My oldest sister recently attempted to dispute the idea that Catholics can not participate in Protestant services. Though she still claims to be Catholic, my sister often attends a Baptist church on Sunday. She says she also attends Mass, but she goes to the Baptist service on occasion. I pointed out to my sister that she can not take part in the service, and my sister became indignant.
My sister apparently feels that all Christians should be able to attend and participate in each others’ services. Her error is more common than you might think. There is this idea that all Christians are on an equal footing. A Christian is a Christian, right? So why can’t Catholics and Protestants share in each others’ communion?
For Catholics the answer is simple. For Protestants and Catholics to receive communion together would be a lie. It would suggest that we are actually in communion together, and we are not.
Catholics believe that the elements of bread and wine become the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Without getting into the nuances of Protestant theology, most Protestants either believe in a purely spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or they believe the “Lord’s Supper” is purely symbolic. Some don’t even use bread or wine. Further, Protestants do not have a legitimate clergy that could consecrate the elements.
When we look at the gospels, we find that the Holy Eucharist is an essential part of the Christian life. John 6, 1 Corinthians 11, and others clearly demonstrate the Real Presence of Christ. If we can not agree on this essential element (and many Protestants do not believe that the Holy Eucharist is essential), then we certainly can not claim to be in communion with one another.
This is why we can not participate in the reception of communion with Protestants. The very word “communion” denotes unity. To participate in communion with those whom we are not in communion with is to give credence to a lie. In fact, it is a very serious lie. The gospels are clear on the importance of unity among Christians. If we are not in fact unified on all the essential elements, then we must not give the impression that we are united. My fellow Catholics, avoid Protestant services! Love them. Pray with them, and for them. Do not, however, participate in Protestant communion!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity