Taking Communion when not Catholic – UPDATED

Rick at Brutally Honest, for whom I have a deal of affection, and he’s been a a provocative read for years, has been away from the Catholic Church for a long time.

He and his wife have now decided to partake of Holy Communion within the Catholic Church, although without the sacrament of Confession or any sort of adherent “membership,” in the church. He feels free to do this, because “no man has a right to stand between another man and Jesus.” He believes Jesus would not turn him away, nor his wife.

I am not quite certain I understand whether or not Rick and his wife believe that the Blessed Sacrament of which they are partaking is the Real Presence of Christ – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus – or if they think it is a very powerful symbolic communion; that seems unclear to me. But in sharing his thoughts on the matter, Rick has basically put up his dukes and said, “tell me why I can’t; would Jesus turn my wife away?”

The Priest then said that this is how the Lord’s Supper should be viewed by all baptized Christians. That baptism is the price paid for all to come and partake. I was a bit taken aback. He did not say baptized Catholics. Perhaps he meant to. Though I was baptized Catholic and though I might’ve partaken if he had said instead baptized Catholic, I know that he instead said Christian.

A joy came over me. And I willingly, and guiltlessly, went and communed.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping, Mrs. BH will be joining me as I go back to Mass. And, I believe, as a baptized Christian, she will be welcomed to the Eucharist. Some will disagree I’m sure. And some may let their disagreements be known. Fine. But what would Jesus do?


Okay, a little background: here is what Jesus said in John, Chapter 6:48-61

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

And here is what St. Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 23-29:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Okay, anyone who has read me for a while knows I hate apologetics. But having just come off a retreat where I was so deeply humbled by the Presence and Merciful Love of His Majesty, I feel compelled to respond to Rick’s question.

I meant for this to show up in his comments thread, but for whatever reason, it would not. (Btw, the “sudden overnight” I mentioned yesterday is turning into a “sudden two nights” so, I may not be here to respond. I just ask that folks leaving comments be respectful.)

This is my rather fast and off-the-cuff response to Rick, meant for his comments thread.

Hi Rick! You asked: Would Jesus turn your wife away?

Jesus was an observant Jew who followed the rules of Judaism, and when he healed a leper, he told the leper to partake of the prescribed cleansing and show himself to the priest. And while he welcomed all, he never said, “mow down others and their rules” to get to him. Jesus never said “disrespect authority” (especially authority he himself put into place) to get to him. When the hemorrhagic woman dared to touch his cloak, he still wanted to know who had approached him in faith; he still wanted her to account for herself and her approaching him. He healed her. He had mercy on her. But he wanted her to declare herself to his face, and before all the rest. It was not enough for her to simply be anonymous in the crowd, and partaking of him for herself.

My question is, if you want mass and you want specifically Catholic Communion, do you or do you not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Communion? If you do – if you can accept that great mystery – why would the rest not follow, including the sacraments and Paul’s anger against those who “eat and drink of the Body of Christ unworthily?”

If you do not believe this is the Body, Blood Soul and Divinity of Christ, then why would you (regardless of the goodness of your heart) go into a church, say, “no, I don’t believe this is the Body and Blood of Christ but you’re going to let me and my wife have it anyway!” I’m thinking there is not great or edifying love, there. And THAT attitude, more than anything, should get in the way of your receiving communion. I’m not sure how receiving communion with a heart full of love for Christ and defensive disdain for the rest of it equals adequate spiritual comportment for the reception of His Majesty’s own Body and Blood into your own body, your own blood.

People like to say Communion is “a meal” and “a banquet” and it is those things, but it is much, much more. Communion is a face-to-face, one-on-one with Christ. It is actually intercourse with Him, too, in the sense that he comes into us and we become ONE FLESH. He is the bridegroom and we, his church, the bride. This is nothing to engage in lightly.

I have long thought that “no one should stand between a man and Christ” and once even wrote a short story about it.

But we ourselves have a responsibility to stand between ourselves and the reception of Christ in the Holy Sacrament, if we are not rightly disposed toward receiving him. That means not only that we be free of the stain of grave sin, but that we also bring ourselves to him in humility, and part of that humility is to consider all of scripture – including Paul’s admonishments – and not simply take what we want and leave the rest.

It seems to me that in a mature and respectful faith, if you want what the Catholics have, you go about partaking it the Catholic way. To do less is profoundly disrespectful and, dare I say it, immature. It would be like me coming into your house, sticking my head into your fridge and grabbing the thing you’d prepared for a family event, scarfing it down and saying, “what, it’s for everyone, right? Why should I wait? Why shouldn’t I have it now, when I want it?”

If you want Catholic stuff, be a Catholic. If you don’t want to be a Catholic, don’t take their stuff. Especially don’t take their stuff while saying, “screw youse, I’m taking your stuff, because it’s deeply meaningful to me, but all the rest of your stuff is stupid.”

No one can stand in your way to Christ, but I have to wonder what Christ thinks of that. “Happy to be with you and in you, Rick, glad you love me; I love you too. Can we talk about how you’re treating the Catholics, now? If you’re not willing to take the ritual bath of confession and show yourself to the priest, should you be doing all this? I love you, but you know, that doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you. ‘Go and show’ is like ‘go and sin no more’ – I said these things for a reason.”

