Busted Halo
googling god
The Busted Halo Question Box
Ask our spiritual experts virtually anything!
This is the place where you can ask all of those burning questions that you wouldn't dare ask in person. We will post questions here (using your byline only with permission); we guarantee an answer to everyone.

Have your own question? Then pitch it to us!

Caitlin Kennell Kim
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Mike Hayes
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” which “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 in fact 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. But 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.
See more articles by (74).
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.
  • http://twitter.com/armdogg armdogg

    What year was the term and use of “transubstantiation” brought into the Catholic church?

  • Michele

    I am a simple elderly man. I was raised in a staunch Lutheran household that asserted that if one was not of the WELS brand of Lutheranism, his immortal soul was in serious jeopardy.

    As I matured over the years I drifted far away from any matters of faith and spirituality, but continued to experience a subtle and growing gnawing in my heart that all was not right within me.

    I was in my late 60s when my wife who is a non-practicing Catholic suggested that we attend a Latin Mass that had become available in our community. I went with her more out of curiosity than anything else, and was profoundly moved by the ritual as I followed along in the Missal. After 6 months I felt that my spiritual vacuum was beginning to be filled by this experience and I submitted myself to the RCIA (Right of Christian Initiation for Adults) process. When I was confirmed a Catholic I found myself to be reconfirming many of my previously held Lutheran beliefs in the process.

    Essentially, what I learned is that the 2000 year old Catholic (universal) faith that was founded by Christ Himself has evolved many Traditions and beliefs that translate matters of pure faith into concrete, tangible events for the benefit of us simple folk. As an exsample: Both the Lutheran and Catholic faiths involve Confession. As a Lutheran I would confess my misdeeds to God, and I had faith and hope that He would forgive me. As a Catholic I confess to a priest who, acting as a representative of Christ, grants me concrete absolution at the conclusion of the Sacrament, and I am concretely reminded that I am forgiven. All 7 of the Catholic Sacraments conclude with the outward concrete signs that the grace of God being saught has been duly bestowed by Him. It still requires faith to accept these graces, but the concrete outward signs are certainly reassuring to a simple man such as I.

    Historically, much of humanity existed within the context of a relatively concrete reality. Lofty abstract thought was primarily restricted to a large extent to an extremely limited literate and educated population. Thus I came to see how the concrete efficacy of the Sacraments came to serve the needs of the masses. I continue to see these needs even in contemporary society.

    As for the actual differences between the Catholic and Lutheran faiths: My simple man’s view is that the Lutheran faith is based soley on Scripture, while the Catholic faith is based upon both Scripture and Tradition (Things that Christ and the Apostles talked about and experienced as they wondered about, but nobody was inspired to document. Hence they were passed along by word of mouth and action only.)

    As for the actual split between the Lutheran and Catholic Churches: As I recall from my Lutheran confirmation classes: Dr Luther didn’t want to be excommunicated for his beliefs. He simply wanted the Pope to reform his errant ways which were dictated by the politics and economics of the times. Reasonable discussion escalated into a shouting match wherein bridges were burned resulting in Luther’s excommunication. Human mistakes and weaknesses came to bear on both sides of the issues.

    Being a simple man, I look forward to being educated and enlightened further by others’ points of view.

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

      i too wish to be enlightened, but not unequally yolked, or shown false light.

    • Mike The American

      May we be as one. That is my prayer.

    • Suzanne Carpenter

      This was such a beautiful sharing. Thanks. As a cradle Catholic, I appreciate your heartfelt post.

  • PJR

    I came to this discussion because I am conflicted about receiving communion at the RC where I work as a leader of song. I was baptized and confirmed a RC. When I moved to NY, I couldn’t find a RC church where I felt welcomed. I started singing with a choir at a Lutheran church (ELCA) and was welcomed quite warmly. I saw no difference between the RC mass and the ELCA mass except for the Lord’s Prayer (goes straight into the doxology, “For the kingdom…”) and the fact that all who believe are welcome to receive communion. When joining the Lutheran church, I found out that there are different Lutheran churches; Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Each has different “rules” in regards to communion. I embrace the ELCA belief that all who believe are welcome at the table. Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod practice closed communion. I, as an ELCA member, cannot receive communion at either church. When discussing Catholic vs. Lutheran there needs to be a distinction as to which Lutheran practice you are speaking in regards to. I posted this explanation in hopes that it will help Gabriele a little in determining which religion would best satisfy his inner faith. Now back to my question. I have not been excommunicated by the RC church (as far as I know) so can I still receive communion without disrespecting the RC church’s policy?

  • Kathy K

    I was brought up Catholic. I have lots of Luthern friends. I have gone to confermations,funerals at Luthern churches. Really felt like Catholic mass.The one things is my Luthern friends tease me about our “Bloody Mary”. Jesus mother Mary. Catholics and I do pray to her.

  • Brian

    Holy Communion/Eucharist/Lord’s Supper is a way for believers to be close to God. It is also a way for believers to be close to each other. Paul writes,”Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf (1 Cor 10:17).” It is an expression of complete unity.

    Paul also warns that, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself (1 Cor 11:27-29).”

    Since we cannot read a man’s heart, out of love orthodox Lutheran churches reserve Communion only for those who have outwardly (through church membership) expressed complete unity of faith with us. If we let anyone partake of the Body and Blood, they may do so to their own detriment.

    And yes, this stems from the belief that there are differences between church bodies and that any doctrinal error is intolerable. Matthew 28:20 “[Teach] them to obey EVERYTHING I have commanded you.” Acts 20:27 “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you THE WHOLE WILL OF GOD.” Titus 1:9 “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

    • LutherCatholic

      Out of love? More like out of judgement. Who are we to deny the Lord’s table to other Christians who believe the same about the sacrament? This is nothing more than arrogant conservative politcs that descrates the Lord’s supper. It is the Lord’s table, it does not belong to the LCMS or WELS.

  • Yve

    I am currently a Catholic and have been a practicing one for all of my adult life, however at the age of 55 I am researching a possible alternative. I just have started reading about the Lutheran faith and about Dr. Luther. I find that what I have read so far of Dr Luther beliefs I can really relate to, especially

  • Angelo

    It’s amazing me how even within Chatolic or Luteran we have each person a slightly different bealive within our type of church, but yet so strong to put a leable to one to another if is from another “church” … As we sow their pastor correct one of them . I just think that is a matter of Faith on the moment we taking the communion . My curiosity on the difference within chatolic and luthereans is do Lutherans bealive on Jesus Marrie be saint as we chattholic do ?!!
    Since within hundred years she was the only woman been chosen from our same God, She was the one that gave birth to Jesus, the one that made Jesus do his “first ” miracle, the one that never abandoned / betrailed Jesus, and the only one that was with Him until his death , accepted immediately Him at his resurrection , ?!?

  • sharon

    I know the God called me to be a Chatolic but maybe I missunderstood. I beieve in the Holy Trinity,that Chist died for me as well as the whole world, would Lutheran’s accept me?

    • george

      Lutherans are a form of Catholicism just as Roman, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians are forms.

  • sharon

    I have gone to all communate classes and have attendend mass and Adodoration for almost a yr. However my priest told me I can not get sacrements cuz of divorce of myself and my husban’s divorces now. The priest actually said “you would be very old or possible dead before you can take the sacrements. I am 60 yrs old, one of the marriages took place over 40 yrs ago, they want what was our sexlife, how we dated and a host of other things I can not remember! This is so unfair. Do the Lutherans feel this way also?

    • LutherCatholic

      Sharon, Lutherans do not feel the same way. I do believe the priest who said that to you was out of line with Catholic practice, though another priest could answer that better. Lutherans discourage divorce, but for those of us who haven’t been divorced, we’ve fallen short some other way. We pray for forgiveness and we receive absolution at the beginning of every worship service as part of preparing to receive the Eucharist. If you go to an ELCA Lutheran church, we believe that it is God’s table and not our own – who are we to refuse the sacrament?

  • Kate

    There is a lot in the Catholic faith that I do not agree with. As far as divorce goes, stuff happens. Sometimes you cannot save a marriage if there issomething like abuse involved. But you can get it anulled which makes no sense to me especially if there were kids produced. You have to pretend that this part of your life doesn’t matter ? And for the gay issue, there are many gay people in my Catholic church. I also know some who stopped which to me is horrible. I guess that you evolve throughout the course of your life and maybe need more from something that can no longer give it. I beleive in God, Jesus and the Holy Family. Holy Communion is the core of my being but cannnot embrace receiving it is another church just yet.

  • Kate

    Kevin, I think it is sad that you felt this way. I have too. Church should have brought you together not separated you but all these rules meant you missing out on a life moment. I have been Catholic for over 30 years and I am so confused. It seems as if I believe what all these people are writing but it somehow doesn’t apply to me. Guilt ? They have rules over everything including sex in marriage. It is too much.

  • c. a.

    As a catholic, I follow most of what has been inculcated in me. I do not belief, though, that the pope is God messenger since it has been appointed by representatives of the human race.

