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Reflections On Teaching the Worthy Reception of Communion

June 6, 2010

In the last two days on the blog comments I have noticed consternation by some that more stress is not placed on receiving communion worthily. I understand the concern they express but also feel the need to approach this issue carefully. This is because two important goods are at sake that must be kept in balance:

  1. Frequent reception of Holy Communion which is a great and necessary food for us as Jesus insists in John 6:50-55,
  2. Worthy reception which the Holy Spirit through Paul warns is also necessary in 1 Cor 11:27ff. Let’s look at these texts briefly.

SCRIPTURE:  Jesus was very clear to teach that the Holy Eucharist is a necessary food for us:

This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”…..Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (John 6:50-53)

Hence it seems clear that it is essential to receive Holy Communion frequently, if not every week. The Church’s practice of celebrating Mass every day (or every week as in the Eastern Rites) and offering Holy Communion at each Mass confirms this interpretation of the Lord’s words that the Eucharist is a necessary food for the Faithful to receive with high frequency, preferably every week. This practice also distinguishes us from Protestant notions wherein the frequent reception of Holy Communion (even if they had it) was largely set aside.  The “Unless” in this text is a rather strong word that cannot easily be ignored. Jesus in effect teaches that Holy Communion is a sine qua non (“a without which, not”, an essential)  for having life. In other words it is an essential food without which we are dying spiritually. So here is one value the Church must advance, frequent reception of our necessary food.

But the Scriptures also teach the necessity of receiving worthily, that is, without knowledge of grave sin in oneself. And here too the wording is quite clear and strong:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world  (1 Cor 11:27-31)

So, Scripture considers unworthy or unmindful reception of Holy Communion to be a very serious matter since it is a sin directly against the Body of the Lord. St. Paul links it to some rather severe punishment from God: sickness, even death. All who sin such bring judgment upon themselves that at the very least requires discipline from the Lord and perhaps condemnation. This text along with Tradition has meant that the Church warns any of the faithful conscious of mortal sin to refrain from Holy Communion until such time as they are reconciled through Confession. In such wise the Church is not “mean” or “restrictive” as some say. Rather she is faithful to Scripture and also charitable in warning the faithful against things that many bring them under the judgement of condemnation.

The Church has struggled over the centuries to keep the faithful balanced in regard to these two values. Frankly for many centuries people stayed away from receiving Holy Communion, receiving only very rarely. I remember my Grandmother (who was born in 1896) once telling me that when she was a child almost no one went to communion. In a Church filled with hundreds of people often no one would go to the rail. Even despite confession, many felt unworthy. This infrequent reception had led the Church in the Middle Ages to insist on the “Easter Duty” which required the faithful by way of precept to receive Holy Communion at least once a year in the Easter Season after Sacramental Confession where necessary. During the Middle Ages even monks and nuns received only a few times per year! More recently, at the turn of the last Century, Pope Pius X had also encouraged more frequent reception of Holy Communion by among other things moving the age of First Communion much earlier. You can read more on this topic here: Frequency of Holy Communion.

Rare Reception was one extreme. Lately we seem to have the other extreme wherein almost everyone attending Mass receives Communion but only a very small percentage of them have recently been to confession. To  receive Communion worthily means to be free from mortal sin. Today, very few of the faithful have any notion of  the requirement of receiving communion worthily. This is due to poor catechesis as well as a muted sense of sin in general and of mortal sin specifically. Many in fact are not all that clear on what constitutes mortal sin. I was surprised to learn early in my priesthood that many younger people had the no idea what the expression “mortal sin” meant.  Some figured it meant that you had killed someone. I tried referring to it as serious sin, but also discovered that many people don’t take a lot of things very seriously.

Most pastors are aware that a great deal is needed to rectify this situation. Simply saying “go to confession more”  doesn’t often work since many, although admitting the presence of sin in their lives do not see their own condition as serious. “After all no body’s perfect Father” is about as deep a sense of sin as some have. Again, poor catechesis and bad preaching  is partly to blame.

How Did we get here?  I want to  propose that we are also experiencing a reaction (actually an over-reaction) to the understanding of sin in the 1950s. I was born in 1961 and,  not having been alive in the 1950s, let alone a priest, I must rely for  my information on that period in the Church from older clergy, older people in general and also on aspects of that time that still echo in the confessions and thinking of older people today. From these sources it is my assessment that in the 1950s and before a very objective notion of sin was emphasized that took little account of circumstances and/or  personal factors.

A couple of examples may illustrate. An older priest told me of a confession he once had wherein a woman insisted she must hear her confession since she had committed a mortal sin on the way to Church. It seems the sin involved breaking her fast. What happened was that a bug had flown into her mouth and she had swallowed it by accident. Although the priest tried to reassure her that she was not to blame she insisted that the bug constituted “nourishment” and that she must be absolved in order to receive Communion. Other older priests tell me similar, though less exotic, stories. This was apparently part of the training of the faithful in the old days. I have had personal confirmation of this sort of thinking over my 21 years a priest as well. For example, twice this past winter we had snowfalls here in Washington approaching 30 inches. Despite this I did not have an insignificant number of older people confess that they had missed mass on those weekends. When I reminded them that it was quite impossible to get out in 30 inches of snow they seemed unfazed. “But it was a sin to miss Mass Father.” I have learned to accept that this was their training. They were taught sin only as  a very objective thing. Circumstances were quite beside the point.

Now while this thinking may have been accepted by many in an older generation it is clear that such mechanistic thinking was rejected by many when the 1960s hit. And frankly the extreme objectification of sin with no reference to circumstances needed correction. Proper moral theology does account for circumstances and personal factors in assessing blameworthiness. For mortal sin to be committed requires not just grave matter, but also sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. It sometimes happens that reflection and/or freedom are hindered and such factors need to be taken into account. Such factors cannot make a bad act good but they can affect culpability (blameworthiness). Modern pastoral practice in taking these things into consideration is set forth in the Catechism. Take for example the pastoral note to confessors  included in the catechism regarding masturbation which, though considered objectively a serious sin,  may admit of certain personal factors:

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. (CCC # 2352)

But older pastoral practice, it seems, took little account of circumstances or of factors such as full consent of the will etc. Official Church teaching DID teach these things but the pastoral practice of the time presented sin in a much more mechanistic sort of a way and other aspects of Church teaching were poorly communicated in the 1950s and perhaps before.

