“On the preparation to be given so that one may worthily receive the sacred Eucharist
“If it is not fitting for anyone to approach any of the sacred functions, except with holiness, certainly, the more that the holiness and divinity of this heavenly Sacrament are understood by a Christian person, the more diligently he ought to take caution that he approach to receive it only with great reverence and holiness, especially since we read in the Apostle those words full of dread: “Whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks a sentence against himself, not discerning it to be the body of the Lord.” [1 Cor 11:29].
“Therefore, whoever wishes to communicate, should recall to mind the precept: “Let a man examine himself.” [1 Cor 11:28]. Now ecclesiastical custom declares this necessary examination to be that no one, conscious to himself of mortal sin, however contrite he may seem to himself, ought to approach the sacred Eucharist without previous sacramental Confession.
“The holy Synod has decreed that this is to be perpetually observed by all Christians, even by those priests on whom it may be incumbent by [their] office to celebrate, provided that access to a Confessor is not lacking to them. But if, in urgent necessity, a priest should celebrate without previous Confession, let him confess as soon as possible.”
[Trent, 13th Session, Decree on the Eucharist, translation from the Latin by Ronald L. Conte Jr.]
* Does the Roman Catholic Church have the authority to permit reception of Communion by unbaptized persons, who might be in the state of grace by a baptism of desire?
No, for the Sacrament of Baptism is the Sacrament of initiation into the Church. Reception of Baptism is required prior to reception of any other Sacrament. And that is why the above text from the Council of Trent says “by a Christian person” and “by all Christians.”
* Does the Roman Catholic Church have the authority to permit reception of Communion by baptized persons, who are conscious of unrepented actual mortal sin?
No, for Sacred Scripture teaches that “whoever eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks a sentence against himself” (1 Cor 11:29). Instead, each person must “examine himself, and, in this way, let him eat from that bread, and drink from that cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). The phrase “let a man examine himself” in that verse teaches that a Christian must be in good conscience in order to receive worthily.
But notice that the Council of Trent considers this requirement to be of the internal forum: conscience. For the Council says: “the more diligently he ought to take caution that he approach to receive it only with great reverence and holiness,” indicating an interior judgment. The Council also quotes the words of Sacred Scripture, “Let a man examine himself,” [1 Cor 11:28], and adds that this is a “necessary examination” concerning whether the person is “conscious to himself of mortal sin”.
* Does the Roman Catholic Church have the authority to permit reception of Communion by baptized persons, who are conscious of actual mortal sin AND repentant with perfect contrition?
The Council of Trent taught that if a Christian is “conscious to himself of mortal sin”, that is to say, actual mortal sin, he must not receive Communion, “however contrite he may seem to himself,” until he goes to Confession. So at first, it may seem that the answer is “No”, such a person, conscious of actual mortal sin and yet repentant, may not receive, in any case. But then the Council goes on to cite the case of a priest who is conscious of grave sin and unable to confess, saying that he may celebrate Mass, and confess at a later time.
According to Canon Law, this permission from the Church requires the priest to make an act of perfect contrition, then confess at a later time [Canon 916]. So the priest receives Communion while in the state of grace, due to his repentance with perfect contrition, which includes the intention to confess at the next opportunity.
Can. 916 “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.”
* Does this permission extend to laypersons who are conscious of actual mortal sin and repentant with perfect contrition?
The answer given in Canon 916 is “Yes”. It says “a person”, not “a priest alone”, and it includes two cases, the one case where a priest will “celebrate Mass”, and the other case (“or”) for a layperson at Mass who may “receive the body of the Lord.”
Notice, however, that the lack of an opportunity to confess is not sufficient. What is also needed is a “grave reason.” For the priest, the grave reason is to give the faithful their spiritual food through Mass, and to avoid giving scandal.
But for the layperson, such a grave reason does not necessarily always exist. A layperson can attend Mass without reception of Communion for a number of reasons. So an additional grave reason would be needed. For example, if the layperson is dying and no priest is available to forgive sins, but a deacon or layperson can give Communion, the layperson can make an act of perfect contrition and then receive, intending to go to Confession if he or she is ever able to do so before dying.
