Can I receive Eucharist at non-Catholic churches?
by Msgr. Stuart Swetland, STD
Q Dear Father:
I will be attending my niece’s wedding at a Polish National Catholic Church. Would it be acceptable as a practicing Roman Catholic to receive the Eucharist during the wedding at this church? More broadly, can Catholics receive communion at other Christian churches that aren’t Catholic? — Judy
The Polish National Catholic Church was founded in 1897 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. According to the Church’s homepage, there are more than 25,000 members, mainly in the United States and Canada. Bishop Franciszek Hodur, their founder, was a Catholic priest and pastor of a Polish parish in Scranton.
Disagreements with the local diocese (mainly about language, property, and governance) led to a schism. Similar problems in other U.S. dioceses led to additional Polish parishes to join the fledgling church. In 1907 Bishop Hodur was consecrated a bishop by bishops from the “Old Catholic Church” of Utrecht in the Netherlands (see PNCC.org).
Since its establishment, the Polish National Catholic Church has adopted some theological positions that are at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it has maintained apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist. There are ongoing efforts to bring the Polish National Catholic Church back into full communion with the Catholic Church.
As Catholics, we make a distinction in our ecumenical endeavors between “churches” and “ecclesial communities.” A church has apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist. For example, the Greek and Russian Orthodox are churches, while Methodists and Baptists are ecclesial communities.
On rare occasions, as when one is in danger of death or would be unable to receive the sacraments for a lengthy period of time otherwise, one can receive the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist from validly ordained priests of other churches. However, under nonemergency situations, one does not normally receive the Eucharist from these other churches, and they do not receive from Catholic ministers.
Why is this? The most straightforward answer is that it would not be fully honest for us to receive sacraments, even valid sacraments, outside extraordinary circumstances, from a church with which we are not in full communion. When we receive the Eucharist, for example, we are saying that we are in communion with Our Lord. This is why it is gravely wrong to receive the Eucharist when one is not in the state of grace.
You should also make a spiritual communion.
As St. Paul wrote, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).
But when you receive Communion, you also are saying that you are in communion with this particular community — this church — where the celebration is taking place.
In other words, Communion signifies both a “vertical communion” (with the Triune God) and a “horizontal communion” (with the Church). Both have to be true. For example, Our Lord reminds us:
“Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23–24)
This is also why those who hold, advocate, or teach doctrine and/or moral positions contrary to received Catholic teaching (such as Catholic politicians who vote for the so-called “right to abort”) also should refrain from receiving the Eucharist. By their actions, they have separated themselves from full communion with Christ and his Church.
So, when you attend your niece’s wedding at a Polish National Catholic Church, you should refrain from receiving Communion. However, you should participate fully with the prayers, songs, and celebration associated with the wedding Mass.
You should also make a spiritual communion, uniting yourself spiritually to Jesus present in the Eucharist. And of course, as best you can, be generous in your sacrifices, prayers, and gift to the newlyweds and fully enjoy the family festivities. (From what you have described, your niece will be entering into a fully sacramental marriage that will witness to the world of Christ’s love for his body, the Church.)
And with these prayers, we can also pray for a complete reunion of the Polish National Catholic Church with the Roman Catholic Church.