  • Wayne

    Interesting discussion… Here’s my experience as a Lutheran taking Communion in a Catholic Church. I went to a Lutheran School/ Church, Missouri Synod and was Confirmed there. As I grew older I stopped going. Later on I married into a Catholic family and once our daughter was born she was raised as a Catholic at a Catholic school / Church that was just down the street where my wife also attended school / Church. My wife and I had both stopped attending our churches until our daughter started attending school. Eventually we started attending Mass on a fairly regular basis. I didn’t take Communion at first. But the moment came where I realized it wasn’t the same by not taking Communion. So I did several times. Being the Lutheran that I am I couldn’t help but wonder if I was doing something “wrong”. I knew there differences in the way it was observed and it bothered me the next time we went. I didn’t take Communion. The next week in Church I was conflicted about this and I prayed about it once I sat down. I wanted to take Communion but I didn’t want to feel so conflicted about what I was doing. Right after I raised my head the usher came up and asked if we wanted to present the Gifts. So we did! Several weeks later, once again I’m conflicted, I pray and once again we’re asked to present the Gifts. While all this was happening my wife’s aunt was sick with cancer and we attended a Healing Mass for her at a different Church. Again the same thing, I prayed about what I was doing and yes once again we were asked to present the Gifts. I haven’t wondered about it since…

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacob.snell.777 Jacob Snell

      Have you been baptized into the Catholic Church and made the sacrament of First Holy Communion? In order to take communion in a Catholic Church you have to have had First Communion.

      • LutherCatholic

        The Catholic Church recognizes sacrament of baptism in the Lutheran Church and vice versa. Lutherans also have first communion and confirmation. There is no need to be re-baptized.

    • MINDY

      This is so true. I was raised in an ELCA church. My mom was the treasurer there for over 30 years. It felt very much like being a pastors child. One of my very best friends since I was a child, is Catholic. I used to go to church with her when I spent weekends at her house. I think I was about 15 or 16 when I actually took part in the Eucharist at her church. I wasn’t sure what was right and what was wrong…so I figured I was better TO take it rather than not taking it at all. I had already been baptized and confirmed through the Lutheran church. I had told my mom what I did right away when I got home and she told me I should have only allowed them to bless me and skipped out on the Eucharist…that I was only to take holy communion through the Lutheran church. I am now 43 years old and it still bothers me. I didn’t see the harm in it since Lutherans were one time Catholics and the fact that we still pray to the Catholic church during our Lutheran services. Once I was told that I should not have done that, it has bothered me ever since. That may sound silly to many but it truly bothers me. Why would it be considered wrong given the examples above? Part of me feels I should talk to my pastor about it and another part of me thinks I just need to forget about it. It’s hard when I have carried that guilt for almost 30 years.

  • Jennifer

    Doesn’t the difference in communion come down to we, The Catholic Church, have the rite of Melchizedec?

  • gabriella knoefel

    ok im not sure what all those big words mean and im kinda young and all but iv been studying because there is this boy i like and hes lurtherin and im catholic and i was just wonering what the main differences where ar they about the same?

  • Kevin

    I was raised as a Lutheran. Although I have not regularly attended service since my late teens, I still hold to the religious beliefs I was raised in. Today my youngest step-son is taking his first communion in the Catholic church. I was actually looking forward to attending service again, but while discussing the matter with my wife last night she informed me that I would not be permitted to receive communion in the Catholic church. I thought she must have been mistaken. As a Lutheran I went through the Catechism, and I have attended services at Catholic churches before. Like so many others have said, there are more similarities than differences. Still, if I were to attend today I feel that I would be viewed as an outsider and this would cause tension within our family. For this reason I have decided that I will let my step-son know that I support him, but I will not be attending the service. I guess I’ll just view this as a reminder of why I don’t attend services anymore.

  • Gabriele

    I am 15 and was born and raised in a Catholic family, one that went to mass every Saturday night. Recently, say in the last 2 months or so, i’ve become so confused about what i really believe in, i’ve felt secluded. One big part of this was that I thought that the explanation of the holy eucharist was missing something. I have grown increasingly farther apart from the Catholic faith, and finally decided due to myself being so confused, to renounce Catholiscism. Im looking for guidance, and have been reading around alot, trying to figure out what i really beilive. And i always seem to end up back on page or a board that deals with the Lutheran faith. I was hoping, as a confused teen who is tying to figure out what he beilieves, for some insight into what the Lutheran faith is about. Im just asking if anyone has a good summary or points on what i should do, and also on the Lutheran faith.Thanks so much if you answer, it truly is appreciated.

