perkins


    • Mike

      when Paul wrote that letter stating that,

      Paul wrote the letter to introduce himself to Christians in Rome whom
      he had not yet visited, despite his yearning to do so.

      the Christians Paul was speaking to were also early Catholics, belonging to
      the Catholic Church not the Lutheran Church or any other Church for
      that matter, therefore it only applies to the Catholics. because that is
      who Paul was taking to the Catholic’s, not anyone, or everyone else.

  • Erik Z

    The bottom line is like Jesus said in John 3:7 you must be born again. He further says in the following verses that unless man is born again he cannot see or enter the kingdom of heaven. Never mind being baptizsed or taking communion, those acts do not save you. Once you become born again then you become baptised.

  • Dylan

    I have spent much time in the Lutheran, Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The main thing to understand is that each of the Churches have a different understanding of the mystery, and substance of the Eucharist; that said, it is completely contrary to the Word of God, that anyone should deny one the right to commune in Christ, or more ridiculously, because of circumstances such as a divorce or excommunication (in the Roman Church) where does that leave souls? The Roman Catholic church is promoting membership in protestant denominations more than it knows. We can only pray for the unity of all+

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