Can the Church give Communion to the Remarried?

1. Ultimately, the Church decides this question. The Pope, or if he so chooses, the body of Bishops led by the Pope, will decide this question definitively. When the Church decides, no one on earth has the authority to contradict Her, regardless of whether the decision seems imprudent to some.

There are some persons who are speaking as if the Pope lacks the authority to decide this question, if he decides contrary to their understanding. They are speaking as if they will reject the Pope and refuse to submit to his authority, if he decides contrary to their opinion. And this would result in an ironic situation: they, by the grave sin of formal schism, would become unworthy to receive Communion, by rejecting the Pope’s authority to decide who may receive Communion.

In this article, I am discussing opinions on this topic. But once the Pope decides the question, the matter is settled. Roma locuta est, causa finita est. (“Rome has spoken, the case has ended”; or, more loosely, “Rome has spoken, case closed.”) A faithful Catholic might still hold the opinion that a different decision on discipline would be better. But it is unfaithful to claim that the Pope’s decision lacks true authority, or that the Pope has departed from the faith by deciding differently than the prevailing conservative opinion.

Pope Boniface VIII: “Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.”

Fifth Lateran Council: “it arises from the necessity of salvation that all the faithful of Christ are to be subject to the Roman Pontiff”

Whoever rejects Pope Francis, rejects Christ and His Church. Whoever rejects Pope Francis, commits the sin of formal schism and is automatically excommunicated. The Church rejects those who reject the Pope, even if they are very certain that their own ideas are better than those of the Pope. For the Roman Pontiff is the Rock on which the Church was founded by Christ.

2. My preference for discipline on reception of Communion is as follows.

Anyone conscious of having committed an actual mortal sin may not receive Communion until they have repented and been forgiven in Confession (except in cases of grave necessity, after an act of perfect contrition). This provision is fundamental to reception of Communion, established by the Scripture passage:

[1 Cor]
{11:29} For whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks a sentence against himself, not discerning it to be the body of the Lord.

The above restriction is established by the eternal moral law, and is not changeable by the Pope, in my understanding.

However, I would add the discipline that anyone guilty of an objective mortal sin, regardless of whether they sincerely believe the sin was not also an actual mortal sin, should not receive Communion until after repentance and Confession. (The provision of grave necessity after an act of perfect contrition always applies, so I will not keep restating it.)

Many Catholics commit objective mortal sins, with the claim that the act is not at all sinful, despite teachings of the Church to the contrary. Some Catholic apologists claim that the use of a condom by a married couple might be moral, absent a contraceptive intention. They reject the teaching of the Church that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. So do many other Catholics. If they are in good conscience, can they receive Communion despite the use of contraception?

Some Catholics have rejected the dogma of transubstantiation and of the Real Presence. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Some Catholic apologists commit the grave sin of formal cooperation with abortifacient contraception. They claim that abortifacients can be morally used for a medical purpose, while the married couple remain sexually active, despite actual abortions caused by this choice. They may well have been a party to actual abortions by convincing married Catholic couples to use abortifacient contraception, for a medical purpose, while continuing to engage in marital relations. Should they be permitted to receive Communion? Should couples who use abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose, while remaining sexually active, be permitted to receive Communion?

Many Catholic professors of theology have openly taught heresy in their classes at Catholic universities and colleges. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Many Catholic judges, legislators, and executives have acted contrary to Church teaching on grave matters of morality, committing objective mortal sins. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Many Catholics have decided that Pope Francis is not a valid Pope. See my non-scientific poll here. They have thereby committed the sin of schism. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Many Catholics think that perhaps Jesus himself committed sins. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Many Catholics, who attend Mass regularly, have committed the objective mortal sin of heresy by rejecting Church teaching on contraception, abortion, same-sex marriage, original sin, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and other topics. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Many Catholics commit objective mortal sins in the area of sexuality, without repentance and confession, including: unnatural sexual acts within marriage, masturbation, premarital sex, pornography, and other sins. Should they be permitted to receive Communion?

Also, if it were my decision, the divorced and remarried would not be permitted to receive Communion until their sin of adultery were repented and forgiven, and they ceased from sexual relations (so they would have to live in chastity).

And it is readily apparent that the vast majority of Catholics who receive Communion regularly at Mass DO NOT GO TO CONFESSION. I see hundreds of persons at Sunday Mass. I see very few persons at Saturday Confession.

In my opinion, the vast majority of practicing Catholics should not be permitted to receive Communion, until they give up their heresies, their false teachings, and their sins of contraception, abortion, and grave sexual sins. In my opinion, if you have not made a good confession in the last 3 or 4 months, you should ordinarily not be permitted to receive Communion. I said a good confession. So if you go to confession, but you don’t repent from and confess your sins of heresy, contraception, and sexual sins, you still should not be receiving Communion.

How many Mass-going Catholics would be receiving Communion each Sunday under this proposal? Not counting innocent children, who have made their first Communion, I would say, in a small parish, a few; in a large parish, a few more. I suspect that the number who should be receiving Communion is sometimes smaller than the number of lectors and extra-ordinary ministers of holy Communion serving at that Mass.

3. How widely might the Church permit reception of Communion?

If the Pope and the Bishops prefer, how widely might they permit Communion, despite the above described objective mortal sins?

The Church could permit the divorced and remarried to receive Communion if they are “subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid,” (Familiaris Consortio 84), — and, if their current marriage is, under some new provision of Canon law, ratified by the Church.

The Church could permit Communion for any Catholic in good conscience, that is to say, not conscious of actual mortal sin. This would allow Catholics who disagree with Church teaching on contraception, abortion, sexual sins, and same-sex marriage to receive the Eucharist, on the basis of the belief that they are in a state of grace — which is only lost by actual mortal sin, not by a sin that is merely objectively grave (objective mortal sin).

That is the de facto situation today. Catholics receive Communion very widely. They receive Communion at a friend’s funeral Mass or wedding Mass, even if they have not been to confession or Mass in months or years. They receive Communion despite rejecting the definitive teaching of the Church on many matters of faith or morals. I recall one sermon in which the priest said something like: “As a priest who hears confessions, I can tell you that few people confess the sin of contraception. But I know that many of you are using contraception.” Yes, and they are receiving Communion, too.

The divorced and remarried who receive Communion are acting no differently from most of those Catholics who decry their behavior. The hypocrisy is stunning.

4. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.

The Fourth Lateran Council said: “All the faithful of either sex, after they have reached the age of discernment, should individually confess all their sins in a faithful manner to their own priest at least once a year, and let them take care to do what they can to perform the penance imposed on them. Let them reverently receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least at Easter unless they think, for a good reason and on the advice of their own priest, that they should abstain from receiving it for a time.”

You are required to receive Communion at least once a year at Easter or during the Easter season (with some exceptions possible). You are not required to receive Communion every week or every day. Very many persons receive frequently who should not be receiving at all, until they repent.

You are required to go to Confession at least once a year. If you are sinless, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the obligation to confess is remitted. The rule is AT LEAST once a year, not at most.

In my opinion, the Church should change the discipline of the frequency of Confession to at least once every 3 months, and for Communion, not at all until the person repents from every objective mortal sin.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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