Communion in other Churches
A SAA parishioner emailed me this question: "This is actually a question from my sister. She recently attended a funeral service in the Lutheran church. I am going to forward to you, what was printed in the program. The wording makes it sounds as if the Lutheran church believes in the real presence in communion. This can't be right can it?? What do you make of the wording? Is there a way to believe in the presence but NOT in the fact that the host and wine are ACTUALLY the body and blood of Jesus?? Any help in deciphering this would be appreciated. Also, when attending a service of another Christian denomination, is it acceptable to receive communion?"
Thanks for the question. Standard Lutheran teaching is consubstantiation which is different from we believe - transubstantiation. Consub. means that the substance is bread along with the Body of Christ. Transub. means the substance changes from bread to the Body of Christ. Lutherans believe that consubstantiation occurs during the service, but then the host is just bread again after the service.
If you or your sister were to ask a Lutheran pastor, 'does the host really become the Body of Christ during your service? Is it truly his flesh and blood? Does transubstantiation actually take place?' If he/she is consistent with Lutheran teaching, he/she will say no. Even though there are almost 30,000 Christian Churches, only two teaches transub.: Catholic and Orthodox (we share all the sacraments with the Orthodox). So, the Eucharist only dwells in the Catholic and Orthodox.
So, what is the host at non-Catholic Christian services? Only bread. Even if the minister and all the people there believed it to be the Real Presence of Jesus, the minister doesn't have the power to consecrate. Protestant ministers broke off from Apostolic Succession 500 years ago which means that they broke off from being validly ordained ministers. They broke off from having the power to consecrate. At every Christian service, it is just bread and not the Body of Christ.
Someone might say, so what's the big deal whether the host is the actual Body of Christ or a symbol of it? Any rational person with a sense of the Sacred know s there's an enormous distinction. We say that in the Catholic Mass that it is really Jesus in the Eucharist, and it is. It is proper worship of the True God who is present before us. But, in the Protestant service, they might treat it like it's Christ's Body and even say that it is, but it's not. It becomes a form of false worship; it is giving praise to something that is not God.
This would be the main reason why Catholics can never receive "Communion" in other Christian Churches besides the Orthodox. It is what St Paul is condemning in 1 Corinthians 11 - showing major disrespect to the Eucharist. We do this mainly by either receiving our Lord unworthily at Mass or receiving the bread and wine that is not the Eucharist at a Protestant service. In particular, 1 Cor 11:27-29 strongly suggests that the consequences of such actions are very severe: if we mock the Eucharist in these ways, we "will have to answer for the body and blood of our Lord". He says that we bring judgement on ourselves (v.29). Not good!
I think many Catholics know that they can't receive in Lutheran Churches, but most don't know why. That's why your question is so critical for us Catholics and for those non-Catholics we know. If you, your sister, or her Lutheran friends have any other questions, feel free to shoot them my way. That's one of the main reasons why I am here! Thanks!!