QUAERITUR: Admitting RCIA candidates to Communion?

From a reader:

I have a question that I cannot find a direct answer: Our pastor made the decision to allow non-Catholics in RCIA to receive Holy Communion.

He stated that “Anyone who believed the Church’s teachings on the Mass and the sacraments” were allowed. [NO!]

On a less serious note, he is also allowing non-Catholics to serve at the altar at Mass (both children and adults). Is this permissible?

No, this is not permissible in most cases on the pastor’s own authority.

Since the Orthodox, Polish National Catholics, and Old Catholics are closer to us in doctrine, etc., there is a bit more leeway, if they ask for Communion and if they are properly disposed (cf. CIC 1983 c. 844).

However, in the case of most non-Catholic Christians the diocesan bishop makes the determination on a case by case basis.  (Cf. c. 844 .4)

The diocese bishop alone can make a determination about non-Catholics and Communion.

I note that these are potential converts.  What part of the process of entering into the Catholic Church’s COMMUNION does the priest not understand?

I suspect that the diocesan bishop would not be pleased to learn of this development.  If the pastor printed this somewhere, perhaps a copy should be sent to the chancery.

Serving at the altar is a different issue.  There is nothing precisely against this, but if there are people who are Catholic available, they, Catholics, should be serving.

I suggest that the potential converts to the Church not be demeaned by being treated as if they were something that they aren’t.

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26 Responses to QUAERITUR: Admitting RCIA candidates to Communion?

  1. Fr. Andrew says:

    By coincidence a similar question arose today: should a baptized RCIA candidate who so desires be admitted to confession prior to their full reception? I can’t think of a good reason not to. The candidate isn’t seeking communion early or to shirk the process but is desirous of confession. Is there something I’m not aware of here?

    Apologies for /tj

  2. As an RCIA catechist (and alumni myself), the idea of admitting people to communion ‘early’ is not only incorrect, but completely conter-productive. In my experience, for many people it is their hunger for the Eucharist that goads them to do serious soul searching about those areas where they still have ‘hangups’ with Church teaching — the waiting forces them to take the RCIA journey seriously.

    @Fr. Andrew — If the person is already appropriately catechised, I agree completely. However if they are still learning it might not be possible to make an adequate confession (as they don’t have enough knowlege of the faith to make a good exam of conscience). Better to encourage them to make a sincere act of contrition with the intention of confessing at the appropriate time.

  3. If the person is completely catechized, just RECEIVE HIM INTO THE CHURCH! Then he can go to Communion all he wants!

    Or are we suggesting that babies should have their First Communion before they’re Baptized? Or that kids should be married in the Church before they receive First Communion? Or maybe, we should give people Holy Orders before they’re Confirmed! Yeah, that all sounds great! And we can go find the nearest neopagan circle, and make all of them bishops!

    This is so freakin’ messed up. You make Catholic little kids jump through five hundred hoops and service projects and years of religion class before they’re allowed to receive First Communion, and then, you let a non-Catholic who’s not dying or anything, receive Communion just because he feels like it??? Way to spit on all the other converts’ long waits, and on the little kiddies’ hard work. Way to spit on the divorced people waiting for annulments and the folks refraining from Communion to avoid sin. Oh, the trouble you’re going to have in that parish if anybody at all finds out. When the news reports an aboveground nuclear explosion set off by parents and remarried Catholics living as brother and sister, I’ll know what it’s all about.

    If somebody is ready for Communion, receive him into the Church and give him all the relevant Sacraments. If he’s ready to keel over and die, receive him into the Church and give him all the relevant Sacraments.

    If someone (who isn’t dying or in other emergency situation) isn’t willing to get received before going to Communion, he’s not ready for Communion, then, is he?

  4. Possibly my words were a bit intemperate. But. Your pastor really really needs to read that letter to seminarians. The part about law and rights. The part where law is love, and ignoring canon law destroys other peoples’ rights.

  5. Scott W. says:

    Write. The. Bishop. Now.

    (Politely)

    It may not do any good if your bishop is off the reservation as well, but you need to start the paper trail.

    Now, if this is a case where RCIA candidates desired confession and/or confirmation prior to finishing the RCIA process that Fr. Andrew mentioned, that’s another and often acceptable option, but that’s not what this reader is describing. Rather, it sounds like a flat-out error.

  6. JayneK says:

    I was told by a priest that I could receive Communion before I became Catholic. His reasoning was similar to that of the priest mentioned in the post. After I learned more about it (after I had been Catholic for a while), I regretted that I had not waited until my reception into the Church. I know the priest meant well and was trying to be welcoming, but I wish he hadn’t told me that.

  7. Miriam says:

    I serve in a prison ministry and there is one man who always give communion to any prisoner who wishes it, whether they are Catholic or not or whether they have had confession or not.

    Why does he do this? Because he is a convert who was given communion before he was received into the church.

    You cannot change his mind on this. After all Jesus is for everybody.

  8. ChantalM says:

    @JayneK:

    I am a convert myself, and the priest that confirmed me essentially had the same reasoning. In hindsight, like you, I wish I had waited too and stood up to said priest. Well before I entered the RCIA program as such, he allowed me to receive, though I knew in my gut it was wrong, but I didn’t honestly know for sure I can still remember going up for a blessing one time (I know, not the time) because I couldn’t receive because of mortal sin (this was after I was Catholic for a few months), and he basically took me aside and said you can receive anyways if you intend to go to Confession ASAP. OK?! Even I know better than that. To boot he’s the priest/chaplain for a university and a prof. at the local seminary teaching of all things liturgy. He’s pretty liberal anyways, but even I know you don’t just allow anyone to receive. Very much post-Vatican II priest. Arggh! When will these priests learn?

  9. I agree with Suburbanbanshee! Good grief! The priest should look up “Human Respect.”

    In the 80s there was this retreat called “Awakening” in south Louisiana. My older brother was really into this and so was this friend of his who became a priest and very involved with the retreat. I was finally talked into going to one of these weekends and on Sunday at the end of the retreat was a Mass. I almost went through the floor when I heard the priest announce. “If you really believe this is Jesus you can come up and receive Communion, Catholic or not.” At first I was shocked and then I was insulted because I had to “jump through hoops” to be able to receive Jesus. I can’t imagine the insult it must have been for Our Dear Lord.

    When my brother asked me why I no longer wanted to attend these weekends I told him that it was wrong for non-Catholics to be allowed to receive Jesus. His reply was, “Well, “XXX” said that if they believe it is Jesus then it is ok.” I harshly disagreed with that priest…who by the way is now a bishop. Needless to say, I had nothing to do with those retreats any longer and I certainly had no respect for this priest/bishop.

  10. Federico says:

    The pastor’s reasoning is sound only in case of danger of imminent death, provided the candidates are baptized (see c. 844 §4).

    On the other hand, I think often RCIA is a much longer process than it needs. Think Acts 8:36-38.

  11. Bryan Boyle says:

    Of course RCIA is longer than it needs to be. Otherwise, how could all the publishing companies make money on the multitude of books, pamphlets, worship aids, etc that have sprung up to support it, and what would all those RCIA coordinators in diocesan chancelleries do for a living?

    Of course, you have to have priests who are personally willing to teach, sanctify, and administer the sacraments. That takes time. And patience. And holiness.

    It’s another hold-over from the 60s mentality of having to have a ‘process’ by which anything gets done. My father, baptized as a Presbyterian, attended Methodist as a youngster, was (with my mom’s encouragement, IOW, ‘we ain’t marryin’ till you’re Catholic’) instructed in the faith by the priest on board his ship during the Korean War. Confirmed and First Communion in the church (Ste. Anne’s Shrine, Fall River MA) they eventually celebrated their marriage in (and I was baptized in.). Guess what? He’s as Catholic as you could hope for, and has suffered no ill effects in his faith life by not sitting in an RCIA classroom and ‘relating’ stories of his faith journey to other catechumens and candidates.

    But partaking of the Eucharist BEFORE formal reception without good or critical reason just because “it feels good” and “we’re a welcoming community” or some such claptrap? I agree with other posters. The bishop should be made aware, keep copies of all correspondence…and if it’s not rectified, exercise all of our rights in charity for correction.

    Full disclosure: I am a member of my parish’s RCIA teaching team. Might as well put my education and degree (masters in religious education from the NYC Archdiocese) to use, right? And, take it from me…it’s not an encounter session or group huggie…it’s good, orthodox catechesis without the fluff and touchie-feelie relativistic pap. When they stand up at the Vigil…they know what they’re getting into and what’s expected of them as Catholics with a capital C.

  12. Of course, the same pastor would never dream of just foregoing RCIA, would he?

  13. AnAmericanMother says:

    Actually, our pastor did forego RCIA with our family. He very generously gave several hours out of his incredibly busy day to meet with us, and since nosebleed-high Anglicans are often reputed to be ‘more Roman than Rome’, we quickly discovered that the only points on which we had any difference were the validity of Anglican Orders and the supremacy of the Pope. We were able to wholeheartedly and enthusiastically concede both those issues, and the whole family was quietly received into the Church in a private ceremony in the parish chapel. And went to Mass right afterwards, a little frightened but very happy.
    In the course of our conversation, our pastor told us that our archbishop had already considered and approved the issue of ultramontane Anglicans who were unable to attend their own church (in the case approved by the archbishop, a family had moved to remote North Georgia far from their high church parish). And as he said, we couldn’t ‘approach a minister of our own community’ under 844 sec. 4 because they had all run barking mad . . . .

  14. lizfromFL says:

    There is a “center” near me that celebrate a Sunday Mass. It is organized in such a way that people with disabilities can attend ( a person signing the words of the Mass, extra room for wheelchairs, etc.) I was very excited to go with my oldest son who has cerebral palsy.

    I found out that they say “all are welcome” and i was under the distinct impression that non-Catholics were receiving. This left a bad taste in my mouth, and very disappointed bc I had really hoped to attend there.

  15. Stvsmith2009 says:

    When I went through RCIA a bit over 6 years ago, our priest made it clear we could not receive the Eucharist until we had been received into the Church. We were encouraged later however, to go forward with our arms crossed over chests (to indicate we couldn’t receive the Eucharist) so that we could receive a blessing. Even then, when I went up one Sunday morning with arms crossed, the deacon asked me if I could receive and I told him no. The greatest thing in my life was my first reception of the Blessed Sacrament at the Easter Vigil Mass in 2004.

  16. The whole point of RCIA is to teach and convert people the same way that the early Church did. The early Church was particularly desirous of not letting anyone receive Communion unless the person was known to be a Catholic Christian. (As opposed to Gnostics, occult folks, members of weird sects, etc.) So yeah, it’s strange not to understand this, when the whole symbolic act of marching the catechumens out of church is supposed to emphasize that they can’t receive the Sacraments yet (and make them yearn more for it, helping them become more devout).

  17. @Bryan – completely agree about the standard RCIA ‘curricula’ — we threw out the books as well. And our class sizes are 2-3 times bigger than the rest of the parishes in the Archdiocese. Go figure. Its good to hear that we aren’t the only ones.

  18. Random Friar says:

    I agree with Suburbanbanshee, and would add that this is one of the reforms of Vatican II (the restoration of a more full process of catechumenate). Like anything from the Council, it is not a bad idea… although there is no idea that can’t be implemented badly sometimes.

  19. Bryan Boyle says:

    @Random Friar:
    Or overly thought through? Sometimes, I’m just of the opinion that we over-process things which, in the rush to somehow recapture a more ‘pristine’ Catholicism…as if we should throw out the experience of 2000 years…we end up making it a lot more complicated than it really is.

    (And, yes, even for adults, I have my trusty copy of the Baltimore Catechism for ready basic reference. Even adult catechisms overcomplicate and overexplain and overrationalize some very simple concepts. )

  20. Bryan Boyle says:

    @Jason:

    Quality begets quantity. People instinctively know when you’re blowing smoke. And they gravitate towards meaty, sink-your-teeth-into-it teaching. The fluffy, kumbayah campy stuff? Not so much, and the results show.

  21. I once attended a parish with the OPPOSITE RCIA problem: All RCIA people had to leave Mass after the readings so that they could share feelings and whatnot. Catholics who were in RCIA because they needed to make their Confirmation were ALSO TOLD they could not attend the full Mass. So one poor girl went months without communion because she didn’t want to make the RCIA director angry.

    (Note: I’m also unclear on why it’s a good idea to keep Catachumens out of Mass… I mean, can’t they at least make a spiritual communion and get to sit in the presence of the Lord? RCIA really needs major work— maybe a clear document setting out everything so that these abuses wouldn’t occur?)

  22. I had a very good reply, but Fr. Z’s computer broke it….

    1. If you’ve never read St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s transcribed catechumen classes from 347 AD (look for the Catechetical Lectures and after Easter, The Mystagogical Lectures), you should do that. They’re readily available on the Internet. You will learn a lot about the Church’s rationale for “barring catechumens from the Mass”.

    2. RCIA isn’t really meant for Catholics, unless they literally know practically nothing about the faith, or have a lot of non-Catholic objections and doubts to get over. If Catholics just needing to get Confirmed are in RCIA, though, they should be going to Mass at another time and just waiting in the classroom for everybody else to get there. (Though I think all parishes should have adult religious education classes for Catholic adults.) Or even better, they should just confirm people and not be so crazy about the rigmarole, since that’s not the nature of the Sacrament to be rigmarole-y.

  23. Austin says:

    I think it unwise to communicate those who are not received. But I agree with those who urge quick reception for the right converts.

    I know several people (mostly Anglican) who have been driven away from the Church by the RCIA process, which is far too often imposed inflexibly on people for whom it is not suited.

    The process is intended for the uncatechized. Most serious Protestants seem to have a far better grounding in the fundamentals of their faith than Catholics do of theirs. They have done a good deal of study on their road to Rome, and so know a good bit about Catholic doctrine. (I am thinking here about former Evangelicals.) They should be instructed on the points of difference, and received.

