Q. 1. My wife belongs to a protestant religion. She attends Holy Mass with me at a Catholic Church on a regular basis. She believes that during the Consecration during the Holy Mass, the bread and wine change into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist (this is called "transubstantiation"), while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before. Therefore, can she receive Holy Communion with me?
A. 1. According to the Code of Canon Law # 844.4, outside of the danger of death, only a Bishop or Bishops' Conference can grant such a permission.
"If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop or Conference of Bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same Sacraments [Baptism, Confirmation, and the Most Holy Eucharist] licitly also to other christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed." [Code of Canon Law, 844 §4]
As Catholics, we believe that the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of our oneness in faith, life and worship. Members of churches with whom we are not yet fully united are therefore not ordinarily invited to participate in Holy Communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects on this teaching:
"When, in the Ordinary's judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the Sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these Sacraments and possess the required dispositions." [Catechism of the Catholic Church # 241]
"Catholic ministers may licitly administer the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick to members of the Oriental churches which do not have full Communion with the Catholic Church, if they ask on their own for the Sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgment of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the Oriental churches as far as these Sacraments are concerned" (Code of Canon Law # 844 § 3).
As mentioned above,the Code of Canon Law provides exceptions at Nuptial Masses where one partner is a non-Catholic, at funerals, and for those near death and in nursing homes under proper circumstances.
The spirit and norms of the Canon Law clearly dictates that Eucharistic sharing among christians who do not share full ecclesial communion would never be done routinely or casually. This would violate the principle that the Eucharist is a visible manifestation of full communion in faith. Consequently, a general invitation should never be extended to christians who are not Catholic to share in Holy Communion with a Catholic community.
However, “in certain circumstances, by way of exception and under certain conditions, access to these Sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick) may be permitted or even commended for Christians of other churches and ecclesial communities.” This may always be done if a Christian is in danger of death. However, THE Eucharist may also be given to other Christians if there is, in the judgment of the Diocesan Bishop or Episcopal Conference, some other “grave necessity” or “grave and pressing need.”
Whenever a pastoral decision regarding Eucharistic sharing with other Christians is made, the following norms and principles are to be followed carefully:
• The person requesting the Sacrament must be validly baptized. Baptism is valid when water is poured or the person is immersed and the trinitarian formula is used. For example, valid baptism is presumed for Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists.
• The person must manifest the faith which the Catholic Church professes in the Sacrament. As a minimum for Eucharistic sharing, the person must believe that in receiving the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ. In some communions this is standard dogma; for example, Episcopalians and Lutherans can be presumed to believe in the Real Presence. For members of other communions, there may be need for some further discussion concerning their belief in the Eucharist.
• The person must ask for the Sacrament freely. The request must have been initiated by the person seeking Eucharistic communion.
• The person must be unable to have recourse for the Sacrament to a minister of his or her own community. This condition is met when gaining access to one’s own minister poses a reasonable physical, moral or psychological difficulty, or causes serious inconvenience for the minister or recipient.
• The person must be properly disposed to receive the Sacrament. “Proper disposition” is no different than was is required for Catholics, i.e., not conscious of serious sin (see canon 916). “Being properly disposed means being in a good relationship with God, or if not, taking whatever steps are necessary to return to a good relationship with God.”
In Summary, when you ask why is it that our protestant brothers and sisters cannot receive Communion in the Catholic Church on a regular basis? The main reason is because protestants are not Catholic and they do not accept the teachings of the Catholic Church, or else they would have already joined the Catholic Church.
Jesus prayed to the Heavenly Father that we may be one. "Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one." [John 17:11] The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church welcomes home non-Catholics with open arms. It is natural that the husband longs for his wife to receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist with him. And as you indicated, your spouse believes in the Catholic teachings. Having said that, the natural thing left to do is to convert to the Catholic faith in accordance with the Divine Will of God.
Note: For greater details, I recommend that you visit the Diocese of Rockville Center regarding their policy on sacramental sharing. The Catholic Church must be very careful about sharing the Eucharist with a non-Catholic. Bishops must go into every possible, relevant detail so that there will not be even the slightest risk of abuse or misunderstanding. Always check with your own Bishop regarding the policy your Diocese has implemented on sacramental sharing versus the policy of the Rockville Center Diocese.