I hope you will rethink your “gorging at the banquet” because Communion is more than a meal. And the priest who told you this is the gift to every Christian is both correct and incorrect. Communion is Christ’s gift to every Christian. But there are ways of reception that are clearly spelled out, not written thoughtlessly or capriciously but reasoned and prayed about over many years, by the very church Christ himself instituted through Peter and the apostles and their successors.

Jesus either meant the things he said or he did not. He either meant that we were supposed to actually eat his flesh and drink his blood, or he was just (uncharacteristically) talking nonsense, but he did not try to clarify himself to those who rejected that message as “too hard” to take. He didn’t say, “hey, wait, you guys…I was speaking figuratively, not literally!” He either meant that Peter had the keys to the kingdom and was the head of his church on earth (‘what you hold bound on earth, is bound in heaven…’) or he was (again, uncharacteristically) saying nothing that needed heeding.

If Jesus didn’t want a church for this stuff, he wouldn’t have started one. How can you go to communion and say, “Jesus I love you and am happy to commune with you, but your church kind of sucks…”

That is of a piece with saying, “God, I believe you’re big enough to make the world in six days, (or in one instant) but don’t believe you can turn bread and wine into your Body and Blood.” These things either are or are not.

I say all of this in peace, and with a good deal of affection. But I think you and your wife, being hungry for Jesus in the Eucharist, need to consider that you are not the only ones involved, here.

You are engaging in a great mystery of ponderous depth. Jesus is also involved. So are the people around you who are withholding themselves from Communion because – for one reason or another – they know they are not currently in a fit state to welcome His Majesty into themselves. You might call that “the church standing between Christ and a person.” Some of us might call that, “giving Christ his due.”

Part of being Brutally Honest, Rick, it to be able to be brutally honest with yourself. I think you would not have gone out of your way to write this – and to engage in comments – if you did not know, within yourself, that you are NOT being 100% honest on this issue.

“No one can come to me, unless the Father draws him…” Jesus told us this. If you are being drawn to Him in Communion, through the beckoning of the Father, and if you believe that you are receiving the Body and Blood of Christ – and if you want this in its fullness – why not at least explore the idea that you are being drawn forward for a purpose beyond your immediate gratification, and that this drawing forward is not meant to be a half-measure?

The Holy Eucharist has real power; it is the Source and Summit of our whole life of faith because it is truly the physical Presence of Christ, under the appearance of bread and wine. It is frankly, not to be messed with. For God to have placed a hunger for this within you suggests that God is working powerfully in your life. But God cannot contradict himself, and there are no negatives in Christ, which suggests that one cannot receive Him in Communion while harboring negative notions and then expect the full imparting of grace, blessing and completeness one seeks.

These things either are, or they are not. What you believe of the Eucharist you are receiving should compel your behavior beyond anything your human reasoning (no matter how gifted-and-faulty) can devise. If you believe the Eucharist is Holy, that it is the true Presence of the All in All, then you must go all in, or you insult His Majesty and lessen yourself.

If you do not believe it, then what are you doing?

All offered in peace, Rick. You know my affection for you. But I do pray you’ll rethink some of this, prayerfully. I pray you’ll take your questions to Jesus and let him tell you the answer.

I just posted something at my site last night that you might find interesting: “he is letting me touch him!” is wonder, reverence and humility. His Majesty deserves it all. We cannot give Him all due reverence and humility if we are simultaneously defiant to our surroundings.

Related: President Clinton took Catholic Communion, President Bush did not

Linked: Our pal, Fr. James Martin, who seems like he’s just run into a restaurant yelling, “fight, fight!” has linked here and added a great photo. I’m sure the comments will get “hotsy” over there, as they did yesterday when Fr. Jim wrote about the Tulsa Bishop’s decision to go ad orientem!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Memphis Aggie

    Today the Mass reading was the wedding parable, the one where the person without the proper garments is tossed out. Confession is like putting on the proper garments; it shows respect and humility before God. Taking communion without basic respect is presuming an entitlement rather that respecting the incredible undeserved grace of His self-donation.

  • Christine

    Thank you Ms. Anchoress, for tirelessly standing up for Church teaching, especially in this posting about Mr. BH. I think he is right in that Our Lord loves him and wants him back, but it is just arrogant to walk up and take what is so infinitely precious and generously offered. I ask Mr. BH if we, assured of his generosity, can waltz into his kitchen any time we like, day or night, without asking, and certainly without washing our hands. He wouldn’t want us to go hungry, right?

  • Okie

    I think the biggest thing is we are worried for this man’s soul and his safety. Its true Christ could let you just go on this one…or he could kill you, like St. Paul reports.

  • Gayle Miller

    Confession is also the act of approaching the bridegroom with a soul that is pristine in its condition – or as much so as we poor humans can manage.

