Q – I recently met someone who
was raised Catholic but left the Church at some point. When she goes
home to visit her family she still attends mass with them and says
she receives the Eucharist. She considers herself non-denominational
and says that since there is no ‘bad blood’ between her and
the Church it’s ok for her to participate.
What’s the status of someone who leaves the Catholic Church? Is it appropriate for them to recieve the Eucharist? If not, then is it appropriate for me to correct them?
A – Thanks for the question. Here are the requirements for Catholics who go to Communion:
1 – You must be in the state of grace – that is, have no unconfessed mortal sins.
Paul talks about this requirement:
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” – 1 Cor 11:27–28
So, you must have confessed all mortal sins and received absolution from them in the Sacrament of Confession. It this has not happened, then one should not present themselves for Communion.
2 – You must believe that the the Eucharist is what the Catholic Church teaches it is – the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Thus, you must believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. Paul also talks about this:
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” – 1 Cor 11:29
3 – You must be a baptized Catholic in good standing with the Church, that is, you must be Catholic and cannot be under any kind of Church penalty that would keep you from be disposed to receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Non-Catholics can receive in very strict circumstances outlined in Canon Law (click here to read about these narrow circumstances).
4 – You must fast. The particular kind of fast to prepare yourself to receive Communion is called a Eucharistic fast. Canon law says:
“One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion” – Canon 919
The US Bishops sum it all up for Catholics in this way:
As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.
For a non-Catholic, here is what the US Bishops say:
For our fellow Christians
We welcome our fellow Christians to this celebration of the Eucharist as our brothers and sisters. We pray that our common baptism and the action of the Holy Spirit in this Eucharist will draw us closer to one another and begin to dispel the sad divisions which separate us. We pray that these will lessen and finally disappear, in keeping with Christ’s prayer for us “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:21).
Because Catholics believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship, members of those churches with whom we are not yet fully united are ordinarily not admitted to Holy Communion. Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (canon 844 § 4). Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 § 3).
For those not receiving Holy Communion
All who are not receiving Holy Communion are encouraged to express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another.
We also welcome to this celebration those who do not share our faith in Jesus Christ. While we cannot admit them to Holy Communion, we ask them to offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family.
Based upon all of this, and what we believe about the Eucharist – it is highly inappropriate for your friend to present herself for Communion – because she no longer considers herself Catholic. Even if she did, she would need to go to Confession first, because the Church considers missing Mass on Sunday (without good reason) grave matter. We should hope this is just ignorance on her part, but I encourage you to talk to her, as nicely as possible, about the seriousness of what she is doing. This would be a good opportunity to talk to her about what the Bible says about the Eucharist as well.