When Communion is Like Sex Outside Marriage

Patti Maguire Armstrong

I looked down at the half loaf of French bread that had just been handed to me. The Evangelical pastor had called it the body of Christ. It was the night before elections and a dozen comrades in the battle to pass a prolife measure were gathered to socialize and pray together.

Half of us were Catholic. The couple hosting the gathering had invited their pastor to have communion. The day before, a friend told me there would be communion, but since I arrived late, my hope was that it was already done. But now, I stood in the circle with French bread in my hand, wondering what to do. Two people had already grabbed a chunk and it was my turn. I was the first Catholic in line. I pulled off a piece and held it.

I knew why non-Catholics could not receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Church, but what about the reverse? I was never in that situation before. No one thought it was really the body of Christ, so was it okay for me to eat some French bread among friends to remember the Last Supper?

My friend grabbed a chunk while the others simply passed it on. When everyone was told to go ahead and eat it, I slipped mine into my pocket. Some lucky squirrel could enjoy it later.  My friend just squished her piece in her hand so it could disappear easily onto a snack plate.

Now the pastor turned to the little plastic cups; some with grape juice and some with wine. (Moments earlier when I saw them on the counter, I thought we were going to do shots in honor of all our hard work.) No way could I slip a cup into my pocket. “I have to pass,” I said when someone offered me one. The other Catholics did the same.

Confused

I was happy to pray with my Christian brethren. We were treated to some inspired prayer and camaraderie. The non-Catholics in the group must have wondered what was up with the Catholics not partaking in communion. The fact that two of us took some bread probably confused them even more. I left the house at the same time my friend did. We talked outside a bit about our uncertainty about the communion. Then, we got into our separate cars to return home.

“Participating in Holy Communion without belonging to the Church is like having sex outside of marriage,” the voice of Fr. Larry Richards reverberated from my car stereo. It was turned on to EWTN Catholic radio. “The word ‘communion’ is from community,” he said. “It means that you agree with the teachings of that church. You can’t take part in communion if you are not a member of the community.”

I called my friend. “Hey, did you have Catholic radio on?” We laughed. God’s timing, no doubt.

The Teaching

The next morning, I looked up the rules regarding communion for Catholics attending non-Catholic ceremonies. Canon Law 844.1 states that, “Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments only to Catholic members of Christ’s faithful, who equally may lawfully receive them only from Catholic ministers.”

Communion among our separated brethren is presented as either symbolic or in memory of the Last Supper, rejecting Catholic teaching that that the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ. In effect, they are correct because Apostolic Succession—priests descended in an unbroken line from the original apostles—is necessary to consecrate the bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

All four Gospels and 1Corinthians retells the Last Supper and reiterates that Jesus said to “Do this in memory of me.” St. Paul warned the Corinthians against receiving the Eucharist unworthily in 1 Cor. 11:27-29. Would eating a piece of bread bear such serious consequences?

Jesus was very clear when he said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (John 6: 51). He reiterated that the food he speaks of is his own flesh and blood. In John 6:66 the followers that could not accept such a hard and confusing teaching from Jesus left him. “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”

Working alongside other Christians in the fight to defend life is a true blessing. We share a great unity in our love for God and the unborn. I pray that one day, we will be fully united in Christ.

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8 thoughts on “When Communion is Like Sex Outside Marriage”

  1. Excellent article. Thank you for so clearly articulating the issue. I was baptized Catholic, then raised away from the Church in a non-denominational church, and finally returned to the Catholic faith as an adult. My family’s tradition is to read the Christmas story from the gospel and have communion on Christmas Eve. My dad is an ordained minister in his church and takes his faith very seriously. He also believes in transubstantiation, just as the Church teaches. He doesn’t understand why my family and I will not participate in communion with him since we believe the same thing. I had to be very careful and precise in my explanation that I believe in one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and therefore needed to act upon that belief in the Apostolic succession our Pope, Bishops and Priests enjoy. My dad is not in that Apostolic line, therefore we cannot commune with him in his communion ritual.

  2. Pingback: Pontifical Vesture: Putting on the Full Armor of God - Big Pulpit

  3. Although Catholic, I was the PA to an an Evangelical Anglican Clergyman until he retired recently.
    Once, I had to attend a communion service and communion at which he was officiating, and it was handed round in the same manner, but more formally (hosts on patten, etc). It just made me cry as I passed it on.

    Also, one of the most moving things was I knew a couple in an irregular marriage. She was Polish Catholic, he was nominal Anglican (baptised but never went to Church before he met her). He had been married before, although when they met, he was already divorced, so their relationship in no way had any bearing on the breakup of his previous marriage.

    For fourteen years, they came to Mass, every week, but never received Communion. That used to sometimes make me cry, too, when I saw them just sitting there in the pews whilst I was waiting in the ‘communion line’. It was such a powerful witness, and why, if in that state, one should not receive.

    Last year, I was privileged to be his sponsor in RCIA, but it was so sad owing to the situation. Easter came, and we were only able to tell him he was ready, but that was it…

    But, early this year he received an annulment, and I was privileged to be his sponsor at the Vigil Mass as he was received into the Church – and they were married in the eyes of the Church on Easter Monday! It was so moving, and the whole scenario, was such a concrete example of the faithfulness, mercy and redemption of God.

  4. “I pray that one day, we will be fully united in Christ.” < Never going to happen as long
    as religion keeps people apart. And this is one of the reasons why it is on the decline.

  5. If the meaning of accepting the bread and wine in that circumstance implied that you are a member of that church or subscribe to a particular theology, then I would not partake. If it is intended to be a more casual event with no real implication of it being anything more than ordinary bread and wine, then I would just take it as a snack among friends. You know your catholic faith and are committed to it, so that is what is important.

  6. When asked if I have accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, I respond that Yes I have and then I ask “When is the last time you have eaten the flesh of Jesus and drunk His blood?” Usually there is silence in reply to this question. You can imagine what is going through the minds of these folks who can cite chapter and verse about this. Guy McClung, San Antonio

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