ASK FATHER: Report a priest who gave Communion to a Protestant minister?

From a reader…


Does one have to report a priest who knowingly gave communion to a protestant pastor?

In my parish we had an ecumenical rorate mass [An “ecumenical Mass”…?] during advent and the protestant pastor present (who also gave the homily) [lay people are not permitted to preach homilies at Mass] was given communion in public at the alter for everybody to see. [?!?] I seem to be the only one who cares. Do i have to speak to the priest about this or does this not seem rather out of place for a young lay womam to confront an elderly priest? So far he has been kind enough to allowe me to take communion on the tongue. [The priest doesn’t have the right/ability to “allow” you to receive on the tongue.] I don’t wish to loose that priviledge (i know it’s right but noone here cares about what Rome says).

Since this was all quite public, and it is in the past, I would write to directly to your local bishop.  Save a copy of your letter and any responses.

The document Redemptionis Sacramentum says:

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.

Keep in mind that, according to can. 844 in the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church only the diocesan bishop can decide if a non-Catholic may be admitted to Communion and under what circumstances.

Can. 844 §3. Catholic ministers administer the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick licitly to members of Eastern Churches which do not have full communion with the Catholic Church if they seek such on their own accord and are properly disposed. This is also valid for members of other Churches which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition in regard to the sacraments as these Eastern Churches. [This doesn’t seem to describe the Protestant minister.]

844 §4. If the danger of death is present or [if] if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who [1] cannot approach a minister of their own community and [2] who seek such on their own accord, provided that [3] they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and [4] are properly disposed.

Do NOT instruct the bishop about the law: he knows it already.  Just give the facts of what happened without lots of comments.  However, you might ask the bishop if he gave permission for Communion to be received and for the minister to preach.

That said, for your own knowledge…

The Code of Canon Law and the General Instruction of the Roman Missal are pretty clear that the homily is reserved only to a bishop, priest or deacon who have faculties to preach.  A Protestant minister cannot give a homily.

The 1993 document Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity says:

134. In the Catholic Eucharistic Liturgy, the homily which forms part of the liturgy itself is reserved to the priest or deacon, since it is the presentation of the mysteries of faith and the norms of Christian living in accordance with Catholic teaching and tradition.

Also, Redemptionis Sacramentum clarifies the abuse of lay-people giving a homily.

[64.] The homily, which is given in the course of the celebration of Holy Mass and is a part of the Liturgy itself,“should ordinarily be given by the Priest celebrant himself. He may entrust it to a concelebrating Priest or occasionally, according to circumstances, to a Deacon, but never to a layperson. In particular cases and for a just cause, the homily may even be given by a Bishop or a Priest who is present at the celebration but cannot concelebrate”.

[65.] It should be borne in mind that any previous norm that may have admitted non-ordained faithful to give the homily during the eucharistic celebration is to be considered abrogated by the norm of canon 767 §1. This practice is reprobated, so that it cannot be permitted to attain the force of custom.

[66.] The prohibition of the admission of laypersons to preach within the Mass applies also to seminarians, students of theological disciplines, and those who have assumed the function of those known as “pastoral assistants”; nor is there to be any exception for any other kind of layperson, or group, or community, or association.

Going on, say there is some sort of ecumenical “pulpit exchange”:

[74.] If the need arises for the gathered faithful to be given instruction or testimony by a layperson in a Church concerning the Christian life, it is altogether preferable that this be done outside Mass. Nevertheless, for serious reasons it is permissible that this type of instruction or testimony be given after the Priest has proclaimed the Prayer after Communion. This should not become a regular practice, however. Furthermore, these instructions and testimony should not be of such a nature that they could be confused with the homily, nor is it permissible to dispense with the homily on their account.

Non-Catholic ministers don’t get a pass.  They are not to give the sermon at Mass.  They are not to be given Communion at Mass.

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  1. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Dear Father,

    I seems obvious that the provisions by which a Bishop can make an exception to permit a non-catholic to receive a sacrament could never apply in a case such as this, in which the Sacrament was administered to a protestant minister who was not infirm, or certainly not seriously so.

    Or have I missed something?

  2. clarinetist04 says:

    A number of times I’ve heard nuns give homilies (even non-LCWR-type sisters). Is this acceptable? I would doubt it – the law seems very clear, just looking for affirmation of the fact.

  3. Volanges says:

    This is the reverse of what I witnessed in our community. During the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity the Catholic parish and several ecclesial communities took turns having daily ecumenical services. The night we were scheduled to go to the Anglican church the Anglican Primate was in town and instead of an “ecumenical” service we got a formal Anglican Communion Service led by their top bishop.

    When it came to communion time the Anglicans went up and knelt at the rail and received. I noticed several of our parishioners remain in the pews; at least they remained there until our Pastor got up and went to receive from the Anglican bishop. When they saw Father go up to receive they followed suit. I was the only Catholic in the church that night who didn’t.

    I really didn’t know what to do about what I had witnessed. I considered talking to my bishop but I knew he’d already advised a non-Catholic who’d asked whether he could receive Communion at the funeral the Bishop was celebrating to “Pretend you didn’t ask this question.” Communion was received. Didn’t think he’d take kindly to my complaint.

  4. Gerhard says:

    “Do NOT instruct the bishop about the law: he knows it already.” – good, counter intuitive, advice.
    It’s not the bishop’s apparent ignorance that’s (generally) the real problem…

  5. frjim4321 says:

    What’s the point of putting so many resources toward the Catechumenate if we simply give communion to everyone?

  6. Austin says:

    When I was an Anglican, our parish was regularly visited by a Catholic priest who had close affinity with the Anglo-Catholic tradition. He came accompanied by a religious sister who helped him get about. Both priest and nun always conspicuously received, the elements being brought to them in the front pew since the priest could not get easily to the altar rail. I often wondered whether anyone in authority had given permission for this. It went on for decades, I learned.

  7. pfreddys says:

    If I were in these circumstances I would send a copy of my letter to the offending priest: just in the interests of not sandbagging anyone.

  8. JamesM says:


    In Canon Law, preaching is reserved to the priest or deacon.

    As a nun cannot be either a priest or deacon what you have witnessed is not permitted.

  9. Adaquano says:

    This reminds of me a case 10 years ago that occured near a parish that is close to where I live currently. A longtime and well respected resident of this parish community passed away. Many clergy of other churches of this neighborhood attended the funeral. When it came to the Gospel the pastor invited the pastor of the local Episcopal church to read the Gospel. An antendee of the Mass reported this to the diocese. It became a big stink when the bishop removed the priest from the parish. The point is this parishoner wasn’t afraid to report a clear liturgical abuse.

  10. Michael_Thoma says:

    Since sacrilege and ignoring the law is custom nowadays in many places, I wonder how long before the powers that be decide to throw up their hands and legitimize it. After all, it happened in St. Peters with full knowledge.. hey 30 years of lawbreaking makes it allowable, doesn’t it?

    See, they’ve already made lay-women-homilies a ‘local custom’ in Rochester:

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