  • Judith L

    As a baptized Christian and confirmed Anglican, I would not presume to receive the Host in a Roman Catholic Church unless specifically given permission by the presiding priest to do so. The Eucharistic doctrine of my church is Real Presence. But, what Real Presence means to some is not what it means to others. I believe that Christ is really there. But my church is not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church and until it is, I must respect the Roman Catholic Church’s restrictions. BTW, the slippery slope is always with us. Many Episcopal Churches, including some in the diocese where I reside, do not even require baptism of a communicant. How that can be defended is beyond me.

  • Zophiel

    A lovely post, dear Anchoress. This actually hits on some things I’ve been pondering lately, specifically the incredibly intimate nature of the Eucharist, and what a truly mind-blowing thing it is.

    So, thank you for helping to clarify my own mind ^_^!

  • Peggy Coffey

    How is it that Catholics can pick and choose what they want to believe. True Catholics believe in the teachings of Jesus, don’t they? But quite a few voted for Obama, knowing he believes strongly in abortion, and many of them agree with him on that. Murder is murder and I don’t think the church should allow them to take communion or be a Catholic. Just as the bishops and priests who cherrypick what they preach, as long as it is something they believe in. Do they care what the Pope says? It doesn’t sound like it. I guess I don’t understand the Catholic church.

    [I think you're confusing individuals, and their individual consciences and reasoning abilities, with the Catholic Church as a whole. Lots of people who call themselves Christian voted for Obama. -admin]

  • Gayle Miller

    And the way you feel Peggy is how a lot of the Catholic laity feel as well! Don’t consider yourself to be alone in your confusion. I am planning for a 10 day absence from work right now due to some surgery, and am accumulating books that require quiet reading time for my time off recuperating. Many of them are on the practices and customs of a church in which I grew up, which I thought I knew intimately, having survived 11 years of Catholic school, but still, I’m a bit in the dark! Welcome to our world!

  • Bill

    Just to agree with Memphis Aggie about today’s Gospel.

    If everything stated in the post is true, correct, and accurate, Rick is now in the position of the guest without a wedding garment. The wedding garment is sanctifying grace. If he and his wife have “been away from the Church” for a long time, that would make the condition of their souls with regard to sanctifying grace a real concern. “Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” Not words one would want to hear, especially considering what comes next.

    In his homily this morning, Father pointed out that getting the wedding garment and putting it on was the responsibility of the guest. In other words, we ourselves must attend to the condition of our souls. Jesus extends the invitation to the banquet, but he expects people to show up in the proper state. As another priest once said, Jesus saves, but you have to cooperate.

    It’s not the priest standing between a person who is not in a state of grace and Jesus. It’s the person who is the impediment.

    I hope Rick is listening. “Harden not your heart …”

  • Andrew B

    I worked one summer in a Boy Scout camp where the staff was 99% Catholic. I was the other 1%, although the Camp Director, a Catholic Monsignor, made me an “Honorary Roman” for the summer.

    I attended Mass every Sunday, I even read some of the prayers (I’m an Anglican, so I could fake it pretty well). The only thing I did not do is share in the Communion. Wanted to, but I knew that it would be wrong to put my preferences ahead of Church teaching.

    As for the “Who would Jesus turn away?”, it is becoming the most tired, overused cliche in the playbook. I receive daily emails from an old acquaintance that always include “Who would Jesus deprive of government healthcare?”, and it has worn out its welcome.

    The Bible can be a terrifying book, and no parts more terrifying than some of Christ’s pronouncements on exclusion from the Father’s presence. Lots of stuff in there about sheep vs. goats, burning chaff, unworthy servants, gnashing of teeth. It astounds me that people can skip past all that to find Jesus the Purple Dinosaur waiting to give each and every one of us a hug.

  • http://www.comeaway.blogspot.com AngloCathJoi

    How would being obedient keep one from Christ? I firmly believe that Christ would be present in the obedience, and that adhering to the rules can be a glorious sacrifice of self.

    A couple in my church has been married for years; he is Catholic, and she is Anglican. Over the years, they have carefully navigated the uncomfortable and red-tape bound annullment process for their previous marriages, and followed canon law in good faith. It’s been very difficult for them. But simply watching them move forward in faith and obedience is a blessing to those who know them.

    In the words of Samuel the prophet, “Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
    Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.”

    The passion for the Eucharist is admirable. The response to seize and take is not.

  • Elaine d

    Lately at mass I have begun to really feel how very very holy and special communion is. I am almost shaking when I get up to receive and it is apparent to me that when you fully digest and know that you are receiving the real body and blood of Christ it is life changing.
    It is hard for my non-Catholic family and friends to understand. I returned to the Church after many years away and it was the best confession I have ever had in my life because I wanted to come back. I hope Rick and his wife will do the right thing.

  • http://sharp-edge-of-the-sphere.blogspot.com/ Tigger23505

    I hate to do this but I think that the correct word here (Jesus was an observant Jew who followed the rules of Judaism, and when he healed a leper, he told the leper to partake of the proscribed cleansing and show himself to the priest.) is prescribed not proscribed. Prescribed indicates that a practice is a rule. Proscribed has the sense of a practice that is forbidden.

    Beyond that I think that an ordinary sense of decency requires an observance of the forms – I’ve been in many Catholic Churches for family celebrations – Christmas , Easter …. as a Methodist I find it much smarter to not partake of Communion since I follow a different rule of confession than that of the Catholic church. On the other hand, there are several nominally protestant traditions that are close in practice but not precisely catholic. If one is bound and determined to follow a non-catholic rule on confession it seems to me that a non-catholic communion is the best plan.