    Anglo-Catholics are a somewhat different case. Many have a firmer grasp of Catholic theology and devotional practice than life-long Catholics. They should be offered a process that concentrates on bridging the narrow, but sometimes deep, divide between Rome and their sub-set of Anglicanism. They are more likely to assimilate rapidly when engaged in worship and parish life.

    Further, many of those instructing RCIA courses are ignorant, insensitive, and of dubious orthodoxy. They certainly know little of other Christian bodies. Among many examples: An Anglican clergyman I know, who used to lecture in theology, wished to be received. He was consigned to RCIA. The instructor was not only woefully uninformed, he also seemed to resent the converts under his charge. My acquaintance was expected to endure lectures about Christology from a man who apparently knew nothing of the Arian controversy and the hypostatic union, but was sure that Protestants were by definition not orthodox on this issue. The clergyman’s suggestions, offered tactfully, brought the wrath of the instructor and rebukes from the pastor. Though an exceptionally mild man, he was designated a “troublemaker” and doubts cast on whether he was suitable for reception. The whole process was hostile and distressing in the extreme. In the end, he left and became Antiochene Orthodox.

    By contrast, a friend of mine in Philadelphia, who studied his way into Catholic conviction, decided to be received. He was examined by a priest friend on Friday and Saturday and made a retreat. On Sunday, he made his confession, was received, and communicated. He is now a happy and dynamic Catholic layman.

    Catholics should not under-estimate the psychological barriers to conversion for other Christians. Presenting themselves for reception often represents the end of a long and arduous journey. Such people do not benefit from another arduous process and should not be forced to go through one unless it is clear that they need thorough instruction. They are serious about their faith, and will grow into it, given time and a generous welcome.

  24. Re: speedy Sacraments — St Pierre-Julien Eymard pioneered “First Communion for Poor Adults”, for Catholics who hadn’t been able to receive as kids because they were working all the time in child labor factories. He looked them up, gave them instruction when they had time, got their employers to give them a few days off for a retreat, and then gave them First Communion. He thought it was essential that they not face adulthood without the strengthening support of Communion.

  25. frival says:

    The fundamental problem with RCIA as it is normally implemented is that it presupposes a rigid schedule and format with no regard to the spiritual state of the individual participants. As a process it was designed for those with little-to-no knowledge of Christianity and who therefore required a lengthier catechetical process than say a high church Anglican or perhaps a Lutheran. Generally its “oh, you want to become Catholic? Okay, the RCIA group meets at such-and-such a time.” You can have people who have never set foot inside a church right next to those who have already read, digested and accepted the Catechism, conciliar documents and the writings of recent Popes. While that can have a value all its own it’s not the proper function of the process.

    Having gone through RCIA myself and now helping with my parish’s RCIA team I am of the opinion that people ought to be received into the Church the moment they are sufficiently prepared, not one second before or after. We ought to be careful of inviting to the Sacraments those who are not yet prepared spiritually for them and for what their reception demands of them; simultaneously to withhold the Sacraments from someone for the purposes of a preset timetable is inviting trouble in the interim. Yes, it is beautiful to watch catechumen be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil, but that beauty and its inherent value ought never supersede the rights and needs of those catechumen.

    This IMO is where true pastoral sensitivity comes in. As important as the RCIA director and whatever staff may be, it’s the pastor’s duty (again, IMO) to make sure such things are handled properly.

  26. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    If I may (belatedly) take up a strand of the post not yet mentioned: Father Z has written, “Since the Orthodox, Polish National Catholics, and Old Catholics are closer to us in doctrine, etc., there is a bit more leeway, if they ask for Communion and if they are properly disposed (cf. CIC 1983 c. 844).”

    It is now nearly four years since Archbishop (or ‘Archbishop’ ?) Joris Vercammen got the Dutch Old Catholic Church to accept a motion to bless same-sex ‘unions’, explicitly stressing (if I may translate: I have never encountered an official English version, though there may be one) “the recognition that the ‘life-binding’ [levensverbintenis] of homosexual baptized people based upon exclusive and life-long faithfulness [trouw, cf. English 'troth-plighting'] is seen as a contribution to the mission of the Church”.

    As far as I can see, he shortly thereafter succeeded in getting the Old Catholic International Bishops Conference, over which he presided (and still presides), to accept this as well.

    One would expect this to have had immediate and drastic repercussions on relations with the Old Catholics, but I have never seen any notice of any formal comment on it (though I may, of course, simply have missed any and all such).

    I do not know how Old Catholic lay folk, deacons, and priests who do not accept this, but have not formally left the Old Catholic Church, might be regarded as qualifying ” for Communion [...] if they are properly disposed” but “Old Catholics [formally regarded] are [now further from, rather than] closer to [...] in doctrine” as far as I can judge, and this seems a great and widely neglected problem.

    Perhaps Professor Tighe, who has made and linked to some interesting contributions about the Old Catholics in the past can illuminate the matter?