Sometimes around big holidays we find ourselves in conversations with friends and family who might be attending Mass with us but are not Catholic.

In today’ world, to say “no, you can’t do that” is tantamount to telling someone they are the scum of the earth with no freedoms.  So, when it comes time to explain to them that they cannot receive communion, it gets awkward quick.  I’ll share my experience of what has worked in helping communicate the magnitude of communion, since in a desacralized world it can be hard to understand a sacramental people like Catholics.  And, its good for you to have to be uncomfortable in affirming the truth – comfort breeds indifference.

Oh, and I’m presuming that they are of the American religion, which is a blend of self-help, prosperity-means-God-loves-me, and sentimentalism.  It makes very little demands, and goes well with a Starbucks coffee.

First, make sure to point out that Protestant denominations do not believe in the Real Presence, and simply explain that we do not think that the Eucharist is a symbol or mere memorial, but the true presence of Jesus – its really Him and no longer bread after the consecration.  John 6 and 1 Corinthians 11 are helpful, but you might not have a willing audience or a bible on hand.

Next, if they still press in a bit, I let them know that the reality of our situation is that we are not in communion.  It might hurt now, but the historical fact is that we are divided.  This does not mean that we are permanently or in all ways possible divided, but we are not in communion, so to share communion would be a sort of lie.  My analogy here is that two parents that are in reality fighting and divorced should not put on a show in public that it’s all fine.  It’s not.

I like to add that the first step in union is not pretending the division does not exist, but acknowledging that it does.  It is the pain of separation that propels us to reunion, not boiling beliefs down to a common denominator.  The mutually compromised are rather uninspiring.  If it hurts a bit, it’s good; it might just inspire us to pray for the unity of Christians.

Lastly, if they push a bit further, and perhaps even say that those divisions don’t matter to them, I like to use my old friend John’s analogy of England and America (thanks John!).  The fact is that Protestants broke from the Catholic Church.  This happened, and unless you are an Orthodox or a Catholic Christian you are basically an offshoot of Protestantism.  If you deny these roots, then its time to sever them and become Catholic, but just popping back over to the Catholic Church and asking for communion is like an American going over to England and asking to vote.

“But, your’e not a citizen,” they say.

“Oh, c’mon!  That was long ago and I really want to vote.”

“Well,” they answer, “we can’t pretend that your little revolution a few centuries ago didn’t matter, so if you want to be an Englishman, renounce your citizenship and join us!”

Hopefully, that brings understanding, or even better, maybe they’ll consider coming home.  If they don’t get it yet, tell them to get over their entitlement attitude and give it up.

  • IAmFish76

    Jesus invites us all to his table. Shame on Catholics creating division.

  • John Cowan

    Quite right as to the Anglicans and also the Methodists, but Calvinists, including the C of S and its offshoots, hold that the Presence is spiritual only. In particular, Calvin said that when unbelievers receive they get nothing from it, mere bread and wine, and the elements that are unused can be disposed of any way you like, since nothing objective has happened to them. That’s inconsistent with Catholic/Orthodox/Anglican/Methodist understandings.

  • chaplaindl

    I suggest skipping the insulting “Oh, and I’m presuming that they are of the American religion, which is a blend of self-help, prosperity-means-God-loves-me, and sentimentalism. It makes very little demands, and goes well with a Starbucks coffee.” Minimizing or demeaning the faith of Christians who express their faith differently from yours is not likely to lead to unity or even harmony.

  • Charles Saliba

    May I ask:

    What is the difference between a protestant who is a believer, and a cradle Catholic who is not a believer in any religion at all, he keeps this matter to himself, and receive Our Lord regularly, simply to please his family, and to avoid conflicts,within the entire family and the community.
    I experienced this situation when a particular person within the family admitted this to me.

    • CoJoGo

      The thing to remember is the Catholic that is unbelieving doesn’t change the fact that the Protestant doesn’t believe in the true presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ the Holy Eucharist and therefore, should not receive.
      Theologically, someone else would be more qualified than me to answer your beloved family member’s reception of the Eucharist. I used to think that, once I became Catholic, I was free to receive, even though I hadn’t yet accepted the truth of Who the Eucharist is. Now I think that was wrong but I could only explain it through 1 Cor 11:29 – “For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” – but I’m not sure the Church would take that hard line.

