Jeremy Corbyn has caused alarm by (allegedly) receiving Holy Communion at a funeral at a Catholic church, despite not being a Catholic.
Critics have accused him of “disrespecting the faith quite considerably” and causing offence to faithful Catholics.
But many non-Catholics are confused: what’s the big deal? Why does the Catholic Church have to exclude people? Shouldn’t it be more welcoming?
The truth is, there are very good reasons why non-Catholics should not receive Communion.
Communion is a statement of faith
The Church has always been clear that at Mass the bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. They may still have the appearance and taste of bread and wine, but they have truly and substantially changed. When Our Lord says at the Last Supper “This is my body…” we take Him at His word.
If someone doesn’t believe Christ is truly present in the Eucharist, or is in a state of gave sin, it would be disrespectful (to put it mildly) to receive His Body and Blood.
It shows you are part of the Church
When a Catholic receives Communion, they show they are a member of the wider Catholic community – literally “in communion” with the Church. It would therefore make no sense for a non-Catholic to take Communion.
As the bishops of England and Wales say:
“Normally when people receive Holy Communion at a Catholic celebration of Mass, they should be saying: ‘We are in full communion with the Catholic Church, united with the bishop of this local community and with the Pope.’”
Receiving Communion unworthily is dangerous
Another reason that non-Catholics cannot receive Communion is for their own good. Scripture warns what happens when people who are not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ try to do so.
“For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Cor 11:29–30)
Therefore, a non-Catholic who receives Communion endangers their own spiritual (and potentially physical) health.
There are some very rare instances where non-Catholics may receive Communion, but they only apply to baptised Christians in emergency situations who show they truly believe Church teaching.
It is unlikely these conditions applied in Corbyn’s case.
No doubt, Jeremy Corbyn was well intentioned if he did receive Communion, and did so out of naivety rather than malice. Hopefully, he will learn something about Church teaching and Catholic belief from the reaction.
In the meantime, if he does want to receive Communion, there’s only one thing he can do – become a Catholic.