Monday, March 18, 2013

Take this and eat

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This is the post I wasn't sure I would share.  I knew I would write it, but wasn't sure if it would ever be read by anyone.

I am becoming Catholic this Easter.  I will be receiving two sacraments: Eucharist and Confirmation.  (I am already a baptized Christian and I made my first confession a couple weeks ago.)  However, this will not be my first Eucharist.

I have received communion in Catholic churches many times in my life.  I usually keep this quiet amongst Catholics, but today I will admit it.  Here's why: I didn't know I wasn't supposed to.  I've mentioned before that much of my family is Catholic so I've been to many a Catholic Mass and many a Catholic funeral.  And apparently, I have a very liberal family because not only was I not told to receive, I was encouraged to even after I was older and realized I wasn't supposed to.

When I was older and going to church with my boyfriend (now husband), I dutifully refrained from going up or I would cross my arms across my chest to indicate I would not receive and ask for a blessing instead.*  But I will not say that I liked it.  I've already mentioned that it was the exclusion from communion that was my main stumbling block to Catholicism so you can imagine how this bothered me.  I even skipped participating in the "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed" when I did every other thing I was supposed to.  I felt saying that would have been a lie since I could not receive, or at least was not invited to receive.

But after many, many Masses with my husband over a few years, I took the opportunity to receive again.  It was last Easter at Notre Dame in Paris.  We had planned our trip to start in Paris to be there for seeing the Crown of Thorns on Good Friday and then attending Easter Mass on Sunday.  It was packed--loaded with people who did not have a clue about the Mass.  But we enjoyed it very much and were able to follow along decently due to our familiarity with the ritual, despite it being in French.  The missalette we had for the day was printed in several languages and when we got to communion, there was a message:

"The bread distributed during mass has a high significance for Christians: it is the body of Christ, their Lord and their God.  If you do not share our faith in the living presence of Christ in the eucharistic bread, we ask you not to join your neighbors at communion time."

I read it.  And I felt invited.  So when we went up, I received.  I saw no issue with what was said.  It did not require me to be a registered Catholic--it just required my faith.  (This was during the time after which I had told me husband that I did not think I was ever going to become Catholic.)

I began my attempt to address Protestant thinking vs. Catholic thinking last week.  I'll attempt to do it again today.  When Protestants feel offended and excluded from communion, it is a legitimate hurt that is felt.  I have had many well-meaning Catholics explain to me why the rules are what they are, and they really believe that when they finish I will understand.  But I'm a well-studied individual.  I know the rules, I know the whys--I just don't agree.  Catholics really believe that their response is a loving response and that exclusion shouldn't be felt.  They feel that the invitation to come to RCIA is always there.  But it's not enough for some of us.  We need that invitation now.  (Not all Protestants feel this way--many are fine not having communion and there are denominations who also practice closed communion.)

If the Eucharist is what we say it is, if it truly is the body and blood of Christ that will strengthen us and draw us nearer, wouldn't reception of the Eucharist be the best thing to offer?  What could better draw a person in?  If it really is the most important belief Catholics hold and most important thing Catholics do, why would they be surprised if a Protestant would feel excluded to not be invited to this extremely special event?

Now I'm not saying the Eucharist should be offered to every person on the street--like I said, I understand the "rules".  I understand that one should possess the belief.  But I think that should be enough.  I think that if, after a thorough explanation of what the Eucharist really is, an individual says, Yes, I want to receive--then it is between him and God.  We come to communion because we need it.  The individual will know if he needs it.

I received communion after declaring I wouldn't become Catholic.  Almost exactly a year after declaring I wouldn't become Catholic, I told my husband that I changed my mind.  I find it poignant that I will become Catholic this Easter, one year after rebelliously receiving at Notre Dame.

And you know what else?  I have been receiving all along--through my husband.  When he receives, I receive, as we are one.  I think this is what St. Paul means in 2 Corinthians 7:14,

For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.

