Sacrament of Holy Communion (Eucharist)
The Sacrament of Holy Communion is the third of the Sacraments of Initiation. Even though we are required to receive Communion at least once per year, and the Church urges us to receive Communion frequently (even daily, if possible), it is called a sacrament of initiation because, like Baptism and Confirmation, it brings us into the fullness of our life in Christ.
In Holy Communion, we are eating the True Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, without which “you shall not have life in you” (John 6:53).
Who Can Receive Catholic Holy Communion?
Normally, only Catholics in a state of grace can receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Under certain circumstances, however, other Christians whose understanding of the Eucharist (and the Catholic sacraments generally) is the same as that of the Catholic Church can receive Communion, even though they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
In their Guidelines for the Reception of Communion, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that “Eucharistic sharing in exceptional circumstances by other Christians requires permission according to the directives of the diocesan bishop and the provisions of canon law.”
Under no circumstances are non-Christians allowed to receive Communion, but Christians beyond those mentioned above (e.g., Protestants) can, under canon law (Canon 844, Section 4), receive Communion in very rare circumstances: If the danger of death is present or other grave necessity, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or the conference of bishops, Catholic ministers may licitly administer these sacraments to other Christians who do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and on their own ask for it, provided they manifest Catholic faith in these sacraments and are properly disposed.
Preparing for the Reception of the Sacrament of Holy Communion
Because of the intimate connection of the Sacrament of Holy Communion to our life in Christ, Catholics who wish to receive Communion must be in a state of grace – that is, free of any grave or mortal sin – before receiving it, as St. Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29. Otherwise, as he warns, we receive the sacrament unworthily, and we “eateth and drinketh damnation” to ourselves.
If we are aware of having committed grave (mortal) sin, we must participate in the Sacrament of Confession first. The Church sees the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist as connected, and urges us, when we can, to join frequent Confession with frequent Communion.
In order to receive Communion, we must also abstain from food or drink (except for water and medicine) for one hour beforehand.