Two recent things have led me to think about our Catholic belief in the Eucharist. First, this Sunday’s gospel contains John the Baptist’s testimony of Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (see my homily). Secondly, a couple of different people have asked about the rules for receiving Communion for non-Catholics and for Catholics who have not repented of their sins.
To understand the teaching of the Catholic Church on receiving Communion we must first understand our Catholic teaching on the Real Presence. Our Catholic faith teaches that the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. It doesn’t look or taste any different so why would we think it is changed? Our belief in the Real Presence flows from Jesus’ own words at the Last Supper when he proclaims this is my body… this my blood… Do this memory of me (Luke 22:19-20). We believe the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus because Jesus said so. We don’t need to know how it is changed to believe. Then we turn to the Bread of Life Discourse in chapter 6 of John’s Gospel to read Jesus’ words explaining why we must eat his Body and drink his Blood.
When we come forth to receive Communion, we profess our belief in the Real Presence. If a non-Catholic doesn’t believe in the Real Presence, then they are not to receive Communion. What about non-Catholics who do believe in the Real Presence? In our Catholic understanding of reception of Communion , not only does it signify our belief in the Real Presence, it also says we believe in the other teachings of the Catholic Church. In effect, we are in communion with the Church when we believe what the Church believes. This also leads us to why Catholics who continue to sin with no sign of repentance are not to receive the Eucharist (Code of Canon Law 915). If one does not repent or does not see their sin as such, then one is not in full communion with our faith.
We don’t like to tell people what they can’t do. We don’t like to tell people we don’t share their beliefs. Being honest about the teachings of our faith and the Real Presence isn’t meant to reject or offend anyone. It’s being truthful to what Jesus has taught to us. Everyone is welcome to attend Mass but these are our rubrics for receiving Communion.