Over-Reaction Sets in –  To some extent this may have led to the over-reaction we experienced in late 1960s through the 1980s. Rather than refine and clarify their understanding of true Catholic teaching, many simply cast overboard a caricature of Catholic teaching which now seemed unreasonable. And the caricature WAS unreasonable. Sadly too, many Catholic priests and catechists of the time,  rather than clarifying the teaching,  also over-compensated. They highly de-emphasized any objective notion of sin and hyper-emphasized matters such as feelings, circumstances, false notions of conscience and so forth. Now  it seemed that ONLY circumstances mattered, along with personal reflection and feeling and a diminished notion of any personal responsibility

So here we are today with long lines for Communion (good) but with no lines for confession (bad). It falls to us,  to the clergy who preach and catechists who teach to re-establish the connection between frequent confession and weekly communion. But, as I have tried to demonstrate, simply saying people should go does not mean they will go. A proper and balanced foundation also needs to be re-established that restores a healthy sense of sin. The 1950s version, at least as I have described it, was not healthy. But neither is our current version that sees nothing as objectively wrong, nothing as serious, that reduces moral reflection to “how I feel about it” and sets aside any notion of final judgment with platitudes like “God will understand.”

Part of the re catechizing necessary is to reintroduce a more holistic and less mechanistic sense of sin. Sin includes not just specific acts but also very deep drives and attitudes that can become very significant. We can be very resentful, ungrateful, unchaste, unkind, unmerciful, harsh, greedy, worldly and materialistic. Sin is more than, “I yelled at my kids three times, used curse words several times and was distracted in prayer many times, and engaged in one act of solitary self abuse.” Sin includes those things but it is  also that we are egotistical, thin-skinned, unloving, unforgiving  and sometimes,  just plain mean. We are in deep need of God’s healing mercy and some of these attitudes are much more serious than we like to think. They can cause great harm. At some point, staying away from confession for long periods is to entertain  a prideful delusion that itself becomes a serious sin. Who says he has no sin makes God a liar (1 John 1:10). In trying to insist that people must get to confession before communion if they are aware of any mortal sins, we have to be willing to first expand the notion of what serious or mortal sin is.

The Church will surely need to continue to give guidance by identifying particularly grievous sins, but in the end, the Church can never develop an exhaustive list since circumstances often affect gravity. There are some sins that are always, objectively mortal (ex toto genere suo); sins such as the murder of the innocent. But there are many other things such as gossip that while not always or even usually mortal,  that may become so if reputations are ruined and the intention was  to do so. Since the legalism of the past has largely been rejected it may be better for us to preach a more comprehensive, wholehearted and inclusive sense of sin that accounts for the deep drives of sins and assesses sin in the whole person rather than focus merely on this or that act. If I notice a growth on my arm I may not be sure if it is serious or not. The best thing is to get it checked out. So too with sin, is it mortal or not? Best to get it checked out. Regular confession should be preached.

We have a lot of work to do to restore the balance of the two Scripture texts above. Frequent though worthy reception of  Communion has historically been a difficult balance to maintain. Many factors need to be in play for this balance to be found. Simply telling people to get to confession before communion if they are aware of mortal sin may presume a lot of  knowledge that many do not have and premises people no longer share, sometimes through no fault of their own. We have more work to do than simply to tell people what to do. We have to teach and reestablish a healthy sense of sin and a deeper awareness of what is sacred and proper for the worthy reception of Holy Communion.

As always, I request your input to both balance and complete this article. This video was my attempt today to exhort the faithful to worthy reception of communion through frequent confession.

Comments (67)

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  1. Nick says:

    I used to receive Holy Communion each Sunday in spite of mortal sins (such as disobedience to my parents), but now I do not receive Holy Communion because I am always in mortal sin on Sunday (usually pornography, which I am addicted to). I fear if I receive Holy Communion, I will sin. But I also fear if I do not receive Holy Communion, I will sin. I remember when I wasn’t in mortal sin and received Holy Communion, I would feel either sinful for receiving Holy Communion or unprepared for Holy Communion. I ask Jesus to give me Himself but I wonder if I am doing all I can – avoidance of sin – to give myself to Him? I want to receive Holy Communion, I want to be united to Jesus and be a saint for Him, but haven’t since Eastertide of last year.

    • I might recommend that you speak to a priest about this matter and find a way, a spiritual plan, that will enable you to receive more often. Among the things that you can conisder is that there are many parishes where confessions are heard prior to Sunday Masses. It would also be good for you to seek counsel in terms of compulsive or addictive behavior. A good confessor or pastor is surely aware of the teaching of the Catechism I quoted above and can compassionately help you toward progress in this matter. Staying away from sacraments is not a good plan

      • PatrickC says:

        At one time I was involved in pornography quite heavily and carried out other things that go with it. However, unlike you I was still going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion and occassionaly going to Confession. Thankfully the Lord in His inestimable goodness prompted me to start praying the Rosary as of June 2006 and after meeting some good people I began to realize that pornorgraphy and masturbation wasn’t making me happy or fulfilling me. A number of months later I realized sex before marriage was not good and shortly afterwards I started attending daily Mass. After a number of months the viewing of pornography stopped and within a year the frequency of masturbation declined rapidly.

        So the point is this; don’t worry, there is a way out. I am not recommending that you receive Holy Communion just yet, but I would like you to know that Jesus, in His great mercy and love, will help us, if we but ask. So, like Father says, go speak to a priest.

    • Brad says:

      Nick, don’t receive while in mortal sin, especially sexual ones. It’s so not worth it. I know you know this, but I am just giving you my moral support. I think lusty sins are especially offensive where communion is concerned, since we are at that moment receiving Christ’s body, which he himself had to maintain as chaste. Go to confession, anonymous if you need to. Go to a priest outside of your , you need to. Go often, so you can then come back to communion. Don’t abstain from communion for long. That will make the cycle worse. Read Tobias! There is much wisdom to be had in that charming little book! Ask St. Raphael to shield you from Asmodeus’s crushing influence. I tell you, that will help enormously. The mighty archangel can do so with the slightest exertion if you will but ask; God will hear your prayer and give him permission to do so with lightning speed.

