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Help! My non-Catholic relations want to receive Communion at Mass

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Wanting to share the faith with non-Catholic family members often ends up causing unnecessary strife.

Dear Katrina,

Our daughter’s Confirmation is coming up this year and I’m afraid it’s going to rehash all the problems her First Communion caused. My family is Catholic but the rest of our relatives aren’t. We’re a big hodgepodge of everything — my family is Lutheran and Episcopalian, my husband’s family is Baptist and Pentecostal. We also have a couple of agnostic/atheists nieces and nephews, and an aunt who says she’s wiccan and goes to a Unitarian Universalist church.

Anyway, when our daughter received her First Communion we invited all our family. We were secretly kind of hoping they’d catch Catholicism by coming. I mean they wouldn’t be caught dead in a Catholic church any other way!  

So when they came we reminded them before Mass that they couldn’t receive Communion and our family practically acted like we asked them to wait in the car. My parents expected it coming from a more formal church background but my husband’s family took it as a personal insult and it was very awkward. The tension really marred the dinner we had planned to celebrate. His family didn’t stay long. For several months after we both had to listen to them talk about how unwelcoming the Catholic Church is and how if they invited us to their parish we would be treated better as welcomed guests instead of outcasts blah blah blah. This went on for almost six months before they let it go.

Needless to say we’re nervous how to go about sharing our daughter’s Confirmation and not really in hurry to go through all the awkwardness and months of aggravation after. But at the same time this is an exciting time for our family and we want to be able to share it with everyone we love.

So what to do?

– Nebraska   

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Dear Nebraska,

It’s always interesting, isn’t it, how people who wouldn’t dream of intruding on rituals exclusive to Buddhism don’t think twice of demanding inclusion in our Eucharist? In a way it’s a compliment to us. In another way, not so much.

I would have handled the First Communion incident a little differently and given the non-Catholic family members more warning about our communion practices instead of waiting until they’re about to walk through the church doors before Mass. It might be helpful, going forward, to include a little blurb on any invitations you decide to send out. This will give them time to get any indignation they may feel out of their system.

“Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and  that our sharing in the Eucharist is the sign of our oneness and unity in the Catholic Church. We invite Catholics who are prepared and properly disposed to receive Holy Communion. Non-Catholics and others not able to participate are invited to join us in prayer and song.”

Some people might suggest non-Catholics can still come up for a blessing, and you could do that, but then you’d have to phrase it carefully, i.e., “Those who cannot receive Holy Communion but wish to receive a blessing may present themselves during that time, with arms reverently crossed over their breast.” But you’re getting into dicey waters, there. People need coaching and if they do it incorrectly, the priest may become confused and try to give them the Host and your family, not wanting to make things even more awkward or be “rude” — or thinking you don’t know what you’re talking about — might just take it. I really wouldn’t advise it.  

How about this: Just don’t invite them to the church at all.

In many parishes there simply isn’t enough room for all of those guests on these special occasions, so it’s not unheard of to invite family members to the dinner, but not the liturgy.

You invited them to the Mass last time hoping the exposure to Catholicism would have a positive spiritual impact. How many years ago was your daughter’s First Communion, and in that time how many of your family members come into the Church?

Pentecostals and Baptists don’t have confirmations so your daughter being confirmed isn’t going to make much sense or mean anything to them anyway. Let the extended family sit this one out and share it with those who will appreciate the sacrament. You can all meet up at the party afterwards.

I know this is an exciting and important event that you want to share with your family, but so is the birth of child, and who’s going to drag every cousin, niece, nephew, and crazy aunt into the delivery room?  There are other ways to “share” your daughters confirmation with them … like tagging them in the photos on Facebook after the fact.

I kid. Sort of.  

But how is excluding them from attending her Confirmation going to share our faith, you wonder? Again, there are multiple ways to share your Catholic faith with others that are not (and shouldn’t be) reserved exclusively for huge sacramental events.

We should be sharing our faith with everyone we meet at every opportunity. By narrowing our idea of evangelization to only inviting folks to Mass we miss out on the everyday encounters and opportunities to be a witness for Catholicism. Don’t get me wrong, inviting people to Mass is an excellent way to share Catholicism, in fact it’s the ultimate way, but for many it might be too  much, at least at first. Taylor Marshall wrote a nice little piece detailing five ways you can share your faith that doesn’t involve inviting people to Mass.   

Our Mass and the Eucharist is the pinnacle of our faith and something to be revered, respected, and protected. I only invite folks to Mass when they’ve expressed a genuine interest and desire to learn more about Catholicism,  making them more receptive to the truth and miracles they’re about to experience.  I would never invite someone to Mass who openly mocks the Church or would be disrespectful to my beliefs and practices. Neither should you.

If you know certain members of your family are going to insulted and intentionally belligerent about not being able to receive the Body of Christ then by all means, save everyone the grief and don’t invite them. It doesn’t mean you love them less and if they see it that way the problem is theirs not yours.

I sincerely wish you the best and offer my congratulations to you and your daughter as you prepare for this sacrament.

Katrina

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