Taking Communion when not Catholic – UPDATED

Taking Communion when not Catholic – UPDATED August 20, 2009

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!

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