      • K. Louise says:

        Also, you might like to try this prayer: “Precious Blood of Jesus, cover me.”

  2. Bosco says:

    An interesting article though the ultimate arbiter of whether a sin has been committed is Almighty God who desires us to present all of our faults and failings (even at the risk of sounding robotic) for discernment by the priest within the Sacrament of Penance.

    Two quotes worth remembering:

    “Frequent and reverent recourse to this sacrament, even when only venial sin is in question, is of great value. Frequent confession is not mere ritual repetition, nor is it merely a psychological exercise. Rather is it a constant effort to bring to perfection the grace of our Baptism so that as we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus Christ who died, the life that Jesus Christ lives may be more and more manifested in us. In such confessions penitents, while indeed confessing venial sins, should be mainly concerned with becoming more deeply conformed to Christ, and more submissive to the voice of the Spirit.” – Pope Paul VI

    ” It is true that venial sins may be expiated in many ways that are to be highly commended, but to ensure more rapid progress day by day in the practice of virtue we want the pious practice of frequent Confession which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be earnestly advocated. By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the sacrament itself. Let those, therefore, among the younger clergy who make light of or lessen esteem for frequent Confession know what they are doing. What they are doing is alien to the spirit of Christ and disastrous for the Mystical Body of Christ.” – Pope Pius XII

    An excellent article addressing the various aspects of confession of sin, ‘The Spiritual and Psychological Value of Frequent Confession’ by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. may be found in the archives of http://www.catholicculture.org

    In this month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary I pray may God bless all of your readers..

  3. Diane at Te Deum says:

    Very good post, Monsignor.

    I was born in 1962, and like you, have been relying on the previous generation to fill in the gaps. I had come to the same conclusion that there was too stringent of an understanding of sin, followed by what we could call an “over-correction”. I look at what was happening through the 70’s and 80’s, and recall my “Butterfly-and-Me” catechism in which sin wasn’t even discussed. I was taught that God loved me, to the exlusion of how to love God back. We must follow his Commandments and we cannot do that if we do not understand them.

    At my parish, there is confession before the two most-attended Sunday Masses: 9:30am and Noon. When I first discovered Assumption Grotto in 2005, one of the things that caught my eye was the confession lines, which were long. This visual of these lines seemed to prompt an examination of conscience, but were inviting to the Sacrament. I was amazed to see priests going into confessionals there outside of posted times, such as before the morning and evening daily Masses, or whenever there was an event that had lots of people there.

    The priests recommended frequent confession – at least monthly. I can attest that the priests are very careful to watch for that over-stringent interpretation of sin that once caused a generation to skip Communion. But, they do not go too far the other way. They encourage the use of confession to build virtue – that is to use the Sacrament even when there is nothing grave, in order to work on venial sins and imperfections. At first, I did not even know the difference between mortal and venial sins, and thought venial sins weren’t worth confessing as long as there were big hitters. Yet, chipping away at one of them each time and bringing those bad habits under control, strengthened my resolve to combat the bigger sins. In combat, a soldier faces far greater forces on a battlefield than he does in his training, but the training conditions him.

    With regards to CCC 2352, the fact that the act is objectively grave, yet can have mitigating circumstances, we have to be on guard for something else. That is, not to lead people into the thought that because there are mitigating circumstances, they are free of the obligation to work at bringing it to an end. They should be helped to understand that their guilt is mitigated, but always encouraged to return as often as needed to bring the problem under control. I have seen many testimonies of those who did bring the thing under control with a good confessor who taught them how to work on their spiritual life. The grace of God helped them to do what was seemingly impossible to achieve through human means alone. One thing that I noticed, was that some of those who won out through grace, went back to the same priest. That priest encouraged them to come back as often as necessary and to not worry that they are repeating their confession too often. The priest would guide them away from those activities and circumstances that put them in the path of temptation, and gave them ideas on what to do when temptation happened. This obviously means that the confessor himself must have a strong spiritual life. I believe through the 70’s and 80’s, there was a degredation of the spiritual life of priests which ultimately contributed to the crisis we have today with no sense of sin, and very little use of confession.

    The timing seems right for us to have a Year for Penance so that we can rediscover a proper sense of sin, without too much stringency and devoid of overcorrection. How fitting it would be to learn the lost art of making reparation for our own sins, and for the sins of others?

  4. George says:

    Thank you for this beautiful article. One correction and a question

    1) “a woman insisted she must hear his confession.” I think that you meant “a woman insisted that _he_ must hear _her_ confession.”

    2) My understanding of the seal of confession is not full and I hear that there is debate amongst canon lawyers on it. However, I am fairly certain that, outside the confessional, a priest is neither able to speak nor to act on the basis of what he hears in confession. Some say this would extend even to private conversations with the penitent, but do not all agree that it would definitely extend to the thousands who might read a blog? I love the two examples that you have given, but does not your giving of them constitute an inadvertent breaking of the seal of confession. In fact, your post simply divulges the contents of two confessions with only the names withheld. If the classic example holds of the priest drinking the poisoned chalice of which he learned in a confession, how can it be okay to post the contents of two confessions? Clearly your intention was otherwise, but do these posts not perhaps break the seal?

    • Breaking the seal of confession would mean that a priest would divulge in a specific or general way what a specific pentitent said. For a priest to speak in a very general way about confessions of the past wherein no one is able to identify who said it, but rather merely to say “this sort of thing comes up in confession” is not to break the seal. There are precautions that a priest must exercise even in these sorts of examples. The examples he uses must be remote and general enough that no one could “connect the dots” and think, “Ah he must be talking about so and so.”

      The first example pertains to a confession back in the 1950s and it hardly seems like people could connect any dots even remotely. As to the the other example, I spoke only in a very general way about a matter of erroneous conscience. I did not indicate that it was any of my parishioners per se, (I hear confessions in many places), I did not indicate, day, time or place, and surely not who, and frankly I don’t even know who since I hear hundreds of confessions and most of them from behind the screen.

      You are correct in saying that a priest is not able to bring up confessional matter to the penitient at a later time unless he has secured the permission of the pentient to do so, say to follow up with getting them some information.

