What Is the Difference in Taking Communion in a Presbyterian Church and a Catholic Church?

by Janet Mulroney Clark

Christian churches of all denominations celebrate communion and connect it with their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are significant theological differences in the teachings of each church, however, which have lead to various traditions and rules regarding communion. Both the Presbyterian Church and the Catholic Church believe communion is a sacrament, or a special means of receiving God’s grace, but they hold different views on the exact meaning of communion and how it is to be received.

Presbyterian Beliefs

Presbyterians believe that God freely offers the sacrament of communion, or The Lord’s Supper, as a sign of grace and God’s relationship with believers. They do not believe in the transubstantiation, which is the belief that the bread becomes the actual body of Jesus Christ and the wine becomes his blood; they do believe Christ is genuinely present and offers strength to all who receive communion. Presbyterians teach that the Word of God, the Bible, should be read and proclaimed with the sacrament of communion. Presbyterian churches may offer communion each week or not; this decision is left to the discretion of the local church.

Catholic Beliefs

The Catholic Church teaches that communion, or the Holy Eucharist, is the most important of its seven sacraments. Catholics teach the doctrine of transubstantiation, the belief that the bread becomes the actual body of Jesus Christ and the wine becomes his blood. Communion is offered at every Mass, the Catholic church service; it follows a specific liturgy or form of worship which is the same in all Catholic churches.

Who Can Take Communion

Any baptized person is welcome to take communion in the Presbyterian Church. According to their Book of Order, “In preparing to receive Christ in this Sacrament, the believer is to confess sin and brokenness, to seek reconciliation with God and neighbor, and to trust in Jesus Christ for cleansing and renewal.” Only Catholics may take communion in the Catholic Church, and only if they meet certain conditions. They have to be in a state of grace, which according to the Catholic church means they must first go to confession if they have committed a mortal sin. They believe sex outside of marriage, homosexual acts, engaging in impure thoughts, using contraception and murder to be mortal sins. Catholics must accept the doctrine of transubstantiation in order to take communion, and they must not be under excommunication, or expulsion from the church. They must fast, or refrain from eating, for one hour prior to taking communion.

How to Take Communion

People take communion in the Presbyterian Church according to the customs of the individual church. They may approach the altar and take communion from the pastor or elder; they may stay in their seats while the deacons and elders bring communion to the congregation; or they may sit around a table. Wafers or actual bread is used, along with wine or grape juice. Catholics take communion from the priest who stands in front of the altar. Sometimes a Eucharistic minister helps the priest distribute the wafers, typically called the hosts. They may receive it on their tongues or in their hands. Generally they receive only the host, although sometimes the priest dips the host into the wine, which is called intinction. In some U.S. Catholic churches, another Eucharistic minister is up by the altar with a chalice of wine for people to drink from, if they choose. Taking the wine is optional.

About the Author

Janet Clark has written professionally since 2001. She writes about education, careers, culture, parenting, gardening and social justice issues. Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a degree in education. She has written two novels, "Blind Faith" and "Under the Influence." Clark has received several awards from the Iowa Press Women for her work.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images