    [Was writing very fast, thanks for the heads up -admin]

  • dellbabe68

    ““Happy to be with you and in you, Rick, glad you love me; I love you too. Can we talk about how you’re treating the Catholics, now? If you’re not willing to take the ritual bath of confession and show yourself to the priest, should you be doing all this? I love you, but you know, that doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you. ‘Go and show’ is like ‘go and sin no more’ – I said these things for a reason.”

    In this, you find the right words, said in the right spirit, to get the important point across. Well done!

    While I am not a perfect Catholic and far from it, I do think that if you want to belong, you need to make a concerted effort at communing entirely, not selectively. That means a lot of things, but one most assuredly is going to Confession and taking part in Mass regularly. I want to disclose that I received the Body and Blood for a lot of years without going to Confession, and I was wrong and only half commited (I should further disclose I am now only three quarters commited – results wise- on most days!) I do sympathize with your friends because they are making an effort, and who knows, we might get another Curt Jester out of it (Atheist to Orthodox – or some such distance – in half a lifetime)! But in the meanwhile, it’s admirable (and crucial) that you, Anchoress, share what you know and defend the Faith. It wasn’t “thrown together” for no reason. Thanks for doing it with care and wit.

  • Bender

    He feels free to do this, because “no man has a right to stand between another man and Jesus.” He believes Jesus would not turn him away, nor his wife.

    I wonder why they call it “communion”? Could it be, in part, because you are uniting yourself to others (Christ and other faithful) in a very particular way. Seems to me that the attitude of doing your own thing your own way, even when contrary to the Church, is the very antithesis of communion.

  • Myssi

    Okay, I have a serious question for you and your readers: You may safely assume that I believe in the presence of Christ in communion. You can’t have communion with someone isn’t there. Taking that as a given and that I am not a Catholic as a given, could you please explain to me what the Biblical basis for confessing to your parish priest is? I fervently believe that I have to have a clean conscience before God before I partake in communion, but I fervently believe that I can accomplish that between God and me as long as my sin hasn’t caused offense to someone else. (“If your brother has something against you, leave your sacrifice, and go make right.” That’s a paraphrase of Christ, but it’s close.) I don’t understand why confession to a priest should be necessary. Please help me?

  • http://moss-place.stblogs.org Peony Moss


    Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession when, after the Resurrection, He breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

  • Bill

    Myssi, Peony Moss has given you the basic scriptural reference. There is a great deal more, if you are interested enough to pursue the answer.

    I highly recommend this book:

    Scott Hahn. (2003) Lord, Have Mercy: The Healing Power of Confession. New York: Doubleday. ($14.95 at Amazon, $9.95 if Kindle)

    Scott Hahn is a former Protestant minister who converted to Catholicism. He had exactly the same objections to Confession as the ones you have stated — until he read the Bible more completely and discovered that what the Catholic Church teaches about this Sacrament is absolutely backed up in Scripture. He also explains the Catholic reliance on Tradition as part of God’s word, and how Tradition also supports Confession — and has since the days of the Apostles. He will give you all the proof you need, unless you have decided that no proof can ever be enough.

    I will say a prayer for you on your journey.

  • PackerBronco

    I don’t understand why confession to a priest should be necessary. Please help me?

    I think the scriptual argument given above is a good one. Let me give a psychological one. The action of Confession is an apology. It is the perfect apology. Now what goes into a perfect apology? A statement of what was done (complete with no shading of the facts or special pleading), an acknowledge of why the act was wrong, a sincere promise to never to do so again, and finally an act of restitution.

    All of these facets of the perfect apology (and thus Confession) are actions. They involve the will and the body. They’re also very humbling. A perfect apology requires you to humble yourself before another and that means you have to have a degree of courage. When I sin, part of me doesn’t want to go to Confession. I have to off the mask that wear all day and bare my soul to another person. But in that action, I find grace.

    Now you say, “well why bother with the Priest, just do that in your prayers to God.” Can’t you see how easy that is? Where’s the courage needed for that? God already knows what you’ve done and he loves you, so why are you telling him what he already knows?

    You see Confession isn’t telling God anything new; it’s telling yourself something. There’s a world of difference between saying to yourself in the safety of your own head, “I am a sinner. I have done wrong” and saying it to a fellow man.

    But whom should we entrust with hearing such a statement? And whom can we entrust to say to you: “You are forgiven” and “Here is the restitution you must perform”? Not to just anyone. It has to be someone who has offered his life to Christ who has made a commitment to honor God and to honor your confidence.

  • James

    And remember the story about the priest helping to transport the Ark of the Covenant. When it began to fall, he reached out his hands to prevent it from falling, and was struck dead because of it. But he was just trying to protect it! …what’s so wrong with that? What is so wrong is that it was the wrong thing to do in the wrong way. And the Eucharist is the very Body and Blood of God, not a man-made article like the Ark was. It sounds so old fashioned, a myth from our forgotten magical totems of our past. Except the writers of the Old Testament felt compelled to include it to address the holiness of the things of God.

