In the Catholic Church, the celebration of the Eucharist, or receiving Communion, is an essential part of religious practice and an opportunity for members of the Church to fully unite with Christ and each other. Many Catholic funerals will include a celebration of the Eucharist, and non-Catholics in attendance may be confused as to whether they should participate.

Communion for Catholics

In the Book of Matthew, Chapter 26, of the Bible, Christ offers his disciples bread and wine, stating that these are his body and blood, given up so that people may be forgiven their sins. In the Christian rite of Communion, participants receive bread and wine, mirroring Christ's act. For most Protestant denominations, the Eucharist is a symbolic representation of Christ's sacrifice. When Catholics celebrate the Eucharist, they believe in transubstantiation, that the presiding priest literally transforms the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Because the beliefs and rituals associated with Communion are so different among Christian denominations, the Catholic Church only permits full members of the Church to receive communion. Members of Orthodox churches are also permitted to receive Catholic Communion.

Exceptional Circumstances

According to Catholic Canon law, the Eucharist may be shared with non-Catholics in some exceptional circumstances. These include times at which there is "grave and pressing need," and if certain conditions are met. The person wishing to receive communion must exhibit a Catholic belief in Communion and must be unable to receive communion in their own church. Canon law states that exceptions should be approved by a diocesan bishop.

Catholic Funeral Masses

Some Church officials may extend the allowance for "exceptional circumstances" to funeral masses, allowing a bereaved spouse or other family member who is not a Church member take part in Communion, provided certain conditions are met. Prior approval by a bishop is preferable, but priests may make a decision themselves in some cases. However, a priest should never extend a general invitation to receive Communion. Some churches may print an invitation to receive Communion limited to Catholics in programs or on cards in pews to remind non-members of the Church's beliefs and requirements.

Not Receiving Communion

Visitors to the Church not receiving Communion should not approach the altar when Communion is offered, even to request a blessing. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops invites visitors not receiving Communion to "express in their hearts a prayerful desire for unity with the Lord Jesus and with one another," and to "offer their prayers for the peace and the unity of the human family."