  • CKS

    Troubled… I believe that if you believe that you are receiving the body and blood of Christ you are welcome to commune in the Lutheran church

  • Troubled

    I was raised Catholic and have received 5 of the 7 sacraments (all except Holy Orders and Anointing of the Sick). My husband is a non-practicing Missouri Synod Lutheran and we decided together to raise our two children as Lutherans. I have been attending a Lutheran Church and send our boys to Lutheran school for the past 8 years. Just recently the pastor of the church we attend retired, he knew my position and that I was raised and confirmed Catholic but allowed me to participate in the Lord’s Supper. I also receive communion at Catholic churches (weddings, baptisms. We now have a new pastor and I am confused as to whether I am invited to the Lord’s Table anymore… I need to speak with the new pastor and make him aware of my position, but I am afraid I will be rejected. I’m not sure I am ready to comletely let go of my Catholic identity, it has been a part of me for over 30 years. On the other hand, I love the Lutheran beliefs, values, teachings and community. Does anyone have any advice for me??

    • http://www.facebook.com/jacob.snell.777 Jacob Snell

      As a devout Catholic at 14 going to a Catholic school (Immaculate Heart) I say go back you can be Catholic and your husband can be Lutheran. My parents never go to Church they are Catholic, but un-active so I walk a mile and a half every week to go to mass. Enough said… I love mass that much. And who wants to go to a service go to MASS. I have a friend (an older women) who is Catholic and married a lutheran man too she goes to Mass on Sunday he goes to a service on Sunday and they let their kids pick what they want to be they have 2 boys and 1 girl the 2 oldest kids picked Catholic and the youngest decided to become Lutheran. “Be anxious for nothing,
      but in everything by prayer
      and supplication with thanksgiving
      let your requests be made known to God.
      And the peace of God,
      which surpasses all comprehension,
      shall guard your hearts
      and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
      Philippians 4:6-7

      The father the son and the Holy Spirit
      May the Holy Spirt wisper in your ear your help may the peace of Mary, Jesus and his holy Spirit be with you always

    • http://twitter.com/armdogg armdogg

      Read the Word of God for your answers. Seek God’s answer, through scripture, before accepting mans’. The Holy Ghost will make your way clear through prayer.

    • LutherCatholic

      You should not be rejected. I would talk to the pastor. If he does actually reject you, consider talking to an ELCA Lutheran pastor. The Mo Synod tends to be very conservative and you will be welcomed openly in an ELCA church.

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

      lutherans accept freemasonry, where as catholics do NOT! i see in todays paper a lutheran church is glad to announce the memorial service for a person who passed and will do all the shrine and blue masons lodge burial rituals, inside the church. so i would say there IS a BIG difference. one allows you to become unequally yolked with non christians. and the other will x communicate you for being a member of either frayernal lodge that requires blood oaths of harm against a christian.

      • LutherCatholic

        Freemasonry is not a major difference between Lutherans and Catholics. Most Lutherans reject the Masons far more thoroughly. There are far more Catholics in the Masons than Lutherans. Not that it is accepted by the Catholic Church. The main difference between Lutherans and Catholics centers are around the authority of the Pope. But Lutherans and Catholics have far more in common than different. Some of the things we have in common: The 1999 Joint Statement on Justification, Holy Baptism including infant baptism, the Trinity, the three ecumenical creeds, liturgy, the real presence in Holy Communion, the Ten Commandments, the pericopes, original sin, ordained ministry, clerical vestments, the altar, that the altar is the center of worship (rather than the pulpit), candles, stained glass, crucifixes/crosses, and most importantly that Jesus,the Son of Father, died on a Roman cross and rose from the dead to redeem us of our sins. And that is just to name a few.

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

        i dont accept any religion that will unequally yolk its followers. so any one church that will accept a false light or its followers, i am afraid is NOT for me. i will keep my belief in Christ. and not some grand architect.

      • Dorothy

        What is this unequal ‘yolk’ of which you speak? (3 separate posts) Who are these believers with egg on their faces?
        If you mean ‘yoke’, which is harness-like and inhibits free movement, no one can force you to accept anything. The challenge seems to be to keep one’s faith while maintaining civilized discourse and listening to the ideas of others. Somewhere out in Cyberspace, I came upon a rant by someone who kept quoting VERY long-dead Popes as the ultimate authority for everything, of course decries Vatican 2, and ‘cringes’ every time a Protestant is called a Christian. Sounds like a whole lot of bitter cringing goin’ on–wonder how that works for him?

  • jim scheffel

    Tt has seemed to me for a long time that rules, church doctrines and practices, etc., are constructs of men. I was raised in the Lutheran church, and still hold a belief in that, by His grace are we granted faith; so if we acknowledge that and maintain our trust (and ask forgiveness) we are forgiven and saved; once and for all.
    All of the other religious structure on earth, regarding various liturgies,and communion practice are constructs of man.Indeed Paul was just a man. No man, even his desciples, can and never could, know the mind of God.
    Does anyone really believe that Father God is concerned about religious practice in a building? C’mon- he knows whats in our hearts. In my view,we “commune” every time we pray earnestly.

powered by the Paulists