    Please watch where you tread, as it sounds so very much like presumption.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/shanasfo shanasfo

    Jms:5:16: Confess therefore your sins one to another: and pray one for another, that you may be saved.

    Consider that the only person you can confess sins to, and be assured of forgiveness, is to one whom Jesus entrusted the duty to forgive or bind sin. He didn’t entrust the whole Church with that duty, just the disciples gathered in the upper room, and upon those on whom He breathed and sent out. (Jn 20:19-23). We know it was upon 11 of the 12, since we know that Thomas, one of the 12, was not present in 20:24.

    Binding and retaining sins is serious business, because it is the direct action of God (“Who is this man to forgive sins?” Lk 5:21) and it isn’t given to all to do.

  • Chris


    I have a small issue with your phrase, “as long as my sin hasn’t caused offense to someone else”. All sin hurts the Church, even if it only means hurting yourself (well, and God too), as you are part of the Church. It would seem natural, after hurting the Church, to get forgiveness from the Church.

    I know you were looking for the Biblical basis, but Catholics do not consider the Bible, the infallible Word of God, the sole source of our beliefs.

  • Chris

    Ack – I read it over twice, hit “Submit”, and see something that can be misread. Just to be clear: Catholic consider the Bible the infallible Word of God, but not the sole source of our beliefs.

  • Tom Cabeen

    Here is how Justin (Martyr), a second-century Christian, born when some of the apostles were still living, describes Christian worship in his day:

    “But we, after we have thus washed [baptized] him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled…each of those present partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced… And this food is called among us ‘the Eucharist’ [meaning "thanksgiving"] , of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.

    For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”

    This description, written early in the second century, fully supports your comments. Belief in the fullness of Catholic truth, and conformity with it in our lives, has always been a prerequisite to sharing in the Eucharist.

  • http://adremsv.blogspot.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    Whenever I hear someone say… “What would Jesus do?”… I cringe because it is always used as an excuse to diminish sacred tradition and Catholic identity. What they really are asking is… “What would I do if I didnt believe in the authority of the Church?”

  • Mary

    I am a fairly recent convert to the Catholic faith from the Anglican Church. First, to Judith L, I do not think you are correct, at least not about the historic Anglican (Episcopalian) teaching. The Anglican Church very early adopted the Thirty-nine Articles which expressly state: “Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture…and hath given occasion to many superstitions.” Of course, neither the Canadian Anglican nor the American Episcopalian Churches take the Thirty-nine Articles seriously any more, but they were the founding statement of faith of the Anglican church, so technically the Anglican church still does not accept the Real Presence, whatever various clergy or laity may teach or believe.

    As for the post, thanks very much for this. I find it difficult to answer non-Catholic friends who have shown considerable hostility to the Church’s rule that only Catholics can receive communion. Your discussion is helpful, although, unfortunately, the idea that any rule that offends us can be disregarded because God wouldn’t offend us no matter what we do, think, or believe is a persistent one. I wonder if your post will have any effect on the thinking of such folks!!

  • http://adremsv.blogspot.com/ Irenaeus of New York


    In short, we need confession because we sin. St. Paul warns us not to partake of the Eucharist unworthily because it is profane to do so.

    “In church confess your sins, and do not come to your prayer with a guilt conscience. Such is the Way of Life…On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
    Didache, 4:14,14:1 (c. A.D. 90).

  • Dr. Dale

    Wonderful response Anchoress, not condemnatory nor laissez faire either. Very Christlike. Your site is a real class act when compared to other very judgemental sites!

  • Scott Hebert

    Packer: I like the psychological argument you give, but I use it the exact other way.

    Yes, a confession must be humbling, but consider what happens in ‘private’ prayer. Private prayer is between you and God. Theoretically, one can give a confession to God; God clearly can forgive sins.

    However, you also point out (rightly) that telling another person is a humbling experience, and this is part of the nature of Confession.

    If telling another human being is humbling, how much MORE SO can telling the omnipotent Creator? Something I can say is that I find Confession _to a human being_ so humbling that I rarely avail myself of the opportunity (among other reasons; yes, that makes me a bad Catholic). What are the chances that someone, in their private prayer, can actually attain the same humbling requirement towards their Creator? Theologically and theoretically, it’s possible. Practically speaking… less so.

    Recall that everything done in history has been done, by God, for our benefit. While it is inarguable that God can forgive sins, it is _also_ inarguable that God’s appointed followers can forgive sins.

    In other words, Confession was made for us, not for God. God does not need a stand-in to forgive us, but I believe His wisdom that we do. There are many reasons (social and psychological among them), but uppermost is that we are only destined to meet God’s burning love and justice after we can truly face it; that is, after death.

  • Dan LaHood

    if they are attracted let them come, the Trinity will do the rest.

  • Diane

    Thank you for this post. It answered some important questions I’ve had.

  • Dan

    Before Jesus, there was a forerunner who said repent. Repent came first. Jesus also used that word. Repentance comes before forgiveness.

    I remember our priest addressing this very question. He said, let’s take for example you have this very sacred, very special place, how long would it stay sacred and special if everyone went there. How would you fell about sharing that place with someone and that went, “Huh, what’s so special.”

