Sacraments are acts of worship which use physical symbols to represent spiritual ideas. Holy Communion is a Christian sacrament in which bread and wine are used to represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ, which Christians believe was sacrificed for them during Christ's crucifixion. Presbyterians and Catholics both practice communion, but there are several differences in both their understanding of the nature of communion and in their practice of taking communion.
Transubstantiation or Testimony
For Catholics, Holy Communion -- also called the "Eucharist" -- is the most important sacrament. The Eucharist is central to their beliefs and to their church services. They believe that when a person properly receives communion, the bread and wine become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. This teaching is known as "transubstantiation." For Catholics, forgiveness of sin and grace are received during communion. Presbyterians, on the other hand, believe that sacraments serve as illustrations. Presbyterians believe that the presence of Jesus Christ is very real in Holy Communion, but that the bread and wine are just symbols of the spiritual ideas that communion represents.
Participation in Catholic Communion
Catholic teaching generally does not allow non-Catholics to participate in communion administered by their priests. Only Catholics are to partake in communion, and only if they have been baptized, have already received their first communion, have been to confession since their last mortal -- that is, serious or willful -- sin and have fasted at least one hour before taking communion. There are rare circumstances in which Catholic priests may give communion to non-Catholics, but even then the recipient must affirm belief in transubstantiation. Presbyterians believe that the Lord's Table should be open to everyone who has been baptized. Additionally, under normal circumstances, Catholics are not allowed to take communion in non-Catholic churches.
Participation in Presbyterian Communion
Presbyterians believe that the Lord's Table should be open to all who want to participate, including young children. The only restrictions are that participants have expressed faith in Jesus Christ and have been baptized. The baptism need not be in a Presbyterian church. Presbyterians sometimes even allow those who have not been baptized to participate, though they encourage them to become baptized as soon as is practical.
Method and Frequency
The Catholic Church practices communion in most of their religious services. Catholics are encouraged to take communion often -- daily if they are able to do so. Some Presbyterians take communion every Sunday during their church services; other Presbyterian churches practice communion less often. Catholics use a special flat wafer for the body of Christ and wine for the blood of Christ. They are invited to come up to the church's altar area where a priest places the wafer either in their hand or on their tongue. Wine is generally served from a communal chalice. Presbyterians may use any kind of bread commonly used by the people where the church is located. They may use wine or non-alcoholic wine (grape juice) which may be served in a communal cup or in individual cups.
- Catholic Answers: Who Can Receive Communion?
- EWTN: Communion of Non-Catholics or Intercommunion
- Vatican: Catechism of the Catholic Church
- U.S. Catholic: Can a Catholic Receive Communion in a Protestant Church?
- Presbyterian Mission Agency: What Do Presbyterians Believe about Communion?
- Calvin Institute of Christian Worship: Lord's Supper Practice in the Reformed and Presbyterian Tradition
- First Presbyterian Church: The Lord's Supper at First Presbyterian Church
- North Church: Are Visitors Allowed to Take Communion at North Church
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images