It’s widely known that the Catholic Church doesn’t allow non-Catholics to receive the Eucharist (read about it here), but what about the flip side of that coin? If for some reason a Catholic is attending a Protestant service, can they partake in communion?
No, they cannot. Under no circumstances are Catholics to receive communion from a Protestant denomination.
The rule is outline in the Code of Canon Law 844:
Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone.
As it is known, Catholics believe that by partaking of Holy Communion, we are eating and drinking the literal Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (transubstantiation). It is not a symbol, nor is it a metaphor, nor do we believe, as the Lutherans, that Jesus is with the bread and wine (consubstantiation). Once consecrated, the bread and wine cease to be, and we are left with the Body and Blood.
Receiving communion is the most important part of our faith. It’s not just a big deal; it’s THE biggest deal there is. The entire Mass is centered on the Eucharist. It’s the crux of our salvation. When we present ourselves before the Eucharist, we are literally standing at the feet of our savior.
As Catholics, we must confirm with our words and actions that we believe in the real presence of Christ as the Eucharist. This is why we genuflect before the altar, and why, we must first clear our heart of mortal sin through reconciliation before receiving.
By taking communion in a church that does not accept our beliefs of the Eucharist, we are equating the real presence with a symbolic gesture, and that is irreverent to the Church, and a sin.
But, regardless of the law, I can’t understand why a faithful Catholic would want to receive from anywhere other than the Catholic Church in the first place. When we take the Eucharist, we bind ourselves to the Father, body and soul. We renew our spirit, strengthen our faith, and rejoice in the unconditional love and grace that God has for us.
There is nothing for Catholics in the communion of other churches. No added grace. No redemption. No salvation. For us, it is an empty, incomplete action. Why would we want to celebrate that?
Now, there is a second part to Canon Law 844 that should be explained. It states:
Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.
At a first glance, this might make everything I just said irrelevant, but lets take a closer look at the stipulations.
First, receiving outside of the Church is permitted only when it is impossible for a Catholic to approach a Catholic priest. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we need to take note of the part of the law: in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.
This means that if a Catholic is to receive outside of the Catholic Church, he or she must do so in a church where the Eucharist is also recognized as the literal Body and Blood of Christ, and was consecrated by a validly ordained priest (valid, being contingent upon the Roman Church Authority and not our personal opinion).
With these restrictions in mind, a Catholic can only receive the Eucharist at an Orthodox Church. Though, through a schism, we are not in complete communion with the Orthodox Church, they are the only other Christian church where the Catholic Church recognizes the sacraments and ordination as valid.
Understandably, all this can cause Catholics to feel a bit awkward at other church services, and sometimes we might feel as if we’re offending other Christians by denying ourselves communion. However, when it comes to Church teaching and law, our feelings should play not part in the matter, nor should the opinions of others.
As Catholics, our lives are a perpetual witness to the faith. Let us not compromise that faith by pretending that Real Presence exists anywhere else.