  • YogusBearus

    …and when it’s all said and done, and as lovely as our traditions are, there really isn’t anything that approaches a personal relationship with Jesus Christ in importance.

  • Mary Stamm

    Oh my, I am a divorced Catholic. My first husband was Catholic, so I assume my marriage is still “in effect” in the eyes of the Church. However, I am now married to a true
    Christian who has actually brought me closer to God and to Jesus than I have been in many years. We go to Mass (he had taken some classes on Catholocism), participate, and I do take Communion. My feeling is that God would rather have me take communion rather than just sitting there in church. As background, my Mother was truly a saint on earth – a devout Catholic who married my Father at age 40 (never married befoe). My Daddy was a Christian (but non-Catholic), so she was not allowed to receive the Sacraments during their marriage. I was raised Catholic, and my Mother was only allowed back into the good graces of the Church when my Daddy died. That really upset me. My Mother was always a teacher, and when Daddy died, she returned to that profession in a parish school. I remember her telling me about how the Pastor decided who would be accepted into the parochial school, based on what each family had contributed. Then came Vatican II. I felt very alienated from the Church in which I had grown up. My children were baptized Catholic, attended parochial school off and on (based on finances). But it wasn’t until I met and married my current (almost-Catholic) husband that I truly accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior! So, where do I stand in the eyes of God??

  • doug

    You argue over something that is between Rick and God…..I would rather have you know that when Rick and his wife partake communion, there are angels in heaven rejoicing and singing…
    to devolve that to….”rules”….escapes me..
    Neither Rick nor his wife’s state of mind are your business…I also remind you of the prodigal son….
    “hey honey…nuthins on TV, how ’bouts we go down and partake communion….”…Please….
    Rick, you are ok and God loves you and your wife very much!!!!!

    [I fail to see where I ever implied that God does not love Rick and his wife. On the contrary, I suggested God was "working powerfully" in his life. I also do not see where I presumed to know what was in his mind (I made it very clear that I was quite UNCLEAR about what Rick was thinking or what he thought of the Holy Eucharist) and I would never in a million years have written any of this if Rick himself had not written his post and then specifically linked to it in a newsgroup I belong to, clearly looking for feedback. I did not just happen upon his blog and decide I must comment. I was invited to read and see where Rick "was at" by Rick himself. -admin]

  • John L. Shea

    If you love me you will keep my commandments. John 14:15.

    Jesus gave us the Church to help us on the journey home. The Church has been divided since the 11th century but the fact remains that no mortal can undo what God has created. The Catholic Church offers all that is needed for salvation. While our brothers and sisters of other traditions may believe in the Real Presence–they clearly do not believe in the Church. The Eucharist is what defines us as Catholics and it is what sustains us. If others want to partake of the Eucharist, I hope that they will be honest with themselves and investigate what the Church has to offer them.

  • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick

    I’ve responded at my site but I’ll post that response here:

    UPDATE: The Anchoress has posted a response after being unable, for some reason, to comment here. It’s long, it’s comprehensive and it suggests that I, and Mrs. BH, have committed a grievous error, that we have disrespected The Church and that we may very well have wrought judgment upon ourselves.

    I am at a loss quite frankly as to how to respond. I’m certainly not feeling the love of Christ from his Bride The Church, at least as represented by the devout in the Catholic Church.

    At this point, I can only conclude, reluctantly, that perhaps Catholics are correct, Catholicism may not be for me.

    [Rick, I hope to respond to you this week when my own life calms down a bit, but I must say I am surprised to see you accusing me of presumption when I have made it very clear in my piece that I was very UNCLEAR about where you stood with regards to the Holy Eucharist or what you believed or did not believe. You specifically put that post out on the newsgroup, so I assumed you wanted some feedback from a Catholic perspective, and all I tried to do here -I thought with stated affection- was give that feedback to you. I must have missed the part where I said you were consigned to hell. Possibly because I said no such thing? :-) Actually what I said (among other things) was that God was working powerfully in your life, and I asked you to prayerfully reconsider your stance and do some praying. How you have interpreted that to mean I think you're a horrible person who has wrought all sorts of judgment upon himself, I don't quite understand. Feeling a bit "judged" myself. And while you may not believe it, I have taken lots of guff from Catholics who think I'm a terrible Catholic. These "fundamentalists" exist everywhere, and among Catholics they tend to think the Pope isn't as Catholic as they are. I'm surprised to find myself among their number, as they are usually busily dunking my own head into the toilet. -admin]

  • Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for The Anchoress — A First Things Blog [firstthings.com] on Topsy.com()

  • Richard L.

    I’m disappointed that The Anchoress considers this arrogant bastard worthy of mention. She may be too gentle to honor the Body of Christ but I have that duty in my Parish as Head Usher and Grand Knight.

    If I was aware even my best friend was considering this blasphemy he would never get before the priest. If he caused trouble my parishioners would stand beside me and he would be escorted out in whatever condition his attitude required.

    There is no compromise with the Truth.

    Anyone who responds to that as did Pilate doesn’t belong in a Catholic Church.

