“All Are Welcome,” sings one popular Catholic hymn. Despite the efforts of your local Catholic parish to install Greeters and be friendly, the rule on Communion remains Catholics Only. Catholic weddings and funerals are especially awkward. Why would Catholics be so un-welcoming as to distribute Communion at such events and explicitly not allow everyone to participate? Some Protestants feel stung by this treatment – they are Baptized, they have a relationship with Jesus (probably better than most Catholics do) – and yet they don't feel welcomed at the Lord's table. It's a question that cannot be answered satisfactorily by catching the priest after Mass. The full answer involves Sacramental theology and 500 years of Church history. Here's an attempt to provide a satisfying answer without the intricate details.
More Than Just Receiving Communion
The Catholic Church does not see Communion as something you just receive. Communion is something you enter into. In fact, sacramental Communion (the Eucharist) is really a renewal of a Communion that began at Baptism and deepened at Confirmation. Catholics have made and are renewing a commitment to serve Christ in and through the Catholic Church until death. You see, the Latin word sacramentum referred to the oath that a Roman soldier took to be faithful even until death. So Catholics understand this Communion as a life-long commitment. Breaking Communion is considered a very serious offense. You don't want to enter into a communion you have no intention of keeping. If Baptized Non-Catholics truly entered into Communion, they would not be able to go back to their old churches; they would have to remain as Catholics until death. This isn't a step to be taken lightly while politely attending a Catholic wedding or funeral.
Do You Really Want Communion with this Church?
It seems strange to me that people take offense at this. Have you forgotten that we are the Catholic Church? We are the ones who slavishly obey the Pope, who pray to Mary every day, who teach that our priests can forgive sins, who worship the Eucharist, who make images of saints and set them up in our churches, and teach about Purgatory and Indulgences. Protestants have serious objections to the Catholic Church that date back centuries. If you have good reasons not to be Catholic, then you also have good reasons not to receive Communion in the Catholic Church. They are one and the same thing; they go hand in hand.
Everyone is Invited into Communion
Everyone is invited to Communion in our church. But we do not welcome a one-night-stand attitude where you enter into Communion and then walk away. A true sacrament is a lifelong commitment. Why not start small: join us in praying the Rosary, in fasting on Fridays of Lent, in reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the Stations of the Cross, in obeying the Pope and the Bishops, and in line for Confession. And if you are comfortable with all those things, then by all means enter into full Communion. We love to share with others the treasure we have found in the Catholic Church. All are welcome.
- Especially for Non-Catholics: Guidelines for the Reception of Communion
- Especially for Catholics: “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper”: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist