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Lorraine wrote:

Hi, guys —

I converted to Catholicism many years ago although recently I visited a non-Catholic church in my area. When they passed the communion tray, I did not take it but passed it on because I was taught as a Catholic, you should only accept the Eucharist.

  • How do I answer people that look at me strange and question why I didn't receive communion without being offensive?


  { When visiting non-Catholics, what do I say when they ask, why I didn't receive their communion? }

Eric replied:

Dear Lorraine,

Good for you for not receiving communion. I had a similar experience; I went on a hike with Episcopalians who had a Eucharistic service at the top of a mountain. They passed communion and I passed it on, and then they passed it back to me, insisting that I partake! When I explained that I was Catholic, their rejoinder was that so-and-so was Catholic too, and he received. That was awkward.

The way to answer people is to say that for Catholics, sharing communion is a sign of the deep way in which we are united in the same faith and belief. Because we don't share the same beliefs with Protestants, we can't share in their communion and they can't share in ours (under most circumstances). Moreover, we don't even believe the same thing about communion — they believe (excepting Lutherans and some Episcopalians) that it is just a symbol. We believe it is truly and really the Body and Blood of Christ.

  • How can you share such a deep, meaningful sign if you don't even agree on the essence of what it is or means?

Historically, the concept of communion has been used in ancient churches to define who is, and who isn't, part of the same recognized body of believers. Individual communities that recognized full intercommunion with other communities, by doing so, recognized that they belonged to the same church. To excommunicate a community indicated schism and ecclesiastical separation from the Body of Christ. Churches used to keep records of those that were in communion with lists called diptychs. A community that went awry was stricken from the diptychs indicating that there was no longer intercommunion. It's an identity marker.

Catholicism is actually made up of several churches sui iuris, as it is called, (22 of them). These are Church hierarchies that function in their own way. By extending intercommunion to these churches, the pope recognizes that they are all Catholic and part of the Catholic Church. So to be able to mutually and freely share communion means, for us, that both parties are fully Catholic and agree on the same faith. This is called being in communion with one another.

That's a long explanation. The short explanation is that we have such radically different concept of communion that it is not appropriate for us to share their communion or them to share ours.


Lorraine replied:

What a great answer!

I mean I already knew that when we receive Communion, what we receive is the Body and Blood of Christ! but, to have you explain, or to read it, hit me with an a—ha moment!

Thanks so much!

It just makes me feel so blessed and privileged to be Catholic!


Eric replied:

Glad it helped!


Bob replied:


You can simply say that, as Catholics, we refrain from receiving communion there because for Protestants, the understanding of communion is different, than our understanding.

If they ask why, then you can explain there are two reasons:

  1. One it is an expression of unity that is not complete—we are a fragmented church and separated in ways our Lord doesn't approve, so receiving the Protestant communion would be falsely testifying to a unity that doesn't exist.
  2. Secondly, we Catholics believe in the actual transubstantiation of bread and wine into the actual Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This can only be done by an ordained priest who is in true Apostolic succession (Catholics and Orthodox).

That said, you may get more questions. You should be able to explain why we believe in the Real Presence. To study up on that, you can find some help on our website and through other resources if you need them.

Best wishes and God bless.

Bob Kirby

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