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Outreach Ministries
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Guidelines for the
Distribution of
Holy Communion
to the Incarcerated

Office of Pastoral Outreach Ministries

Guidelines for the Distribution of
Holy Communion to the Incarcerated

The following pastoral considerations should be considered:

  1. The basic principle is that one should be a Catholic and in the state of grace and properly prepared to receive the Eucharist. Receiving the Eucharist is not a basic right of inmates but rather follows the norms of the Catholic Church.
  2. The Eucharistic Minister should not refuse the Sacrament to an inmate who attends a Communion service or asks for Holy Communion and comes forward if the Eucharist Minister has duly expressed in his/her invitation the solemnity of the Eucharist, the need to be of the Catholic faith and sorrow for any sins. The presumption should be that those who receive the Eucharist, approach in good faith and are properly disposed. We must be prudent and careful not to offend.
  3. If inmates who are not Catholic attend the service, it might be appropriate to explain briefly, that those who come forward should profess Catholic faith that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Receiving the sacrament is a profession of this Catholic faith. One must have true sorrow for sin.
  4. It may be prudent to have an officer present.
  5. Inmates have a right to receive the Eucharist in the hand or on the tongue. It is important that they consume the Eucharist immediately.
  6. Holy Communion is to be administered under the form of the host only. Never is the chalice to be offered to the incarcerated.
  7. Lay ministers should be carefully trained so that a problem does not occur in the implementation of these Guidelines. They should also be aware of the sensitive nature of prison ministry.
  8. The problem of gangs adds another dimension to this ministry. At times, gangs put pressure on inmates not to attend services. Some inmates ignore these pressures and have not suffered from their courageous actions. In general the prison administration should assist the chaplain so that those inmates who honestly desire to attend services are able to do so.
  9. Neither the prison administration nor the inmate population should determine policy regarding the sacraments. These are matters of conscience. Religious freedom must be respected and protected.
  10. Ideally the cooperation of the inmates, the administration and those who minister should lead to a respectful and peaceful implementation of these Guidelines. The minister must have prudence and a pastoral sense.
  11. Because of the mobility of those incarcerated and the decreasing number of services offered to other Christians in institutions, the following statement is recommended for every distribution of Holy Communion:

    The reception of Holy Communion is a very sacred action. It is receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Those who receive the Eucharist should be baptized Christians, sharing the faith of the Catholic Church, who are sorry for their sins and who receive Holy Communion for their spiritual nourishment and for a deeper share in the life of Jesus Christ.

  12. The incarcerated should be given special pastoral concern. Their freedom is restricted. Ministry to them should be generous, prudent, and compassionate.

These Guidelines are a practical and pastoral application of the principals given by the Code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church, especially #844, and the Directory for the Application of Norms and Principles on Ecumenism, exp #122-136.