Good Table Manners?

The newly released issue of the journal Liturgy, has at its theme, “The Lord’s Table in a Changing World,” to which my invited contribution is entitled, “Good Table Manners?” Back in early September I posted a request for input from Pray Tell readers to help me get a sense of actual, current popular practices of ministry to individuals who join in the Communion Procession without the intention of receiving Holy Communion. I was grateful to the more than 50 readers who joined the conversation, whose input helped me craft the latter part of the article.

The publisher has encouraged us authors to post a link to the article on social media and blog sites we use, and so I’m happy to share it here:

Good Table Manners? The Presence and Participation of Fellow Christians at Roman Catholic Mass.

The symbol of the table in practical, popular contemporary Roman Catholicism shapes the inquiry of the article:

“The fact that by the end of Vatican II the church’s dogmatic teaching treated the Mass in terms not of propitiatory sacrifice but of table—the one table of Christ, both Word and Body—cannot be overestimated in relation to the reform of the Mass that followed. The popular, practical import over the ensuing half-century in the United States is evident in the way the vast majority of the Catholic laity have developed a highly open, forgiving, and inclusive view of who is welcomed not only to take part as members of the liturgical assembly but also to join in Holy Communion.”

While the journal’s audience is primarily Protestant, perhaps the sorts of questions I discuss in the article might prove of interest also to Roman Catholics and other Christians, such as:

  • the ongoing impact of the post-Vatican II Lectionary’s three-year cycle of gospel readings nourishing the faithful’s love of the Jesus who practice open, forgiving table fellowship,
  • the contemporary pastoral challenges of intercommunion for married couples, one of whom is Roman Catholic and the other, a member of another denomination,
  • why and how the code of canon law (1983) sheds light on the Church’s liturgical regulations concerning reception of Holy Communion,
  • what the US Catholic bishops’ guidelines state and, yet, how popular practices in US parishes have evolved in ways those guidelines apparently did not foresee.

With a word limit of 4000 words, I could only move quickly through each of those points. Perhaps Pray Tell readers would like to add their own insights, observations, or concerns.


  1. Thank you for this article. I am not concerned whether or not any person, Catholic or not, receives the holy communion. I cannot account for others, but only provide for my own preparation to receive the sacrament (ie. being shriven beforehand, prayer before Mass).

    The question of the table and propitiation are not facts from which Catholics should hide for the sake of ecumenism or fear that the language of sacrifice is strange or barbaric. We Catholics should most boldly and with heartfelt joy proclaim the re-presentation of the once-offered Calvary, now under the accidents of bread and wine. We should never shy from the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Victim or hostia. I would not be a Catholic were it not for this most central mystery of our faith.

    In my view, non-Catholics and non-Orthodox should approach for a blessing and not the communion simply because Catholics and Orthodox understand the centrality of propitiation in Mass. Both groups also understand the need to prepare oneself through confession and fasting. Other Christians who receive communion sometimes do have knowledge of the orthodox sacrificial doctrine but yet cannot prepare themselves for the sacrament.

    I wish I could be all-inclusive. I wish we could have “open table” like some Protestant denominations. Yet, to create a false ecumenism neglects or even openly subverts the central mystery of faith.

  2. Father Morrill, my post above was rigid, indicative of personal devotion but rather inconsiderate. Since I am not clergy, I cannot make any decision or statement on intercommunion. Nor should have I written the previous post. I do regret it.

    I do not regret my adoration of the crucified Christ of the Eucharist. I must practice better tact however out of kindness.


  3. Thanks, Bruce. There is a wonderful essay by Kevin Seasoltz, OSB, on this topic, “One House, Many Dwellings: Open and Closed Communion,” Worship 79, 5 (2005): 405-14, which I regularly use in my courses on Christian Initiation. Max

  4. I think it is a sign of respect to refrain from taking Communion in a Catholic Church if you’re not Catholic. It’s not respectful to flout our practice, and it’s an unhelpful false ecumenism when priests ignore or dismiss canon law for whatever reason. I don’t have a problem with such a person crossing their arms for a blessing (though we all receive a blessing before the dismissal). In the Extraordinary Form, the blessing occurs with the Host itself, which is a lot nice than the usual Ordinary Form blessing. I don’t think Jordan Zarembro needs to apologize for a lack of tact for stating his opinion. I would personally refrain from receiving in a non-Catholic context, regardless whether intercommunion was practiced.

  5. Celebrating in the EF gave me a solution to the ‘blessing’ issue, which for me was a problem – ministers giving verbose blessings and often laying on hands as well.

    In the EF, the Priest makes the sign of the Cross with the Host before placing it upon the communicant’s tongue. So when people come in the Communion Procession for a blessing I just do that, without saying anything.

    It’s good not to have to feel that I should ‘say something.’ Also, particularly with children who may come with their parents, I was advised by a parishioner many years ago that it might not be a good idea to impose hands as that might be misconstrued.

    Alan Griffiths.

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