“Ask a Priest: Can a Catholic receive communion at an Episcopal service?”

Q: I attend Mass and receive Communion every Sunday. If, in addition to my Catholic Sunday obligation, I attended an Episcopal service and received their communion, what do you think Jesus would say? -T.D.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: I think Jesus would say, “You shouldn’t be doing that.” Why? Because it is what his Church, speaking under his authority and in his name, teaches.

To receive Communion in the Catholic Church is a sign (ostensibly at least) that one is in a state of grace and embraces the Catholic faith. Likewise, to receive the host in an Episcopal setting would be to publicly identify oneself with the Anglican faith.

This is problematic, because it is highly unlikely that one will have the real presence of Christ in the Episcopalian eucharist. I say “highly unlikely” because Pope Leo XIII in his 1896 bull Apostolicae Curae declared Anglican orders invalid. (Episcoplians are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.) Without valid orders, one cannot confect the Eucharist. Things got complicated after Leo’s declaration. Some Anglicans took his points into account and tried to re-establish apostolic succession by inviting validly ordained bishops from several small splinter groups to participate in Anglican/Episcopal ordination. It is therefore quite possible that some Anglican clergy are validly ordained priests, but it is very hard to determine who. But that’s another issue.

Closer to our day, Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia wrote:

“[T]he observations of the Council concerning the Ecclesial Communities which arose in the West from the sixteenth century onwards and are separated from the Catholic Church remain fully pertinent: ‘The Ecclesial Communities separated from us lack that fullness of unity with us which should flow from Baptism, and we believe that especially because of the lack of the sacrament of Orders they have not preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharistic mystery. Nevertheless, when they commemorate the Lord’s death and resurrection in the Holy Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and they await his coming in glory.’

“The Catholic faithful, therefore, while respecting the religious convictions of these separated brethren, must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their celebrations, so as not to condone an ambiguity about the nature of the Eucharist and, consequently, to fail in their duty to bear clear witness to the truth” (No. 30).

Note those words: “The Catholic faithful … must refrain from receiving the communion distributed in their [read: Protestant or Anglican] celebrations.” I hope this helps. God bless.

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