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Why Can’t Christians of Other Denominations Receive the Eucharist in a Catholic Church?

A Christian listener named Jennifer asks Father Dave for clarification regarding who can receive the Eucharist in a Catholic Church. She explains that she is a lifelong Methodist, but periodically attends Catholic Mass and struggles with the Catholic Church’s teaching on receiving the Eucharist.

She says, “I’ve been really listening to this SiriusXM channel for about six months. I have friends who are Catholic, I’ve been to [Catholic] funerals, and I felt that I could not [receive the Eucharist]. It’s an interesting thing, because the Methodist Church has an ‘open table,’ and it’s a little bit of a hurdle for me in diving deeper.”

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Father Dave begins, “One of the basic ways we approach this is that we see the act of sharing Communion together as not only symbolic of who we are, but that it affects communion. Even for us Catholics, you have to be in communion to receive Communion.” Being in communion means sharing in the Church as a fully initiated Catholic in good standing.

He explains how other Christian churches see this differently. “Different denominations [say] even if we’re not in communion, let’s offer the hospitality like you would if somebody came to your house, and that is certainly a way to approach it,” Father Dave says. “Theologically, Catholics believe in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist…Therefore, we would believe that other Christian churches don’t have that same presence. So to be in communion in order to receive Communion, we would say again, even for ourselves as Catholics, if somebody has committed such a sin during the course of the week that it is broken in communion with the church, that they should not present themselves to receive Communion.”

While Catholics can return to communion in the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Father Dave explains how this is not as simple with other denominations. “What we believe happened 500 years ago is that the Methodist Church eventually sprang out of a breach in communion through the Protestant Reformation,” he says. “We would believe that today because that has not been completely healed, we shouldn’t share this Sacrament because it means so much to us about the communion that we have with one another.”

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“[The Eucharist] is held to that high a standard, and it’s different for us than welcoming people into Church,” Father Dave continues. “I would hope that we would do a good enough job with hospitality; people should feel that they are welcome in that space. In the same way that if I go to a mosque or a temple, I realize when I walk in, yes, people are welcoming me, but we’re not the same. I am not in full religious communion with them, so I would not expect that I should be able to do everything that a member of that community would do.”

He acknowledges that this feels different in Christian churches because we have many things in common, but we are still not fully the same. “At a synagogue, I wouldn’t expect to be called up to the front to take a pointer and read from the Torah, because I’m not Jewish. Yet the times that I’ve been to those places, I have felt welcome. That distinction of ‘Yes, you’re welcome here. But you can’t do this because you’re not a Jew’ has never made me feel unwelcome there,” Father Dave says. “This is not me telling people how to feel, but I often think that it rests on us as Catholics to reiterate what it is that we’re being hospitable about. We should overemphasize our welcome and make the distinction between ‘you’re welcome here in our place, we value you, and we believe a lot of the same things that you do if you’re a Christian,’ and yet say, ‘we do draw a line and here’s why we draw that line.’”