    [And how very edifying and helpful that was, Richard. :::rolling eyes::: Perhaps try it again, in a kinder key? -admin]

  • ThomasD

    Partaking of a sacrament without adhering to the tenets of the sacrament is simply not Catholic, nor even catholic.

    Call it whatever you will, but it is like equating listening to an MP3 to attending a live symphony.

    As with all things, there simply are no short cuts. Do it your own way if you must but please do not seek my acknowledgment, much less my approval.

  • Caine

    I hope that Rick’s comment above doesn’t mean he’s taken offense at the heartfelt correction he got from The Anchoress. Love is not just light split into a rainbow – it’s the complete electromagnetic spectrum. And like em energy, the most powerful bands may not reveal what we want to see, but they certainly make the universe do it’s thing.

    Follow-up question: If Jesus’ love is so forgiving, all-inclusive, and awesomely sweet, how come there were only a few people at the foot of the cross?

  • Maureen

    I know, love makes you do crazy things. But mature adults harness love to do sane things. I’m sure you went through lots of preparation before your First Communion. Don’t you want to give your wife the chance to prepare? Don’t you want to give yourself the chance again?

    The wholeness of beauty and love stretch before you, waiting. But Christ waits until the proper moment to end the world, and the Bridegroom waits until his wedding to lie beside the Bride. And all we are asking is that you make peace with God and your brothers in the Church before you receive — which the priest could do for you in a quarter hour or a few weeks or months, depending on the situation. Pretty short engagement; nothing like Jacob and Rachel.

  • skeeter


    When I was Roman Catholic, I held similar confusion over this topic. I have found an answer in Orthodoxy that was never offered me in Catholicism. (I do think that the RC church may hold this same position, however…) The position of the Orthodox Church, who believe in the Presence in the Eucharist, believe also that we are the body of Christ, and our commitment as Christians is both to Christ and to one another. Frederica Matthews-Greene explains the Orthodox position in her article “12 Things I wished I’d known before first visit to an Orthodox church.” I’m an idiot with respect to html stuff, but an excerpt of her article is below.

    (This might look familiar to any Catholics over 50.)

    But the reception of the Eucharist is an affirmation of our being part of this Body of Christ – and I have seen Orthodox priests refuse communicants unknown to them, blessing them instead, as they were unprepared and ignorant of what we proclaim, and claim, by partaking of the Eucharist.

  • skeeter

    TOLD you I was an idiot about HTML, I put “” around the article, and, what do you know, it disappeared! This corrects my comments, I hope!


    When I was Roman Catholic, I held similar confusion over this topic. I have found an answer in Orthodoxy that was never offered me in Catholicism. (I do think that the RC church may hold this same position, however…) The position of the Orthodox Church, who believe in the Presence in the Eucharist, believe also that we are the body of Christ, and our commitment as Christians is both to Christ and to one another. Frederica Matthews-Greene explains the Orthodox position in her article “12 Things I wished I’d known before first visit to an Orthodox church.” I’m an idiot with respect to html stuff, but an excerpt of her article is below.

    [Visitors are sometimes offended that they are not allowed to receive communion. Orthodox believe that receiving communion is broader than me-and-Jesus; it acknowledges faith in historic Orthodox doctrine, obedience to a particular Orthodox bishop, and a commitment to a particular Orthodox worshipping community. There’s nothing exclusive about this; everyone is invited to make this commitment to the Orthodox Church. But the Eucharist is the Church’s treasure, and it is reserved for those who have united themselves with the Church. An analogy could be to reserving marital relations until after the wedding.

    We also handle the Eucharist with more gravity than many denominations do, further explaining why we guard it from common access. We believe it is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. We ourselves do not receive communion unless we are making regular confession of our sins to a priest and are at peace with other communicants. We fast from all food and drink—yes, even a morning cup of coffee—from midnight the night before communion.]

    (This might look familiar to any Catholics over 50.)

    But the reception of the Eucharist is an affirmation of our being part of this Body of Christ – and I have seen Orthodox priests refuse communicants unknown to them, blessing them instead, as they were unprepared and ignorant of what we proclaim, and claim, by partaking of the Eucharist.

  • Robbin

    Seems like I’m nit-picking, but the title should be “Receiving” Communion. None of us takes Communion. We receive it from the hands of the priest (or not-so-extraordinary-because-it-happens-every-Sunday extraordinary minister of Holy Communion).

  • CaliforniaGold

    Mary – I believe Judith L is correct. Anglicans do believe in the Real Presence in the Eucharist, but not in transubstantiation (the actual changing of the bread and wine into body and blood), but consubstantiation – the Body and Blood of Jesus exist with, around, and in the bread and wine of the Eucharist – it is considered a mystery of the church exactly how this happens, but the Real Presence is there (just not in exactly the same way the RCs believe).

  • cathyf

    I’m certainly not feeling the love of Christ from his Bride The Church, at least as represented by the devout in the Catholic Church.

    We do love you, and we want you. And part of what we want for you is the great joy that comes from the sacrament of confession and from the reconciliation that it produces between you and Christ and you and the church.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Here’s a story:

    I used to belong to a very liberal Episcopal Church. This church, through hard work, managed to build up a brand new church, in a beautiful Renaissance style. They thought it would be nice to raise some money by performing weddings in this lovely new church, and hosting receptions, for everyone, not just Episcopalians.