    • nmm says:

      This does bring up a good point, and while it’s a little tangential to the intent of the original post, I do find the increase in blogging/tweeting priests and clergy — and even Catholic laity, sometimes — to be troublesome. I’ve come across blogs written by priests, deacons, EMs, etc., in parishes I’m familiar with in which they can be very negative about specific parishioners whom I recognize, or in which they divulge private matters spoken of in the confessional, and it’s a very fine line. Just because a priest doesn’t mention a name doesn’t mean someone else might be reading and be aware of the subject in question.

      Even Catholic laity can be gossipy and snarky about fellow parishioners on their blogs and in their “tweets” (btw, a recently published study shows that the more time folks spend interacting via social media, the more impatient and short-tempered they become, and the more narcissistic — I was shocked, shocked to learn this is true…). That can be terribly damaging when the person they’re targeting finds out, but it’s also damaging to the Church in general when anonymous strangers, perhaps those just beginning to learn about Catholicism, come across their blogs and see that kind of pettiness and meanness. I guess that kind of stuff falls under the category of causing scandal to the Church, too, which is a serious sin.

      I’ve also found that, in some parishes, a priest or priests can become very chummy with an “insider” group of parishioners, sometimes even greeting them by first name as they dispense Communion, and it makes other parishioners feel uncomfortable about approaching their priests for Confession.

      Even the posts here — who’s wearing what and who’s looking at who and what one assumes this or that about another’s motives or soul or heart or prayer life, who’s on the Communion line and who’s going to Confession — are very off-putting.

      All this internet chitter chatter about who’s a better Catholic or more Catholic or Catholic enough or a cafeteria Catholic is a huge turn off. It’s divisive and it pushes people away. Who wants to go to Confession if they think someone else there is taking notes for their next blog post? Who wants to remain in the pew at Communion if they realize a few of their fellow parishioners will begin speculating on why on Twitter?

      Sorry, didn’t mean to write an essay, but it’s something that’s been bothering me more and more. I think maybe things were better when we didn’t know so much about each other and when we all maintained a little more privacy and reserve.

      Familiarity breeds contempt, after all.

      • Nmm: I think I understand your basic point and would agree that caution is called for. However I think some of your assessments are overly harsh. There are legitmate discussions about Church life, moral understanding and even things like proper dress for Church that are appropriate. None of the things said here are meant to be gossipy or “snarky.” I cannot vouch for every commet on every post there are surely some comments that lack complete charity. But most of the conversation here is about our faith life and how we reflect it in our practice. While there is always the possiblity of some of what you suggest, (Gossipy, snarky, who’s wearing what and who’s looking at who and what one assumes this or that about another’s motives or soul or heart or prayer life, who’s on the Communion line and who’s going to Confession etc) it does not follow that such matters cannot be dicussed or should not be. As for comments about confession, none of my points are meant to be disrepectful. They were meant to illustrate a point of serious discussion: i.e. how we have understood mortal sin in the past and how we can possibly undertand and refine how we understand it now.

        I agree that caution is necessary lines can be crossed as you say.

      • nmm says:

        I was speaking generally, and not about your posts at all.

        I think it’s a bigger problem than people are aware of yet — and not just regarding religion — there are blogs written by doctors and nurses and medical personnel that are hugely problematic as well, and I’m sure there are even business-related problems regarding confidentiality when it comes to business blogging.

        That’s not harsh. If a priest or nun or EM or layperson is behaving inappropriately, isn’t pointing that out just as much a discussion of morals as pointing out inappropriate dress or inappropriate attitudes towards the Sacraments?

        It seems as if, for some people, the problem is always somebody else, somebody “other”, someone we can categorize and diminish somehow, but no one really wants to think maybe something they do or encourage or participate in is as much a problem as the thing they’re pointing out in the other person.

        Anyways, like I said, it’s bothering me more and more and your response is kind of squicking me out along those same lines, so I’ll leave you to it.

      • Thanks, I think your cautions are helpful for all of us in the blogosphere

  5. Rellis says:

    So let’s get on with it! I’ve been putting up with this garbage my whole life (I was born in 1978), and there’s little evidence whatsoever that priests are doing anything about this.

    I’m often in a state of mortal sin, so I go to communion perhaps monthly. I’m sick of the cattle call giving me looks as they belly up to communion. I hate being one of the 1 percent in the church not going up there, merely because I take the “eat and drink your own condemnation” teaching seriously. It’s not fair that I’m stigmatized merely for doing what the Church says.

    Something that would help matters here is the communion rail. People would be more hesitant to go up.

    • What did you think of the sermon I posted. Is that enough of an effort to get on with it or do you think more is required? As I stated, I think we need to apporach this matter pastorally so as to restore balance. Simply returning to the past, or quoting Paul without reference to Church teaching and understanding of mortal/venial sin may not b enough. People will either say, “That’s crazy and extreme” or they will shut down and immediately accuse themselves of mortal sin and stay away from communion too often. A healthy, balanced and proper understanding of mortal sin is the goal. Today we have over corrected, and seem to dismiss the possibility of of mortal sin but it seems important not then to “over-over-correct” if you know what I mean. In the old day’s it would seem that one “dirty-thought” could land you straight in Hell and meantime exclude you from communion. And yet, such thoughts often emerge from weakness and are not always fully free acts. Church teaching on the criteria for mortal sin respects this fact. And yet too, as Diane points out above, this does not mean that such matters are of no concern at all. They should be addressed, confessed and considered a matter for necessary growth.

      At any rate Rellis, I don’t doubt that there are people and also priests who don’t take these things seriously enough. But I think your judgment of others is too harsh. Language such as “belly up” seems to indicate contempt for others who sate of soul you cannot know. Even though there likely ARE people in mortal sin approaching communion, it is not always the case that they are well taught in this matter or fully understand the teaching. That is on us priests to teach and, as I have pointed out we need to do a better job; but in a way that does not simply revert back to another extreme.

      • Rellis says:

        1. Msgr. Pope, I know that you are “getting on with it.” My concern is that I have almost never heard any corrective instructions from a priest at Mass about this issue. This is particularly-true at suburban-type wasteland parishes. Cities tend to be a little more educated and serious.

