Most people think that they can receive Holy Communion only once per day. And many people assume that, in order to receive Communion, they must participate in a Mass. Are these common assumptions true? And if not, how often can Catholics receive Holy Communion, and under what conditions?
COMMUNION AND THE MASS
The Code of Canon Law, which governs the administration of the sacraments, notes (Canon 918) that “It is highly recommended that the faithful receive holy communion during the eucharistic celebration [that is, the Mass or the Eastern Divine Liturgy] itself.” But the Code then immediately notes that Communion “is to be administered outside the Mass, however, to those who request it for a just cause, with the liturgical rites being observed.” In other words, while participation in a Mass is desirable, it is not required in order to receive Communion.
One can come into Mass after Communion has begun to be distributed and go up to receive. In fact, because the Church wishes to encourage frequent Communion, it was common in years gone by for priests to distribute Communion before Mass, during Mass, and after Mass in areas where there were those who wished to receive Communion daily but did not have the time to attend Mass—for instance, in working-class neighborhoods in cities or in rural farming areas, where workers would stop in to receive Communion on their way to their factories or fields.
COMMUNION AND OUR SUNDAY DUTY
It is important to note, however, that receiving Communion in and of itself does not satisfy our Sunday Duty to attend Mass and worship God. For that, we must participate in a Mass, whether we receive Communion or not. In other words, our Sunday Duty does not require us to receive Communion, so the reception of Communion outside of Mass or in a Mass in which we didn’t participate (having, say, arrived late, as in the example above) would not satisfy our Sunday Duty.
Only participation in a Mass can do so.
COMMUNION TWICE PER DAY
The Church allows the faithful to receive Communion up to twice each day. As Canon 917 of the Code of Canon Law notes, “A person who has already received the Most Holy Eucharist can receive it a second time on the same day only within the eucharistic celebration in which the person participates .
This requirement reminds us that the Eucharist is not simply food for our individual souls. It is consecrated and distributed at the Mass—in the context of our communal worship of God. We can receive Communion outside of Mass or without participating in a Mass, but if we wish to receive more than once in a day, we must connect ourselves to the broader community—the Body of Christ, the Church, that is formed and strengthened by our communal consumption of the eucharistic Body of Christ.
It’s important to note that canon law specifies that the second reception of Communion in a single day must always be in a Mass in which one participates. In other words, even if you have received Communion at Mass earlier in the day, you must participate in another Mass in order to receive Communion a second time. You cannot receive your second Communion in one day outside of a Mass or in a Mass in which you did not participate.
A FURTHER EXCEPTION
There is one circumstance under which a Catholic can receive Holy Communion more than once per day without participating in a Mass: when he or she is in danger of death.
In such a case, where participation in Mass may not be possible, Canon 921 notes that the Church offers Holy Communion as viaticum—literally, “food for the road.” Those in danger of death can and should receive Communion frequently until such danger passes.