I have an atheist friend and she is always challenging me on my Catholic beliefs, not in a mean aggressive way or anything, she’s honestly curious — so I invited her to Mass. I thought if she came to Mass with me this would help with some of her questions but it kinda made things worse, especially me telling her she couldn’t receive Communion when she started to get up and get in line with me. I think it made her feel ostracized and now she’s been avoiding me lately. We’ve been friends for years, we used to work together and just stayed friends even after we changed jobs, and I enjoy having her as a friend so I’d like to fix this.
Try to imagine the situation from your friend’s perspective — she was invited to an event and not told what to expect, only to be corrected later in front of everyone. I imagine she was embarrassed and that’s the source of her ill feelings.
The best way to fix this is to simply call your friend up and offer an apology. Tell her you are sorry for not talking to her about Mass etiquette beforehand and putting her in an embarrassing situation. Be as humble as you can, explaining your best intentions in inviting her to Mass, thanking her for coming, and then asking her to forgive you for not preparing her. Invite her to lunch as a chance to make up for hard feelings.
Even if you feel your friend is being overly sensitive and such an apology is extreme, someone has to make the first move to mend the friendship. Since you stated you wanted to mend your strained relationship that means that first move has to be made by you. Sometimes that’s what it takes to maintain friendships that are important to us.
I think it’s wonderful your friend is genuinely curious about Catholicism. Conversion can often start with intellectual curiosity. You did a very generous thing by inviting her to Mass — you just may not have realized that people outside Catholicism tend to take our views on reception of Communion as exclusionary.
When you sit down with your friend again listen to her tell you how the incident made her feel and respond first to her feelings, and then you can explain to her the importance of the Blessed Sacrament to our faith. You don’t need get into a heavy-handed theological explanation. All you have to say is that the Eucharist isn’t meant as an act of exclusion but instead it’s an act of affirmation — an affirmation of faith and an affirmation in the belief of the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Since she doesn’t affirm those beliefs then it doesn’t make sense for her to present herself for reception of Communion.That’s all. It’s not meant to be a personal slight — and again offer your apologies for not telling her that beforehand.
Work on mending the friendship first. You’ve been friends for years so there will be plenty of time to address her questions about Catholicism later on. Just let her know your offer to come back to Mass with you still stands and that you’ll do your best to answer her questions.
In the meantime, you can also brush up on your apologetic skills to help your friend’s curiosity. Look into any parish adult religious education classes or sit in on a couple of RCIA classes. You can also check out a few books from the library — look for books from authors Scott Hahn or Patrick Madrid as a good starting point. And don’t forget to pray for your friend and your friendship.