A: As Catholics living in a country that often see Catholics marrying Christians of other denominations, this is an important issue that needs to be answered for pastoral, ecumenical, liturgical and catechetical reasons.
Do note, however, that an answer in a publication like the CatholicNews may have a different timbre as compared to engaging in a theological and spiritual conversation face to face with someone, principally because there are nuances involved.
The keystone of all our sacraments have as their basis the understanding that at each Mass, the bread and wine at consecration becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Transubstantiation changes the essence and substance, whilst the accidents (bread and wine) are not.
Catholics are thus adhering strictly to the instructions of Jesus at the Last Supper where we do this in memory of Him. When Catholics receive the Eucharist in a state of grace, Catholics truly receive the Lord as well as the graces that accompany it.
The consecrated host is supremely sacred, and we must do our utmost to ensure that we do not desecrate nor trivialise this in any way. Thus, only baptised Catholics who understand this are able to partake of this sacred meal.
Having said this, perhaps what needs to be pointed out is that it is in our best interest as Catholics that we show the greatest reverence as possible to this truth in which we profess, and this would include the ways that we genuflect, keep the hour’s fast before receiving the Lord, dress at Mass, and fight the temptation to leave the church right after receiving the Lord before giving thanks and being blessed and dismissed by the priest after the Mass ends.
Because the Eucharist is a true presence also of the Body of Christ in its mystical unity, it necessarily requires that those who partake of this are also at one with the Church in terms of doctrines, faith, worship and fellowship, failing which coming forward to “receive” this communion merely makes this a perfunctory sharing but not a sharing in truth and a common union at intrinsic levels.
Protestant churches do not accept the true presence of the Lord and of His grace given at this celebration as taught, explained and celebrated in the Catholic Church. While these churches may not be “in communion” with us, I do think that we can and should learn something from them.
The way that many of their members reverence Christ in one another and are active in their evangelistic zeal through missionary work and activity with boldness and zeal is something that should be admired and emulated. While Catholics may be mindful of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, I often sense a reticence in Catholic social and missionary action outside of the walls of a church.
Lately, much has been voiced regarding the divorced being unable to receive communion with the faithful at Mass. At the heart of the matter is that one vital aspect of the Eucharist that cannot be overlooked nor put aside is that of unity.
Marriage is a sacrament of unity and when the faithful who are not living out their unity as a sign of God’s presence through their marriage as it should seek their right to receive communion, unity becomes abrogated, and true communion becomes not just difficult but also very indistinct.
I can fully understand the social reasons for wanting to “participate” in such services at the churches of our separated brethren, especially when these are held within the rituals of weddings and the like.
While it can show that we are embracing and sharing in their joy, the very same action can also be a dilution of our own belief in an unconscious or subconscious way, possibly giving scandal to others who are unable to appreciate the richness and implications of the Catholic Tradition and Doctrine.
It is for these reasons that Catholics should never participate in the sharing of bread and wine in our separated brethren churches. But having said this, it must never stop us from praying with them in other ecumenical settings where we can participate fully with them in other non-contentious or divisive settings.
We should always encourage them to make a spiritual communion where they seek Christ’s presence and nourishment in their hearts.
You may want to take this question up with the priests of your parish for further clarification and counsel.
Fr Luke Fong