    Oh, man.

    I won’t go into the belly-dancing bridesmaid here, or the fist fights, or other bad behavior indulged in by the church’s guests. These people wanted a church wedding, but without, well—all that religious stuff. They wanted the setting, but not the meaning.

    What’s significant here are the horror stories about unprepared, and unbelieving, people being given communion. (The Episcopal church offers communion to all baptized Christians.)

    There was the man who staggered to communion drunk. In fact, there were quite a few men, and women, who communicated while—ahem!—inebriated. There were hosts, spat into dinner napkins, or the rosebushes outside the church. There were people making a scene before the altar about how DARE you offer them communion! Is this Christian brainwashing? And so on. After about 6 months, this formerly liberal, tolerant Episcopal church was becoming downright Orthodox about Communion, even publishing a list of rules for proper reception.

    Sometimes rules are there for a reason. Religious people are not necessarily being closed-minded, or mean, in insisting on them.

    Receiving Communion is not, and should not, be a casual act. And, no, Jesus doesn’t reject anybody, but you will get much more out of communion if you prepare for it. If you can’t be bothered with such preparation, you need to ask yourself, A. Is communion really important to me? and, B. If it isn’t that important, why should I bother with it?

    If you don’t agree with a particular denomination’s rules, then what are you doing there in the first place? If you don’t want to make the effort to become a full member, and participate completely in its liturgy—again, what are you doing there?

  • Bender

    In the case of sacramental confession, all appearances to the contrary, you really are not making your confession “to the priest.” You are making your confession to God.

    The priest is not present in his personal capacity. Rather, he is present and acts in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. And it is because there is someone there, physically present, that one can, not merely confess ones sins, but receive tangible absolution, that is, tangible evidence of forgiveness (or withholding of forgiveness if the necessary contrition is lacking).

    Remember what the nature of a “sacrament” is — an efficatious outward visible sign of the invisible reality of the conveying of grace. In the case of the Sacrament of Confession (i.e. Sacrament of Penance), you have (1) the outward, tangible, visible signs of vocally confessing out loud, which on a practical level makes the confession more concrete, rather than merely theoretical or merely a passing thought; and (2) the priest, acting in persona Christi, giving absolution, which is an outward, tangible, visible sign of the invisible reality of forgiveness by Christ and grace to avoid further sin.

    In giving absolution, it is not the priest who forgives, but Christ. Father So-and-So has absolutely no power whatsoever to personally forgive sin. Only God can forgive sin. But, having received the authority of Christ to act on His behalf in imparting the Sacraments, Father So-and-So does have that power by Christ through the Holy Spirit.

    It is actually a rather ingenious system that Jesus set up. Although we do have a spirit, we are also bodily creatures, and we experience and come to know things by and through our bodies. As human persons, we need a physical act involving our bodies for us to know that something has actually happened. We can say that we don’t need that, that we have faith and that faith alone is all we need, but as a practical matter, we are all Thomas and we all need to see and touch in order for us to know for certain. Especially when we are dealing with the transcendent and spiritual, we need some outward sign for us to authentically know the reality of the transcendent. A “sacrament” is such an outward sign.

    Moreover, because we are not merely spiritual beings, but are body and spirit, for something to involve us and impact us only on a spiritual level is to engage our being only partially, rather than engage the whole of our being, soul AND body.

    A prime example of this is the Eucharist, i.e. Holy Communion. Now, we can stay at home and pray to Jesus and, in that manner, obtain a spiritual communion with Him. But to be spiritually in communion with Jesus is incomplete communion — it is a union with Him in only a part of our being, and only a part of His Being. In order to be fully in communion with Jesus, in order to be fully joined in union to Him in the entirety of our being and the entirety of His Being, we must be in communion, not only spiritually, but bodily. Our spirit joined with His Spirit, our body joined with His Body. One can obtain the whole and complete communion — communion in the full and true sense — only by receiving the Eucharist, the real Body and Blood of Christ. Only then are we joined with Him in the entirety of our being.

    Likewise in the other Sacraments. Only because there is an outward visible sign that acts upon, not merely the spiritual component of our being, but upon the bodily component as well, only in this way is the grace imparted upon the compete entirety of our being.

    Without the Sacrament of Confession, where one confesses to God in the presence of the priest who then has the authority to convey absolution, you have a confession that is merely potential and, hence, you have forgiveness that is merely potential. When one “confesses” merely to oneself or secretly in the recesses of one’s mind, merely thinking about the sins, even though one may feel remorse, it is really only a possible confession. Until it is reduced to actual words that are actually spoken out loud, so as to give them a reality that goes beyond mere thought, then it is merely an idea. And without the confession being a reality, without the contrition/repentence being reduced to a tangible reality, there can be no forgiveness.

  • Bender

    Well, I hope my response a few moments ago simply went into Comment Purgatory for a while, and is not eternally lost in the abyss. I’ll wait a while to see if it shows up and, if it is the latter, post it again. (Of course, this one will probably disappear into the internet ether as well.)