Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lapsed Catholics at First Communion

How to Handle Lapsed Catholics at First Communion?

by Fr. John Bartunek, LC

MAY 7, 2010 ( - Q: We have a large extended family, most of whom think we have jumped off a cliff for being so zealous for our beautiful faith,many of whom are no longer practicing Catholics, and some of whom were baptized Catholic but have chosen to practice another faith (Lutheran). How can we peacefully handle telling fallen away Catholic family members, that they should not receive the Eucharist while attending the Sacrament of First Holy Communion? Are we required to educate these family members to prevent this sacrilege? We are already a bit disconnected from this side of the family for a variety of reasons; loving them from a distance, and getting together with them almost only on special occasions is what we have found most healthy for our children.

A: From the way you phrase and contextualize this question, it is clear that you are prudent, thoughtful, and balanced parents. So before sharing some reflections, I want to encourage you to continue exercising that prudence. Asking God for guidance and then following your heart’s compass will probably keep you on track, and even give you some chances (down the road) to help some of these relatives come closer to Christ.

Guarding the Sacrament?

That said, your second question needs to be addressed before your first. You are certainly not required to insure that all relatives avoid the improper reception of Holy Communion. No one is required to do the impossible. In fact, considering your family situation, it would be fair to assume that all these relatives should already know their duty in this regard. You should not feel obliged to inquire of each relative whether or not they are aware.

Rather, if by experience you know that Aunt Lutheran just really likes going up to receive Catholic Holy Communion, even though she knows she shouldn’t, it may be an act of charity to try and explain things to her once again. But since the other relatives are familiar with the Catholic faith, and are aware of your devotion to the faith, they are the ones responsible for showing proper respect to the Sacrament. Of course, if you notice that Uncle Fallen-Away-Bob-the-Adulterer goes up to receive, it may be an act of charity (depending on your relationship with him) to go and speak to him about it afterwards.

Usually at First Communions, Weddings, and Funerals, a special announcement is made during the Mass, reminding people that only Catholics properly disposed should receive Holy Communion. That is often how the pastor protects the integrity of the Eucharist on these occasions. He is primarily responsible for doing this, not you.

Explaining the Issue

Now your second question has to be faced: Having decided to try and explain it, how can you do so without making them angrier and more alienated then ever?
First, do it long before or after the Mass. Second, no matter how charitable and understanding you are, sometimes you may still cause offense. Third, sometimes the best way to broach the subject is with a question: e.g., “How often do you receive Communion in your Church?” Fourth, when explaining this to our separated brethren (Lutherans and other Protestants), the important thing is to recognize explicitly that as Christians, there is much more uniting us than separating us.

But sadly, and they will admit this, there are still many divisions among the different Christian denominations. And in the Catholic Church, when we receive Holy Communion, in which Jesus is truly (not just symbolically) present, we are publicly acknowledging our “communion” with everything that the Catholic Church teaches. This is why we invite other Christians to come up for a blessing, if they wish, but not to receive Communion – it would be like making them into liars.

The same line of explanation can help non-practicing Catholics understand why they too should refrain. It’s not that God doesn’t love them; it’s just that in receiving Holy Communion we are saying (among other things), “I believe and wish to follow all that Christ’s Holy, Catholic Church teaches.” A non-practicing Catholic can’t say that (and they may have very good reasons, subjectively speaking). They also, however, can come up to receive a blessing.

Those are some possible tactics for explaining the issue. But remember that these types of conversations can also be prime opportunities to share with others your own love for Christ and his Church. Try to go beyond listing the rules and speak of the relationship that God wants to have with each of us, a relationship that grows and flourishes, by God’s own design, within the spiritual family of his Church.

(By the way, be careful about using the term “sacrilege.” That refers to a sin, which must be consciously committed. If someone unwittingly receives Holy Communion improperly, due to ignorance or wrong instruction, for example, they are not necessarily committing the sin of sacrilege.)

View this article


  1. Please look at my blog.

  2. First communions are so important and special to most parents. In our church, though, we do not baptize children until they are eight and that is the time when they have to start to confess their sins.