Why can’t Protestants receive the Holy Communion in a Catholic Church? Why can Catholics receive the Lord’s Supper at Protestant services but not the other way around? That is a great question!
Protestants and Catholics! They have been at odds for over 500 years, yet they growing ever closer together and more tolerant toward each other. A good thing! In fact, many Protestant non-denominational churches welcome Catholics and even allow them to take part fully in their services, including communion. Catholics also allow other religions to participate in their worship service; however, only Catholics can receive Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper. And, there are some good reasons for this.
First, we need to understand that there are differences between the religions. Most Protestants accept that the body and blood of Jesus in Communion is only a symbol while Catholics believe that the wafer (“the Eucharist”) is really and truly the body and blood of Christ (John 6:51-67; Mt. 26:26).
Lutherans are closer to Catholics and accept Consubstantiation, which means they believe God’s presence is there but in a spiritual sort of way. Whereas Catholics and Orthodox believe in Transubstantiation – meaning Jesus is actually (literally and physically) present. We receive Him into us in a real way. God is everywhere, but He was present in a special way in the person of Jesus Christ on earth, so God is everywhere but present in a very special way in Catholic Holy Communion.
Here’s the rub. Upon reception of Catholic Communion, everyone must say “Amen.” If a Protestant were to attend a Catholic Mass, the priest would hold up the Communion host in front of their face and say, “The body of Christ,” to which the Protestant would respond, “Amen.” The word Amen means: “So be it, I believe.”
However, Protestants do not believe it’s the true body of Christ, but only a symbol. Thus, they could not receive Catholic communion in good conscience without being dishonest before God. It is just that we have different beliefs. In addition, every time Catholics say Amen, we are saying amen to everything we believe and adhering to the Catholic faith. So again, Protestants could not honestly say amen for they do not accept all the Catholic teachings. Otherwise, they would be Catholic.
For most Protestants, attending a service anywhere is fine. There usually are no huge differences in the Communion Rite. However, there is a real difference between Protestant belief and Catholic belief on this matter, and it’s a big difference. The Eucharist is the Pinnacle of the Catholic faith. It truly is Jesus communing with us and helping us to become one body with Him and each other.
A second reason: while Catholics see Protestants as brothers and Sisters in Christ, they are separated brothers and sisters. We have to remember that they left the Church Jesus started over 500 years ago in rebellion. Martin Luther separated himself and his followers from the fullness of the truth and the fullness of the New Covenant. Thus, just as in the Old Testament, a person had to be part of the Covenant in order to partake in the blessings, so in the New Testament times, one must still be a full part of the Christ’s Church and covenant to receive all the blessings. This always serves as an invitation for our Protestant brothers to come home to the fullness of the faith, to the one banquet table.
Many people do not understand these reasons and accuse the Catholic Church of being elitist or mean. However, this is Biblical. Unless you were circumcised and became part of the Covenant in the Old Testament, no person could receive the covenant blessings. Nor were they saved. God is serious about people following Him, and it’s on His terms, not ours. So, likewise, unless you are part of Christ’s true Church and are a full part of the covenant, you cannot receive the blessings. In the Bible, the only time that the words ‘New Covenant’ are mentioned are in relation to the Eucharist (For example, Mt. 26:26). Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood, the blood of the new and eternal Covenant” established in and through the Catholic Church He started. So the New Covenant comes together at its Pinnacle in the Eucharist, and the Eucharist symbolizes our unity!
That is what we believe as Catholics. And remember, that as wonderful as Protestants are, they have broken the Christian unity and do not share in the fullness of the covenant. Of course, more than anything, we would love to invite them home to this oneness that Christianity enjoyed for over 1000 years.
If Protestants do not accept Catholic teaching and authority, they should not even desire to receive the Eucharist and everything Catholic that it represents. However, if they do believe it is truly the body and blood of Christ (Jn. 6:51-67; Mt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 5:7) who is our new Passover lamb given for the life of the world, then I would to invite them to come home and join the Catholic Church and take part in the greatest gift they will ever receive on earth.
This is not to be demeaning in any way, but growing up, I played soccer. Anyone at any time could join our team because we were awful. However, in order to be on a travel team or an elite team, a person must try out and be picked. These elite teams have standards and don’t just let anyone join. In the same way, Christ has standards and the Catholic Church has standards. It has the full truth. And people must accept that truth to join the banquet table. As Catholics, we pray that all Christians will come back to full unity of the Lord’s table as it once was and as Christ desired.
Come check out a Catholic Mass, even a Latin Mass, where you can experience the mystery and awe of God. As for receiving the Eucharist, you must first believe in everything the Catholic Church teaches and become part of the one Church of Jesus Christ. Then, you can receive the greatest gift of all. You are welcome anytime!
If you have any questions, thoughts, or comments, please put them below. If you would like to understand more about the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist, you can watch the 2 minute version here, or the 6 minute version here.