Q. Can persons with intellectual disabilities receive the Eucharist?
A. Excellent question. Thank you for asking it. The quick answer is yes.
I believe many families have relatives and friends or neighbors who are challenged intellectually or physically, and they want to do everything to make sure that their relatives are fully acclimated in the home, in the Church, and in society.
I learned powerful lessons first-hand in which we had family members who were both intellectually challenged and physically disabled. I had a cousin who was in a wheelchair from birth. My grandfather kept bridge planks in the shed on the farm and used them to get her wheelchair up the steps and into the house. When that wouldn’t work, he would pick her up and carry her into the house, with someone else bringing the wheelchair.
I also have two cousins who are mentally challenged. Our family would be a whole lot different without them. They are the life of the party and remind us of the absolute dignity and beauty of all life.
There are two good sources that inform the answer to your question: The Code of Canon law, especially canons 897-958, which give us details about the nature and the celebration of the Eucharist, and the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Guidelines for the Celebration of the Sacraments for People with Disabilities.
Both of these are excellent, compassionate, well thought-out descriptions of how those with intellectual disabilities can receive the Eucharist.
In summary, all human beings are equal in dignity in the sight of God. Moreover, by reason of their Baptism, all Catholics also share the same divine calling. Therefore, Catholics with disabilities have a right to participate in the sacraments as fully as other members of the local ecclesial community.
“Sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.” That is, if persons with intellectual disabilities are able to receive and know something special is taking place they most certainly can receive the Eucharist.
I know all priests would make whatever accommodations necessary for people with intellectual disabilities to receive the Eucharist. None of us can come even close to understanding the magnificence, the depth and magnitude of the awesomeness of the Eucharist.
Again, fantastic question. Thank you for asking it.
This question was answered by a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln. Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.