September 24, 2015

5 facts about Communion and American Catholics

Pope Francis is scheduled to celebrate Mass on an enormous scale Sunday, with 2 million people expected to gather on a mile-long parkway in downtown Philadelphia. And nearly 1,500 priests and deacons will be on hand to help distribute Holy Communion.

In Communion, Catholics receive bread and wine. The church teaches that when the bread and wine are consecrated by an ordained priest, they become the actual body and blood of the risen Christ; a theological explanation for this process, known as transubstantiation, has been supported by official church teaching since the 16th century.

The Catholic Church has a variety of rules and guidelines about who can receive Communion. For example, only baptized Catholics are eligible to receive Communion. If a Catholic is conscious of having committed a “grave sin” – for example, divorce or cohabitation with a romantic partner outside of marriage – he or she must first repent and perform penance for that sin before being eligible to receive Communion.

Here are five facts about U.S. Catholics and Communion:

1Most Catholics Regularly Receive Communion When They Attend MassThe church recommends that Catholics receive Communion every time they attend Mass, and about four-in-ten Catholics (43%) say they do so. Overall, 77% of Catholics report taking Communion at least some of the time when they attended Mass, while 17% say they never do so.

2While Hispanic Catholics are as likely as white Catholics to attend Mass weekly, Hispanic Catholics are much less likely than white Catholics to say they regularly receive Communion. Only 21% of Hispanic Catholics receive Communion every time they attend Mass, compared with 56% of white Catholics. About a third of Hispanic Catholics say they take Communion only some of the time they attend Mass (35%). And roughly a quarter say they never receive the Eucharist (27%).

3Catholics who currently are cohabiting or have divorced and remarried without seeking an annulment (and thus are presumably ineligible to receive Communion) receive the sacrament less frequently than other Catholics. However, roughly two-thirds of Catholics who are cohabiting or divorced and remarried still do participate in the rite at least some of the time. Indeed, 34% say they receive Communion every time they go to Mass, 7% say they accept the sacrament most of the time and 23% take Communion some of the time.

4About six-in-ten Catholics say the church should allow divorced Catholics who remarry without getting an annulment to receive Communion. This is about the same as the share who say the church should allow cohabiting couples to receive Communion (61%).

5Many Catholics believe the church will change its rules on who can receive Communion. Indeed, 54% of Catholics say they expect the church to allow divorced Catholics to receive Communion in the next 35 years or so. A similar share also says cohabiting couples will be permitted to receive Communion in the next 35 years (56%).

Will Rules About Communion Change?

Topics: Religion and Society, Religious Beliefs and Practices, Catholics and Catholicism, Christians and Christianity

  1. Photo of Aleksandra Sandstrom

    is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous1 year ago

    Regarding your statement in paragraph three: civil divorce, in and of itself, is not a “grave sin” according to the Catechism and Canon. To paint with a very broad brush, grave sexual sin outside of an ecclesiastically valid marriage bond is one of the usual suspects which preclude a person from receiving Holy Communion. With that said civilly-divorced Catholics who are in a state of grace may receive Holy Communion.

    Divorce for all people of all faiths is no picnic. For Catholics, it can be especially hard because poor catechesis and misinformation from outside sources like your article can push people away from grace, mercy, and truth when they need it most. Please, please, get your facts right before publishing what you claim to be Church teaching! Bottom line: any person concerned about their current status in the Church should speak with their parish priest, regular confessor, or local ecclesiastical tribunal, so he/she can obtain personal counsel and accurate info.

  2. misty2 years ago

    i was not raised catholic and never knew the “rules” of marriage and divorce. And because of this i am not allowed to take communion so i have not joined the catholic church, even though that has been my greatest desire for many years…so i am exculded and punished for what i didnt know. Would Jesus really turn me away? Im not a bible expert by far, i know this, but i dont remember him turning many people away from him love and mercy when he walked on earth. It hurts…

  3. Margaret Utterback2 years ago

    I am appalled at the number of Catholics who receive Holy Communion with a mortal sin on their soul. They should clean up their act or stop going to Holy Communion. If you believe in the Catholic Church and its teachings, live like it.

  4. Heather2 years ago

    These numbers are disheartening to say the least. I think one of the main reason for these numbers are lack of understanding of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the Sacraments. If we truly understood this, we would not want to receive Communion “unworthily”. If Catholics understood what the Bible teaches about Marriage and divorce, and truly accepted the teaching then the numbers would look different,

    1. Ronald McCafferty2 years ago

      I cannot find this “opinion” in the Bible re. having to get an annulment of a prior marriage before one can receive Communion after getting a civil divorce and re-marrying. This sounds like a RULE made up by man as a barrier (or more realistically to collect more money for the church) to “allowing” people to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion. If the sacrament of Communion is so very critical to practicing Catholics, why do the church “fathers” continue this hypocrisy? Especially when divorce rates in the USA are 50%+ of all marriages result in a breakup. This makes no sense to me as a former Catholic, but still a Christian.

      1. Anonymous1 year ago

        Ronald – I’m so sorry if the Church or someone acting in her name failed to convey the full and accurate teaching on valid and/or Sacramental marriage. Without the context of the Catechism, Canon, and the whole of the Magesterium, the “rules” surrounding that teaching can seem unnecessary. When taken in the fullness of Sacramental life, however, these “rules” are ordered for the Good of the faithful – that is to say, they’re designed to help us fall deeply, completely, in love with Jesus Christ.

        Sacramental marriage, as defined by the Church, is antithetical to most people’s understanding of marriage, especially in the US. A Sacramental marriage calls both bride and bridegroom to mirror Christ and His beautiful example of joyful, sacrificial love. For many couples, temporal happiness, emotional highs, and physical or psychological comfort trump a desire to deepen their relationship with Christ.

        Though the “rules” can seem like a legalistic way to control faithful or take in money, the Church’s teaching is actually like a master painter who tutors her pupils. By teaching them about different techniques, color and composition, and art’s histrionics, She shows them how to create true, perfect Beauty that draws others to itself, just as Christ does to all people. 🙂