Q — My question is, can non-Catholic Christians receive communion in a Catholic church? Also, if a catholic attends a church where communion is offered can they receive communion at the non-Catholic church? I believe I have attended Catholic weddings/funerals where non-catholic Christians were invited to join in the Eucharist, and while I was attending RCIA classes myself I believe the priest stated you must be Christian to take communion.

A — The Catholic approach to these often sensitive questions is fairly clear. The norm is that a Catholic may not receive communion in a non-Catholic celebration. The statement of the U.S. Catholic bishops on the issue of non-Catholics receiving Holy Communion at Mass, expressing what is to be found in our canonical documents/texts, is often printed in the worship aid. Some Christian traditions invite anyone to the sacrament who has been baptized, but that is not the Roman Catholic way.

The Catholic Church steers a middle course between “open communion” and total exclusion of eucharistic sharing. The issue opened for us in: Vatican II’s Decree on Ecumenism, The Ecumenical Directory (1969/70), the Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993).

Here is a summary. In the case of danger of death Catholic ministers may administer the sacraments of the Eucharist, of penance and of the anointing of the sick to a baptized person

• Who has no recourse to their own minister

• Who asks for the sacrament freely, on their own initiative

• Who manifests Catholic faith in the sacrament.

• Who is properly disposed.

Having acknowledged the Church’s position expressed in its canonical documents/texts, I also like the way in which Cardinal Walter Kasper speaks of this important matter: “Ultimately, this is a spiritual question, and spiritual questions cannot be regulated by canon law alone. We need pastoral wisdom and the discernment of spirits.” [Walter Kasper, Sacrament of Unity: The Eucharist and the Church (New York: Crossroad, 2004), 145].