I really am beginning to believe that the reason my heart felt constantly pulled at was the continual reception of the Eucharist--as a child, and later, through my husband.

Maybe everything I have said upsets you.  I hope not, because I still plan on becoming Catholic this Easter.  I hope that it brings you a more clear perspective on what your Protestant brothers and sisters might be thinking.  And here is the thing about my stumbling block boulder: I think it was God's gift--His plan all along.  I think God gave me this struggle so that I could learn to set it aside.  See, I have a problem with pride.  With being dedicated to a principle so fiercely that I will not budge.  I have a problem being humble.  But when I realized that I wanted to be Catholic and that I was the only person stopping me, I saw that I could humble myself--I could see the bigger picture.  I could not "throw the baby out with the bathwater" as my priest put it.  I could not let my stubbornness on this issue keep me from the Catholic Church.

I hope you see this as a good thing.  I will not be a complacent, idle, well-behaved Catholic.  I will be vocal and passionate because it is who I am.  But I will have humility as well.  Because there is nothing I have ever done in my life that has required more humility from me than making the decision to become Catholic.

*If you are a Euchatistic minister, please be aware that if an adult comes to you with arms crossed over their chest you should give them a blessing.  I've received everything from simple looks of confusion to outright attempts to force-feed me.  Sure gave us a laugh, but I do wish there was some attention paid to this during the training.


  1. Kelly Annie,

    I really appreciate hearing your perspective as someone who was not a cradle Catholic as I am...honestly you bring up some really good points. For me, I have never considered them as I have been raised in this faith tradition all my life. And I don't really know how to respond to first response is about the "rules" of it all, but then almost immediately I'm reminded the importance of being pastoral too. But like you said, God used all of this to help lead you into the Catholic Church, which is something awesome to celebrate! You're in my prayers these last days of Lent and heading into the Easter Vigil :)

  2. So what I've been told as an Eucharistic Minister of the Most Holy Communion (not trying to be pompous, just the title) is that no one who comes up to receive can be denied communion, unless they are obviously opposed to the belief (someone trying to deface or purposefully reduce the likeness of God). If someone does not understand why they are receiving, it is excused but some EMHCs will actually ask if they are Catholic and if they aren't just bless them. I have also been told that Protestants are asked to not receive because Protestants do not always believe in transubstantiation

  3. My main reason for thinking that non-Catholics shouldn't receive communion is the same reason I believe that many (maybe even most) Catholics shouldn't be receiving communion - because they have mortal sin on their soul and haven't been to confession. In many other countries, very few Catholics go up for communion at each Mass because they take it very seriously that if they have sinned and not been to confession, they shouldn't be taking the Body and Blood of Christ into an "unclean" vessel. I wish there was more of an emphasis here in the US. It seems that you were very respectful of it, but many people (many, many Catholics included) think of the Eucharist as nothing more than a cracker, and if that's the case, it is disrespectful to participate.

  4. Kelley, ask my daughter, Jackie, about here experience with communion in the Catholic church when my dad passed away ...

  5. Dear Kelly,

    The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Greatest of On High, is there present in the Host and Chalice. It is the greatest of gifts. How can someone who doesn't see or believe receive the True Presence with the respect for Christ he deserves? Is that kind to our Lord? Imagine you are going to meet your life hero and someone shows up saying, "OK, yeah, I kind of know that guy. Cool. I'll have some wine too" and then crashes the party with irreverence? I know that your approach may not have been purposefully irreverent, however in that you lacked full knowledge of the great mercy of the True Presence, you showed some pride in that your belonging to a group mattered more than a humble desire to be truly worthy of Christ's body.

    I think one of the main differences between your Protestant and the Catholic understanding is that there is the community of the Church, and then there is your individual sanctification, which is totally independent of belonging to the Church community. I would love to talk to you more about this, let me know if you want to chat too.



  6. Once again, I could have written this post. The biggest issue with my considering conversion was the fact that Catholics exclude so many people with Communion. I didn't feel like I should have to "prove" my faith to the Catholic Church before I could receive something that I knew in my heart I believed in and agreed with. Thank you for writing this!



    1. Dear Caitlin,

      Being worthy to receive the host is not about proving anything to anyone, it is about your private preparation to be pure and worthy to receive our Lord into your body. Non-Catholics do not believe in the True Presence and how great a privilege it is to receive the Body of Christ, and so are not adequately prepared in their heart to be worthy.

      Faith in the True Presence, fasting, and going to Confession are part of the preparation needed to receive the Eucharist. If you are outside of the Catholic Church, these are not expected of you so it is reasonable for the Catholic Church to presume that non-Catholics are not prepared for the Eucharist and should not receive.

      Ultimately, the Eucharist is a great privilege, it is NOT an entitlement of the Body of the Church. Nor does not receiving the Eucharist mean you are excluded from the Church. Remember that sanctification is an private endeavour and not one about "belonging" in a visible way.

    2. Hi Luisa!

      Thanks for your thoughts :) It's not that I think that people who don't believe what Catholics believe should be able to take Communion. If you don't believe it's the True Presence, of course you shouldn't take it. That said, though, I'm technically a non-Catholic (because I've moved twice in a year and a half and haven't been able to complete RCIA), but believe everything that a Catholic does, and am essentially a practicing Catholic, even if I haven't gotten to take my First Communion or be confirmed. I fast before church, even though I can't take Communion, I believe it's the True Presence, and can't wait to give my first Confession. I understand that not being able to take Communion isn't technically excluding me from church, but it's certainly the way it feels, as I'm not able to practice my faith along with my brothers and sisters in Christ, simply because I haven't been able to take the classes consecutively.

    3. I agree, Caitlin--that's mostly what I was trying to say.

  7. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published its own guidelines in keeping with the DAPNE. The part of interest here is as follows:

    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” (John 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).288

    This statement is informative, though only in part. It presumes something highly unlikely, namely that Christians present from other Christian traditions will know “the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law (Canon 844 § 4).” The language asks no questions, invites no dialogue. It calls no one, not even Catholics, to learn anything more about the Eucharist, or why one should or should not receive. As such, it is a pedagogical and evangelistic failure, more reminiscent of a country trying to keep people out, than an institution concerned with the salvation of souls through incorporating all within its embrace.

    I suggest that, rather than simply state the criteria in a dry and concise, if accurate, way as the USCCB has done, the criteria be presented as a series of questions, the answers to which will help people determine whether they may, in conscience and with a true welcome from the Catholic Church, receive the Eucharist. These questions might take a form similar to the following:
    - Do you have a serious and pressing need to receive the Eucharist?
    - Are you unable to attend services of a Church or ecclesial community of your own tradition?
    - Are you asking for the Eucharist of your own free will?
    - Do you believe that, in the Eucharist, you are receiving the true body and blood of Christ?
    - Have you been reconciled with God and the Church for anything you have done which would stand between you and Christ in the Eucharist?
    If you are a visitor from another Christian tradition, and can say a sincere ‘yes’ to all five questions, then you are welcome to receive. If you are from another tradition, and are considering continuing to worship here, we invite you to meet with the pastor to discuss the way forward.

  8. One gift Christ gives those who are in all ways desiring the Holy Eucharist, yet cannot receive, is to offer a Spiritual Communion. We cannot plumb the depths of our Merciful Mystery of God. My experience as a non-Catholic Christian was to receive a Spiritual Communion when I attended Mass. ~This had been suggested to me by a Bishop. I had no idea there was such a thing until I experienced it.

    Spiritual Communion is one of surrender and a deep desire to be at The Table. And I tell you God can and does grant such a Communion. I write about it here:

    Because of Grace,



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