        2. Returning to the past is not my suggestion. My suggestion is that priests be pro-active about fraternal correction in this regard. For example, a parish with a cattle call communion line ought to have a weekly reminder from the priest about the need to examine your conscience, think about the last time you went to Confession, etc. There’s very little of anything being done about this at most parishes. I do think communion rails would help a bit, but that’s not returning to the past (since they’re used in today’s Church)

        3. It is true that I cannot know the state of soul of the 99.9 percent of people who go up for communion at a typical suburban parish Sunday Mass. Nor can I know that it will definitely rain when I see clouds coming. But I don’t need to have perfect knowledge to make a highly-educated guess. There’s just no way that virtually everyone going to Mass at every parish on every Sunday is in a state of grace. No way, no how.

        4. Meanwhile, those of us who do know the teachings and do take these things seriously are made to feel as if we’re the ones doing something wrong. Priests should also tell the congregation that not receiving communion is often a laudable thing, and that it should be supported by those laity who feel they are worthy to communicate.

      • Thanks Rellis for these additions.

      • Bender says:

        For example, a parish with a cattle call communion line ought to have a weekly reminder from the priest about the need to examine your conscience, think about the last time you went to Confession, etc.

        It appears that you are already aware of the need to examine your conscience, Rellis, so why do you need them to tell you what you already know?

        It is true that I cannot know the state of soul of the 99.9 percent of people who go up for communion at a typical suburban parish Sunday Mass. Nor can I know that it will definitely rain when I see clouds coming. But I don’t need to have perfect knowledge to make a highly-educated guess.

        Oh, that’s what you mean. But rest assured Rellis — the state of others’ souls IS NONE OF YOUR CONCERN.

        Meanwhile, those of us who do know the teachings and do take these things seriously are made to feel as if we’re the ones doing something wrong.

        You are doing something wrong. You are spending too much time worrying about other people’s business. Just worry about yourself. Trust me, very few, if any of those “cattle” (as you call them) are judging you, if they even notice you not going up for Communion.

      • Rellis says:

        Bender:

        1. I think we all have an interest in making sure the Eucharist–our Lord–is not received unworthily. We’re a communion here. The whole reason Msgr. Pope wrote this post is because of this corporate concern. The whole reason the “communion and politicians” question is so important is because it matters.

        2. In fact, any Catholic who sees the very Body of Christ desecrated by people eating and drinking their own condemnation has a duty to say and do something, don’t they?

        3. The state of others’ souls IS my concern. First of us, a wound to any part of the body of Christ is a wound to me, since I am also a part of that body. Second, I am my brother’s keeper. Third, my concern is actually less with the state of a Catholic’s soul than with the damage a Catholic outside of a state of grace is doing to the Eucharist by receiving unworthily.

        4. I’ll stop calling suburban parish communion lines “cattle calls” when there’s more than a few stray cows in confession lines. Until then, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on, and what damage is being done to Our Lord in the Eucharist, and by extension the Body of Christ of which we are all members.

  6. Jason Gennaro (Catholicbydesign.com) says:

    Thank you, Msgr. Pope. An excellent article.

    As noted and implied, worthy reception requires frequent recourse to the sacrament of confession. I suggest the following to increase the frequency of confession:

    1. Consciences need to be formed and helped to mature. The first task here is for priests and parents to help their charges learn to pray and pray well. A good prayer life will, by its very nature, form the conscience and propel persons to seek the reconciliation they need in the sacrament of confession. That means teaching people/children to spend some minutes in mental prayer each day. It also means teaching people to properly examination their consciences (as part of prayer), hopefully once a day but at least once a week.

    2. Sin and Hell need to be preached. I believe the Church (in general) needs to preach more forcefully about sin and in a specific way, too. As an example, it is common knowledge that many Catholics contracept, yet I have never heard a homily mention contraception and the disastrous consequences for marriage and soul that follows. Consciences cannot even be tweaked if priests do not courageously (and it takes courage!) speak to their flocks about serious sin. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that Hell is real. However, many people do not believe its existence or the existence of the demonic. A healthy fear of Satan and of removing ourselves from God for all of eternity does wonders for contrition.

    3. Confession must be available. Unfortunately, in many places, one can only confess on the Saturday afternoon before the vigil Mass. This makes confession almost impossible for families who are not totally dedicated and for anyone else, truth be told. If possible, confessions should be offered before each Mass. This helps those who confess sin, avoiding the possibility of an unworthy reception. It also teaches, as it shows all parishioners that a clean (free from mortal sin) soul is necessary for reception.

    4. People who frequent confession on a regular basis need to tell everyone they know how good and liberating it is to have your sins forgiven and your soul cleansed. Regular Catholics – not just priests – need to evangelize the benefits and necessity of receiving such a glorious gift.

    5. Parents need to bring their kids to confession. Good habits stick with us.

    I like Diane’s idea about a Year for Penance!

  7. Brian Z. says:

    Perhaps Father, you can give some examples of situations where it SEEMS like mortal sin but may not be? What does it mean when the priest says he obsolves me of ALL my sins but I realize after confession I forgot one? Can I wait until next time or should I go back in and confess again immediately? Where does the thought of sin, for example, having thoughts of revenge or taking the Lord’s name in vain become sinful? Is the thought a natural reaction and is sinless UNTIL expressed verbally or acted out? If I remember something mortally sinful i did in the past do I need to officially confess that as well? I have also heard that one can receive communion as long as there is an intent to confess as soon as possible, is that true? Sorry for all the questions but I do love the sacrament of reconciliation but want to maintain a healthy/ healthier attitude toward it and these are questions that struck me as I reflect. Up until now I have adopted a “better to safe than sorry” approach. Any additional guidance is greatly appreciated. God Bless you Father.

    • I gave two examples in the article, one of missing mass though 30 inches of snow had fallen. The other (from the Catechism regarding masturbation – wherein there are SOMETIMES factors that reduce culpability). Other examples are more general. But it would seem that since mortal sin required due discretion, that there are some who do not fully understand what they are doing due to ignorance or erroneous conscience and hence they might for example not attend Mass but were poorly formed in the obligation to do so each Sunday. I do not say they are wholly innocent since I think deep down we all know we ought to be in Church each week. But still, bad example, lack of teaching and cultural factors can all affect a person’s “due discretion and limit their culpabiility somewhat. Other things being equal, skipping Mass on Sunday is a mortal sin, but for the reason’s stated, not all people who do so may have this level of culpability to incur the sin at a mortal level. In terms of “full consent of the will” it will be noted that strong passions frequently inhibit sufficient freedom. Hence people sometimes do or say things in anger that are objectively serious but did not involve full consent of the will since they were “carried away” by anger. I am not saying they are innocent. They should still confess but before God they may not be in complete mortal sin.

