Visitors to Catholic parishes often complain that they may not join in
communion at Mass. Many other denominations welcome all who profess faith in
Christ to the communion table, but Catholics have always restricted who shares
the meal. For those who practice hospitality at home by setting an extra place
at the table for visitors, the Catholic custom gives offense.
However, Catholic communion is just that, a sign of Catholic unity. The
Eucharist symbolizes our union with God but also our union with one another.
Many groups use a symbol to identify their members. Students wear school
jackets. Scouts earn medals. These customs give groups signs of association.
When a new member joins the group, the symbol frequently becomes part of the
rite of initiation, a sign of transition, and a source of pride. Those baptized
in other communions who make a profession of faith with us may be received into
the full communion of the Catholic Church. Their communion becomes the high
point of their transition into membership.
Ordinarily, Catholics do not share communion at other churches, nor do other
believers share communion in Catholic churches. Exceptions exist, but they are
rare. In danger of death, for example, or in some grave necessity, non-Catholics
might receive permission from a Catholic bishop to receive communion. If they
do not have regular access to their own minister, ask for Catholic communion on
their own and express a Catholic faith in the Eucharist, they may obtain
permission to receive communion.
Theologians debate the possibilities for full communion while ordinary
families find themselves separated by what often appears to them as small
differences in their beliefs. The more unity we find among ourselves, the closer
all Christian churches will come to resolving the differences.
(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY,
copyright (c) 1996, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be
reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to
(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO,
holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo