Mandela received Communion from a Catholic priest while imprisoned on Robben Island

2 December 2013 11:59 by Christopher Lamb and Sarah Parsons

Nelson Mandela regularly received Communion from a Catholic priest while he was a prisoner on Robben Island, The Tablet has learnt.

The anti-apartheid campaigner, who died last Thursday, attended Mass and received Communion from a Jesuit chaplain, although he was raised and registered as a Methodist, the provincial of the Jesuits in East Africa said.

Writing in this week’s Tablet, Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orobator commented that has well as benefitting from the services of a Methodist chaplain, “I have reliable information that he also received regular visits from a Jesuit chaplain. According to my source, Mandela used to come to Mass and receive Communion.”

Fr Orobator noted that this “act of intercommunion, given his situation, would be licit under canon law”.

Christians from other denominations are permitted to receive Communion from a Catholic priest if they are unable to get to a Eucharistic service within their own tradition.


I had no idea:

Can. 844 § 4. If the danger of death is present or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops, some other grave necessity urges it, Catholic ministers administer these same sacraments licitly also to other Christians not having full communion with the Catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who seek such on their own accord, provided that they manifest Catholic faith in respect to these sacraments and are properly disposed.

§5. For the cases mentioned in §§2, 3, and 4, the diocesan bishop or conference of bishops is not to issue general norms except after consultation at least with the local competent authority of the interested non-Catholic Church or community.

I wonder if this would work the other way for Catholics if say, one’s in a country without a significant Catholic presence.

Are you asking if it’s licit for a Catholic to receive non-Catholic Communion under Canon Law? I don’t know, but I’ve heard that in some cases Catholic and Eastern Orthodox clergy can administer sacraments to members of the opposite Church if there’s a severe lack of clergy or an extreme situation. It would also be important to keep in mind that from the Catholic prospective, only a few Churches (in fact only confessions that are “Churches” in the proper sense) have a true Holy Communion in which Jesus is really present: body, blood, soul, and divinity (if I understand the Catholic teaching correctly, someone please correct me if Catholics believe that no other Church has the Real Presence in their Eucharist or if many other churches do.) So whatever you would be receiving, unless it was from a Church in the proper sense like the EO, might just be symbolic and not the real deal.

From the Protestant prospective, depending upon denomination some ministers would have no problem serving you communion, while others might be repulsed by the idea. The denomination I’m from, the Disciples of Christ, invites all baptized Christians, regardless of denominational history, to the Lord’s Table for communion (and some congregations such as the church in my college town expand that invitation to all people, period.) and many other Mainline Protestant communities, including the United Methodists would probably have no objection to a Catholic receiving communion from them.

I believe this is a matter between the priest and Mandela.

Yes. Per Canon 844,

§2. Whenever necessity requires it or true spiritual advantage suggests it, and provided that danger of error or of indifferentism is avoided, the Christian faithful for whom it is physically or morally impossible to approach a Catholic minister are permitted to receive the sacraments of penance, Eucharist, and anointing of the sick from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.

So if you were in a country where there were Orthodox but no Catholics, or some other group whose sacraments are valid, and no Catholics, you could receive Communion and the other sacraments licitly.


“… in whose Churches these sacraments are valid.”

That essentially means Orthodox churches. It doesn’t mean protestant churches.

Maybe he changed to be Catholic on the quiet, as most of the white Rulers and Security Guards were of the Dutch Reformed Church - very much in the way of Calvin’s teachings.

President Clinton and President Madela both received Communion when they visited Regina Mundi church in Soweto.

I don’t think a Catholic would desire to receive Communion from any other Christian clergyman than an Orthodox priest as no one else has a valid sacrament.

They tend to be more “choosy” than us Catholics though.

Other groups beside the Orthodox have a valid Eucharist. They are not as well known, but they exist. The Assyrian Church of the East been one example.

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