Refusing Communion

Q. If someone has left the Catholic Church for a different denomination and is no longer a practicing Catholic, should they be allowed to receive Communion in the Catholic Church?

Recently my wife and I were helping a priest to prepare her father's funeral, and I asked the priest whether someone who is no longer a practicing Catholic would be allowed to receive Communion at the funeral. He said that they should not receive but that he was not going to monitor the situation.

At the funeral Mass, this same priest announced that non-Catholics and Catholics who were not prepared should not receive. But in fact, some of those very people did come forward to take Communion.

What should be the consequences for these people, after they heard it announced that they should not receive? And should a priest who knows that someone is not eligible to receive deny that person Communion when he comes forward? (Dinwiddie, Virginia)

A. On the general rule, you are right: Those who are not Catholics should not take Communion at a Catholic Mass.

There are certain exceptions: Orthodox Christians, for example, are welcome to receive; a Protestant spouse marrying a Catholic may be given permission to receive Communion at the wedding Mass. In any of those circumstances, the non-Catholic must share our faith in the meaning of the Eucharist, and he or she must lack normal access to a minister of their own faith tradition.

As to what the consequences are when someone who is ineligible takes Communion, I don't know the answer to that; I would prefer leaving it to God to sort that out. And as for a priest denying Communion at the altar rail, I have never done that, nor am I likely to. I just don't know everyone's circumstances, and the worst thing would be to be wrong in making that judgment.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.