      Ultimately this is why I say that it is pastorally better for people to be less technical about assessing mortal sin and simply increase their frequency of confession. No one is a judge in his own case and it is best to see the doctor even for suspicious matters.

      If a penitient forgets to mention a sin he need not go back, it was absolved. However, if it is possible mortal he is required to metion it to the priest at his next regular confession, and that he had received absolution at the previous confession.

      As for sins of thought, we are culpable to the degree that we consent to them. For example, an inappropriate sexual thought may occur to a person but he dismisses it as inappropriate. This is not to incur sin. But to the degree that he entertains or fantasizes as it were with this thought he has begun to accept it and incurs some blame. It is the same with other sins such as uncharitable thoughts or bigoted thinking, etc. To the degree that something unholy or unjust occurs to us is not sinful. We may then reject it as wrong and answer it back. But it we say to ourself “Yes, that is right, so and so really is a a “blank” then we are consenting and incur some blame.

      In cases of doubt about a matter being mortal it is possible for a person to make an act of contrition with the proviso that they will get to confession soon and be sure to mention it. In matters of habitual sin I would ask you to speak to your confessor about this since one whould not simply adopt this rule about habitual sin without such a conversation with a confessor personally.

  8. BHG says:

    It’s hard these days to find a priest who takes Confession s seriously as some of his parishioners do. Many discourage regular confession and chide folks who go regularly as being overly scrupulous or so unlearned that they can’t tell what sin is and isn’t. On the one hand I hear from sources I repsect that monthly confession is probably a really good way to approach the sacrament and my spiritual life, but my local priests don’t seem to agree….there’s not only a lack of emphasis on our tendency to sin–there’s a lack of emphasis on the fact that in the confessional is found the grace for transforming ourselves from even “little” sins that impede our way. Please, more priests who encourage confession and are willing to help parishioners grown into it and through it!

  9. guest says:

    So which comes first the chicken or the egg? Jesus or faith in Jesus?
    I vote Jesus.

    And if His bride doesn’t allow for the occasion of the nest
    to come into contact with the chicken, by saying that the nest is faithless
    and unworthy, then how can the chicken lay an egg in the nest?
    And then how can the nest behold the chicken to realize that it would
    be a good thing to maybe reline with straw?

    Hey, a chicken really doesn’t enjoy getting into a nest that needs
    relining, BUT if it means that by doing so the relining will be realized
    and then happen, what a happy chicken then! And the egg will
    certainly be laid and grow and flourish.

    So which comes first? I vote the Chicken. I vote Jesus.
    Anything else is not the what the Gospel says.

    • I am not sure I follow your point and how it relates to this discussion.

      • Bain Wellington says:

        Dear Monsignor, I am repeatedly struck by the courtesy and graciousness with which you reply to comments on your own articles. Your kindliness and humility are a great inspiration to me when tempted (as I frequently am) to blast away at comments which – to my mind – suffer from various defects (such as the one you have addressed here). Your amiability is a genuine tonic and a reminder to me to exercise more charity.

        My sincere thanks.

      • Thank you too Bain, I appreciate your thoroughness in repsonding. I always learn the limits of my arguments and you help supply missing or poorly developed notions in my remarks. It my usual hope to start a conversation not end it or say it all. I appreciate clarifications and corrections as well as distinctions. I figure the Catholic tradition, while having clear guard rails permits a large degree of debate and different traditions within those boundaries. I have observed the back and forth between you and a few others on the et cum spiritu tuo and decided to step back and allow you all to have a healthy debate. I will also say that to some extent I was being left behind by all the erudite details 🙂

        Being somewhat a disciple of St. THomas (though a poor one) I always appreciated that his vairous summas and other works emerged from a tradition of vigorous academic debate and he always seemed to repectfully present the various objections and, though having his own repsonse he always aired the various views. To some extent I regret that modern univeristy life does not always permit or respect such an open discussion. At any rate I don’t always get the balance right, but I appreciate the discussion. Thanks for participating!

  10. Mark says:

    Another aspect of “receiving worthily” which some people seem to focus a great deal of attention on, possibly distracting from the important truths you have discussed here, are the outward gestures used at reception. For example, communion on the tongue vs. in the hand, whether one bows, keeps one’s eyes on the host instead of the minister and such like. How we conduct ourselves is important, but not nearly so worthy of attention as the reality of our relationship to God.

    • Yes, these should also be included in this extended discussion of the issue. About the bow, I think this is required of the faithful by the bishops prior to receiving unless one is kneeling.

  11. Shane Kapler says:

    Monsignor, I am always impressed by your even-handed treatment of subjects – always with a firm commitment to Truth.

  12. Wendy says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Thanks so much for this thoughtful discussion! I agree there must be much more correct teaching on sin. Mass often gets boring when you hear the same things over and over: God is love and we should strive to be all we can be, etc… Too many general platitudes. It would be great to hear more sermons on the specifics of sin (being careful, though, of children in the congregation), why they are wrong, the bad consequences that we often don’t see until too late, and how even sin in general is harmful, blackens the soul and darkens our awareness of God. I think people don’t feel serious about sin, cuz too many priests shy away from talking about it and how very serious it is. Think of Jonathan Edwards famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and how it converted thousands (I think), sparking a huge revival. Supposedly he delivered it deadpan, but prayed for many hours beforehand. I know may in my generation have (at least had) an attitude of contempt about fire and brimstone sermons, but we could definitely use some more of it, or at least more of discussion about how terrible sin is and how it offends and saddens God, hurts us and separates us from God and others, which is Satan’s goal!

    Thanks again, and I wish more priests would enter into this discussion!!!

    • Yes, sin is the bad news that is the premise of the good news if we repent. Neglecting to preach on sin also empties the good news of meaning.

    • Vijaya says:

      Wendy, we have a seminarian, Dwight Lewis, from Trinidad, who has woken up so many people in our parish. He tells the Truth and we are so blessed to have him here because he is not afraid to speak and rattle us from our complacency. I want him to preach at the baseball game! He’s got the voice for it too … He will be ordained this fall.

  13. Arthur Reddick says:

    Re: “What do we expect from Holy Communion”

    Yesterday I sent a harsh reply not meant specifically for you, but for all the priests and bishops who have allowed their sheep to treat His Body so cavalierly. It beggars my mind that men who have been so blessed with hands annointed by God to change a piece of bread and a cup of wine into His Body and blood frequently show such little concern for how He is treated.
    It must hurt Him terribly to be placed in a dirty hand and perhaps even more so when his priests seem more concerned about “pastoral” correctness than the sacredness of His Body.
    I ask the question,should we be more concerned with offending us or God?
    Father you know better than I that without the Eucharist there is no Church. Isn’t it dreadfully clear that’s why the Church is in this mess?
    Priests and bishops should not placate us, but teach us.
    You have done this admirably in this post. Thank and please accept my sincere apology.

    • Yes, it was your post that prompted my reflections. I am grateful for the original comment and surely no apology is necessary. It occured to me that such “consternation” was appropriate and should evoke a thoughtful response. Thanks!

  14. Vijaya says:

    It has been especially difficult to go to confession this spring, with baseball and limited confessional hours (half hour on Sat. afternoon). My kids and I have waited and left without confession because the line was just long enough and the priest had to prepare for liturgy. But I agree that frequent confession is the way to go …

  15. Terence Filmore says:

    Msgr,
    We say an act of contrition at the start of Mass. We then pray for God’s forgiveness. If I can bring to mind the mortal sins I’ve committed and pray genuinely for God’s forgiveness, then I have always assumed that I can partake in Communion.

    If the intent of the act of contrition is not to enable congregants to partake in Communion, then what is the intent?

    Thanks, as ever, for an insightful posting.

    • Gary says:

      Terence… the intent of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass is to absolve the congregation of venial sins, not mortal sins. I believe that one of the epistles, I can’t remember which one, speaks of the need to confess serious sins to a priest.

      • Gary is correct in his answer. The absolution, if we can call it that, is only for venial sins. If one is aware of more serious sins then sacramental confession and absolution are necessary. In rare cases such as when confession will not be reasonably available for a while an Act of Contrition can be made but with the proviso that any mortal sins will be confessed in kind and number as soons as Confession can be reasonably celebrated.

      • Terence Filmore says:

        Thank you Gary and Msgr for the (very important) clarification. I have no excuses for avoiding Confession in Washington DC.

      • Bain Wellington says:

        So far as concerns Gary’s partial recollection of an epistle which “speaks of the need to confess serious sins to a priest”, the citation of 1Jn.5 appears to be an error.

        In 1Jn.1:9 we read:-

        “If we acknowledge our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing”

        The proof-text for the Sacrament, of course, is Jn.20:23.

        It may be that Gary is thinking of Jas.5:14-16 (which combines the two Sacraments of healing, although it is not referred to in the CCC’s treatment of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation):-

        ” Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.”

      • Yes, thanks, my reference to 1 John 5 was only to indicate that there is a biblical root for determining a distinction between moratl and venia sin:

        There is such a thing as deadly sin, about which I do not say that you should pray. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly. (1 John 5:16-17)

  16. esiul says:

    Wendy, glad you expressed your sentiments so well about the platitudes and that sin should be mentioned more. The old mission priests were real good at that, we could definitely use them nowadays once in a while.
    More balance is needed. Thanks.
    Long list of comments again, I don’t know where Monsignor Pope gets his energy from. I’m no better,
    it’s late at night and I’m still reading them.

  17. Paul Hughes says:

    Dear Father,

    One of the things I have noticed on this subject is a lack of awareness towards the fragments of the Blessed Sacrament.

    Most people who receive in the Hand seem unable to look deeper than the following two truths.

    1. The Church allows people to receive in the hand therefore the fact that we receive in the hand is fine.
    2. The early Church allowed it therefore the fact that we receive in the hand is fine.

    Very few people seem to be able to understand that there might be an illegitimate way to receive in the Hand as opposed to the idea that receiving in the hand is wrong. There is a difference between the two statements.

    The vast majority of people who receive in the hand never check their hands for the fragments of the Blessed Sacrament. —- This is very very wrong.

    Secondly there is not a good case to be made that simply checking the hands is enough. If the Church considered it was then there never would have been any point in clasping the thumb and forefinger – and all of the other purification’s to do with the Blessed Sacrament. Since I am not willing to consider the idea that those requirements are absurd I can only take the position that the way the average catholic receives in the hand is wrong. And for the benefit of others I would like to repeat that this has nothing to do with the fact of reception in the hand – only the lack of behavior towards the fragments of the Blessed Sacrament.

    And since the only thing we know dogmatically about the permanence of the Blessed Sacrament is the truth that as long as the accidents of consecrated bread remain so does Our Lord – it is no wonder that the Church in every one of her rites never once relied on the perception of the Priest alone to prevent loss of the Blessed Sacrament.

    Paul

    • Yes these matters are all important to conisder. However the “worthy” reception of Communion mentioned here is the freedom from awareness of mortal sin. Perhaps a future blog can consider these matters you have raised. Thanks.

  18. Jim says:

    For many, many people, the worthy reception of communion cannot be settled until the Church starts reminding people that the use of contraception constitutes a serious sin. The recent USCCB document. “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” clearly reiterates Church teaching that contraception is objectively wrong (p. 18). The original draft used the words “intrinsically evil”, but this was changed to “objectively wrong” in the final draft. If the Church wants to help the faithful receive communion worthily then it must address this issue more directly. The overwhelming majority of Catholics use contraception and have no qualms about receiving communion. Most confessors tend to downplay the seriousness of contraception, to their shame and to the peril of their parishioners.

  19. C. says:

    It’s hard to see what the point is in telling or even implying to penitents that there is a possibility they can Commune licitly after masturbating without an intervening Confession. Far better to offer Confession before Mass, at least on Sundays, and let the monotony of their Confessions and penances gradually expiate the monotony of their sins.

    The Catechism states that full consent is “a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice” ……Do we not have control over our bodies? “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off”, says the Lord, something we don’t understand to mean literal amputation, but the removal of occasions of sin — time alone, for example……or failing to use the means of prayer and fasting.