*** Does the Roman Catholic Church have the authority to permit reception of Communion by baptized persons, who are not conscious of actual mortal sin, but who are conscious that their acts are objective mortal sins under Catholic teaching?
1. In the first case, when such persons are repentant with perfect contrition and intend to go to Confession at their next opportunity, the Church may permit or forbid their reception of Communion, according to Her own judgment. For in this case, the person is not conscious of actual mortal sin. So the prohibition from Communion based on self-examination does not find any actual mortal sin. The person is in good conscience — given the case where their sin is an objective mortal sin but not also an actual mortal sin.
For example, suppose that a person tells a lie, thinking that the lie is only a venial sin. And upon later examination, he considers that the lie concerned a serious matter, and so was an objective mortal sin. The act was not an actual mortal sin, since he did not commit the act with full knowledge and full deliberation. The Church has the authority to permit reception of Communion, without prior Confession, in such a case — objective mortal sin which is not also actual mortal sin.
I would interpret Canon 916 to refer to actual mortal sin by the phrase “grave sin”. For the Canon is discussing the internal forum of conscience. So Canon 916 would only forbid reception of Communion, as far as that one Canon is concerned, if the person is conscious of actual mortal sin, and with exceptions for a grave reason and perfect contrition.
The previous Canon, 915, uses a different expression to reference objective mortal sins which may or may not be also actual mortal sin: “manifest grave sin” — sins that are objectively known to be sin by other persons.
Since Canon 916 permits reception of Communion in cases of actual mortal sin, with repentance and the intention to confess, AT LEAST in some few cases, the Church DOES possess the authority to permit Communion not only with actual mortal sin and repentance, but also in the case of an objective mortal sin that is not also an actual mortal sin. Perfect contrition is not needed in such a case, since the person remains in the state of grace. And there is a lesser obligation to confess, if the objective mortal sin is not also an actual mortal sin. In fact, strictly speaking, the only absolute obligation to confess (if confession is available) occurs when the baptized person is conscious of actual mortal sin.
2. Unfortunately, the more typical second case, in this sinful world, is quite different. Some Catholics are not conscious of actual mortal sin, but are conscious that their actions are objective mortal sins under Catholic teaching. Often, they are unrepentant, have no intention to confess at the next opportunity, and they go to Confession rarely or never.
In this second case, I opine that the Church should not permit reception of Communion. She should teach all the faithful that they must not receive Communion unless they have been to Confession in the previous 3 or 4 months (with exceptions for a grave reason). She should teach the faithful not to receive Communion if they are unrepentant from objective mortal sin, even if these sins are not also actual mortal sin. And She should teach the faithful that no one ought to receive Communion, except perhaps in danger of death, unless he or she is in full communion with the teaching authority of the Church on every important definitive teaching of faith and morals.
However, if the person is a baptized Catholic who is not conscious of actual mortal sin, I believe that the Church does possess the authority to permit reception of Communion. The only absolute requirements, at a bare minimum, are baptism and the state of grace.
So the discipline perhaps suggested by Amoris Laetitia and openly stated by the Maltese Bishops does meet the bare minimum. That discipline requires the baptized Catholic to be not conscious of actual mortal sin. So, even if they are conscious that their behavior is contrary to Church teaching on a grave moral matter, if it is true that they are at peace with God, meaning not conscious of actual mortal sin, they perhaps meet the bare minimum of requirements. It is a very unwise and imprudent discipline, in my opinion, but it is within the authority of the Church to permit.
My preference for discipline is that no one may receive Communion, unless he or she meets all four of the following criteria:
a. A baptized believing and practicing Catholic,
b. who is in full communion with the Church,
c. who is not conscious of any actual mortal sin, nor any objective mortal sin,
d. and who has been to Confession in the last 3 or 4 months.
Some exceptions can be made for priests and other persons who cannot get to Confession, especially if they have a grave reason. But the above stated criteria (a. – d.) is my strong preference for Communion discipline. Heretics and teachers of heresy, schismatics and all who promote schism, as well as all apostates, should not receive Communion until they repent and confess.
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