Hey, Father! What about other religions that don’t believe in the Eucharist. Can they go to heaven?

John 6:53 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you.’” So, what about the faithful in other religions who do not believe in the true Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and therefore, do not receive Him?

– Nancy in Springfield

Dear Nancy,

When my wife, Pam, and I became Catholic in 2003, we had some challenging conversations with family and friends. One of the issues that we had to address was to reassure our non-Catholic Christian friends that we did not think they were not real Christians or that they were not going to make it to heaven. Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” And St. Paul said in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ.

The reason that Pam and I became Catholic is because we wanted the fullness of life that is found only in the Roman Catholic Church. It is only here that God makes available all the gifts that God wants his people to have: all the sacraments, the Tradition, the teaching authority, and the bond of unity that comes from being in communion with the successor of St. Peter, the pope. All these gifts are only available to those within the Catholic Church. All other churches and Christian communities participate in the gifts of God to the extent that they remain close to the Catholic faith. The Eastern Orthodox churches retain more of the faith and so are considered true churches. The protestant denominations retain less, and so are not in the fullest sense but are still our brothers and sisters in Christ through faith. 

As the document, Unitatis Redintegratio (Second Vatican Council’s decree on ecumenism) says, “For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church” (quoted in the CCC 1271). Even those who, “through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart” can be saved (Lumen Gentium, quoted in CCC 847).

So, if a person who doesn’t know any better can receive eternal life without partaking of the sacred Body and precious Blood of Christ, why would anyone who does understand the richness of the Blessed Sacrament want to? Holy Communion brings the real presence of Christ into our lives in the most intimate and powerful way imaginable. How can I reject that knowing what is at stake and knowing how important it is to Jesus that I participate in the sacrament as Jesus’ words from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John, which you quoted, show us?

Father Scott Snider is pastor of St. Brigid, Liberty; St. Edward, Mendon; and St. Joseph, Quincy and is the Diocesan Ecumenical and Interreligious Officer for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.