      Anyone that understands that theology better?

      • Charles Saliba

        The thing to remember is the Catholic that is unbelieving doesn’t change the fact that the Protestant doesn’t believe in the true presence of the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ the Holy Eucharist and therefore, should not receive.

        I asked: What is the difference between a protestant who is a believer…….. and since he deliberately receives the Eucharist definitely believes in it, No? That’s what I meant when I said a believer.

        Hence the reason that he never converted to Catholic is not related to the Eucharist, but for other reasons, which are irrelevant.

        Then I asked that a cradle Catholic who is not a believer in any religion at all, an atheist, receives the Eucharist to avoid conflicts within the entire family and community, for the sake of PEACE.

        Now what is the difference between these two, which as I see it when these two persons face Jesus they both had GOOD INTENTIONS, and FAITH In what they did.

        Jesus died for good intentions, and faith!

        Not for the law of the flesh of Moses.

        It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh counts for nothing.

        Hence the spirit of these two persons is GOOD and definitely Jesus’ with respect of these scriptures here under:

        Romans 14:19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what LEADS TO PEACE and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. ( IN OUR CASE THE EUCHARIST) 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do ANYTHING ELSE that will cause your brother or sister TO FALL!

        So the Catholic who is not a believer AT ALL ONLY IN HIMSELF, is doing good, NO? OTHERWISE he would cause others to do likewise. .

        22 So whatever you BELIEVE, ( IN OUR CASE THE FOOD WHICH LEADS TO ETERNAL LIFE) about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn HIMSELF by what he approves. 23But whoever has DOUBTS IS CONDEMNED if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

        Hence they both believed that they were doing good. No? They do not condemn THEMSELVES by what they approve.

        Matthew 5:8Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.

        Both are clean of heart!

        9Blesses are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.

        Both are peacemakers!

        I believe that if a protestant believe in the Eucharist he should ask forgiveness to Jesus, and receive the Eucharist, as simple as that!


        John 3:36 He that believeth in the Son, hath life everlasting; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

        The above scripture is as clear as crystal: Who believes in Jesus has eternal life!

        The protestant believes in the Eucharist.
        The Catholic believes in his good intentions for peace. Jesus’ motto!

        Hence they both will face

        JESUS DIVINE MERCY He is the judge! I would do both if I was in their place.

  • Thankful Catholic

    Thank you for your very interesting article. As I read through it, I kept thinking of the huge mistake /error made by Bergoglio joining in on the celebration or preparation for celebration of the 500th year anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation as if now all Catholics should ignore the breaking away from the Catholic Church by the Protest-ants. Your friend’s analogy of England and America got me thinking.
    I remember before Bergoglio met with the Lutherans, I wrote that it was as preposterous as the Queen of England joining in on America’s 4th of July, Independence Day (independence from England, that is!), celebrations!!!
    Can you imagine royalty from England celebrating America’s independence from England on some huge anniversary? Somehow, I cannot see English royalty co-celebrating with America on a 4th of July Independence Day, for instance for a future anniversary in the year 2,026 honoring 250 years of independence from England !!!
    As I write, I keep humming the 1976 song by British Elton John for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of America’s independence from England…”Philadelphia Freedom”!

    Sadly, we shouldn’t be glossing over the differences between Catholics and Protestants to somehow smooth it all over and make it alright. There are whole beliefs to be acknowledged, as you wrote of in your article. For instance, you wrote about belief in the Real Presence. If Protestants want to receive the Holy Eucharist, they must believe in the True Presence and become Catholics.

    I’m writing this as the loving daughter of a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. The Truth will set us free…not a glossing over of the truth. Thank you for your thought provoking article. God bless you.

  • TYPO: “we can’t pretend that you’re little revolution”

    • Christopher Helle


  • RissyAnne1

    I like the “citizenship” idea. I’ll add it to the one I already do, which has seemed to REALLY help. I explain that when they go up they are actively saying that they believe that the host up there IS the Body of Christ. That to walk up and receive it is to proclaim their belief in the Holy Catholic Church. Many, on this alone, will say…”Oh I don’t know that I want to do that”…because if you are honest, you don’t try to proclaim something you don’t believe in just to look as though you belong. So now I’ll add that it would be like them renouncing their belief in what they currently hold and aligning themselves with the Holy Catholic Church.

    • Pattie Brown

      Exactly the tack I take, that if you go to Communion you ARE proclaiming the True Presence and that you want to join the Catholic Church….and if SO, I’ll be glad to arrange instruction so that you can go through RCIA and then join my family when we receive!! Almost always works, but I am for SURE ‘borrowing’ the voting in Great Britain analogy…

      • WaitYourTurn

        You would be wrong. Protestants sometimes find themselves worshipping in Catholic churches in fellowship and in respect to their Catholic friends–which sadly seems not to be reciprocated. If as Anne posts Catholics and protestants are not IN COMMUNION therefore protestants should not partake in the sacraments begs the question on the flipside of that coin. Any protestant present during a Catholic communion ceremony means the entire body is not IN COMMUNION and no Catholics should participate either, correct? Catholics do not own communion, neither do they own scripture, therefore the authority to deny is a simple pugnacious choice that you would never see a protestant reciprocate with.

  • TFB

    Mr. Craig, Great Blog – just stumbled on it from a Facebook link. Wonderful explanation, and I Love the UK analogy! I also thank Cameron for the very good comment below. I’m a recent convert and can’t get enough of great stuff like this!!

    Something similar I heard on EWTN Radio some time ago, was the complaint from a Protest-ant that “Jesus wouldn’t exclude anyone from his table”, and their counter, much like your thesis and Cameron’s comment, was – yes he would, because taking the Eucharist is an affirmation that we are in FULL Communion, and as Protest-ants, you most certainly are not. But IF you think you already ARE, or you desire to be, then RCIA classes are starting soon!!!! 🙂

    • Pattie Brown

      oops, noted the same above before seeing your comment! Great minds and all that, I guess…

    • Cameron

      Great emphasis on the ‘Protest-ant’, which is very accurate to the nature of the split.

  • Cameron

    Cool article, Jason. I’d agree on all points.

    John 6 is always an immediate go-to for me, particularly with Protestants who profess Sola Scriptura. Not only do I bring this up, but I always mention that in Greek, Jesus refers to the ‘eating of His flesh’ as an ‘animal-like gnawing’, or, “trogos” in Greek (if I’m not mistaken). When a Protestant hears that, it’s hard to refute that Christ was being very literal when He commanded us to eat His flesh and drink His blood.

    Another great take I’ve heard on it is that when we approach Christ in the Eucharist and the Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist proclaims “The Body of Christ” or, “The Blood of Christ” while uplifting the host and/or chalice, we say, “Amen”, which is an exclamation that we affirm and wholly, concretely believe and recognize that communion is indeed the Body, Blood, Soul, & Divinity of the Lord and that we are willing to die for that exclamation as Catholics. With a take on the Eucharist like that to a Protestant, it becomes clear it’s not symbolism and it helps them understand the magnitude of the situation.

    • yW3xPB

      Not “Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist”. Only priests/bishops are “Ministers of the Eucharist”.

      Deacons, priests, & bishops are ordinary ministers of Holy communion. All others are extraordinary ministers of Holy communion.

      • Cameron

        Ah, thank you for the clarification.

    • danno2281

      “Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist proclaims….” Sounds like the extraordinary has become quite ordinary, contrary to orthopraxis.

      • John Cowan

        “Extraordinary” in this context is from Latin “extra ordinem”, outside the normal rules. For instance, any person, including even non-Christians, can be an extraordinary minister of baptism (provided that they intend to baptize, use running water on the forehead, and do so in the name of the Trinity), but most baptisms are done by ordained persons throughout Christianity.

      • Cameron

        I would agree with you.