    You can’t beat any habit without humility, and where is the humility in “I know I’m going to Heaven even though I’m masturbating”? Isn’t the root of humility the realization that without God, we are nothing, and without Christ’s mercy we are damned? Worse, how can you possibly justify forbidding fornication, pornography and sodomy when masturbation gets essentially a free pass? Is this perhaps the single reason why the Church’s entire teaching on sexual ethics is disregarded by so many young people, because of the….[bad]….advice teenagers get in the confessional when they start masturbating?

    The “guiding of pastoral action” means that you don’t refuse Absolution for repeat offenders who are trying to make amends, not that you discourage them from going to Confession immediately after every time they offend, even more than once per day if necessary, and to refrain from Communion until they do. As a practical matter, it may be difficult for someone to go to Confession immediately, but the reason it is difficult is because many priests do not–unlike their patron–make themselves heroically available for anonymous Confession. This is not a problem that will be solved by a homily.

    What you really don’t hear about at all today is the possibility of invalid Confession for lack of resolve or lack of attrition–yet so few today actually fear Hell! And this “remains” Church teaching (as if Church teaching could change!), just check the Catechism.

    • OK, I hear you. Just to be clear that I was quoting the catechism here.

      Now it seems to me that you are engaging in all or nothing thinking as if to say becuase the Catechism acknowldeges that self-mastery is not always complete in this matter that some how the sin of masturbation is therefore not a big deal or not sinful. It is and remains sinful. It may not always be mortal since full consent of the will may not be sufficiently present. You seem to think it is quite easy just to stop doing it. But for many, especially young men who are unmarried and otherwise trying to avoid fornication this sin is often a difficult matter to simply overcome as you suggest by a simle act of the will. The catechism is simply giving recognition to this problem. There is no “free pass” as you suggest. Confession is still required. However a confessor is advised to unstand that compulisivity is often a factor. Masturbation is distinct from fornication insofar as one is less able to avoid near ocassions. For there to be fornication usually requires that a couple secret themselves away and make other provisions that are both imprudent and immodest. Pornography must be sought. Though it is a true fact that it is far too easy to find these days, nevertheless it is an ocassion of sin that must be sought out. But as for masturbation it is not wholly possible to be away from one’s own body or mind. Temptations can be strong fro some despite custody of the eyes and other protective measures. Hence some distinctions are appropriate between fornication, pornography and masturbation.

      I am not sure why you think anyone is discouraging those who struggle with from going to confession. It seems to me the whole point of the article was to encourage confession not just when we are aware of mortal sin but frequently and regularly.

      Your hostility in this matter especially toward priests is puzzling to me. I would like you to recall that the demands upon fewer priests is not insignificant. Most of the priests I know DO spend significant time in confessionals and are generous with there time in this regard. But there are not four and five of us in rectories anymore and there has to be some reasonable expectations. St. John Vianney was heroic as you note but it is also true he lived in a smaller setting and times that were less hectic than these: no telephone calls, faxes, meetings downtown, e-mails, six different hospitals to visit six different parishioners, etc. St. John was surely heroic with his time but I think many priests are today as well in many different ways. Perhaps your judgment could be less harsh and your charity more manifest.

      Finally you will note that I had to edit some of your remarks which were a little more explicit that I can allow on a blog of this sort. It was mainly the physical descriptions of the sin in question that were problematic and unecessary. Also I had to substitute the the word “bad” for a more profane word you used.

      Bottom line, Masturbation is a sin. It may not in every instance be mortal (says the Catechism for the reasons stated) but regular Confession is essential. Further a confessor is enocuraged to understanding by the catechism and to work carefully with the penitent in a matter where guilt and shame are often a contributing factors to recurrance of the sin.

      • C. says:

        The question is what is more important in this day and age–the phone calls, the faxes, the meetings downtown, the affairs of the parish which could be handled by the nun but aren’t because it’s always a battle with her, the fear of what some other available priest might say if you let him at your parishioners, even in some cases the visits to your own parishioners in hospitals amply staffed by priest-chaplains. At least you have a thriving apostolate to excuse you, and you still offer Confession on Sunday — a rarity!

        You ask why the “hostility”, it isn’t hostility, but to find Confession some days I have to leave my own diocese and drive for two hours even though there are 500 priests closer–secular and religious–who are not offering Confession at all that day. That number is not an exaggeration.

        Correct me if I’m wrong but is not St. John Vianney’s form of heroism the only form of heroism formally recognized by the Church as a model of sanctity for parish priests, other than founding organizations or martyrdom? The environment today is much more hostile for the faithful than even post-revolutionary Ars.

        I don’t think the Catechism actually states that masturbation is not always mortal — that’s an interpretation. As far as guilt and shame, yes they can easily become disordered, and this is one of the reasons why the availability of anonymous Confession is so helpful – especially to priests you don’t know outside of the Confessional.

        Apologies for the salty language and thank you for preventing any scandal in that regard.

      • Here is what the Catechism states in reference to masturbation:

        To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. (CCC # 2352)

        Hence. although the sin is objectively speaking grave, it may not in fact be that in terms of every individual’s culpability (blameworthiness). The confessor is thus counselled to consider this in order to form an equitable judgement and to form a good pastoral plan that will help the penitent.

      • C. says:

        This is almost a dead horse, but the phrase “lessen, if not reduce to a minimum” does not clarify what that minimum is.

        Persona Humana says it outright:

        “Psychology helps one to see how the immaturity of adolescence (which can sometimes persist after that age), psychological imbalance or habit can influence behavior, diminishing the deliberate character of the act and bringing about a situation whereby subjectively there may not always be serious fault. But in general, the absence of serious responsibility must not be presumed; this would be to misunderstand people’s moral capacity.

        “In the pastoral ministry, in order to form an adequate judgment in concrete cases, the habitual behavior of people will be considered in its totality, not only with regard to the individual’s practice of charity and of justice but also with regard to the individual’s care in observing the particular precepts of chastity. In particular, one will have to examine whether the individual is using the necessary means, both natural and supernatural, which Christian asceticism from its long experience recommends for overcoming the passions and progressing in virtue.”

      • Brad says:

        C., hi. I am stunned at the myriad hostile projections in this paragraph of yours, directed at monsignor:

        “The question is what is more important in this day and age–the phone calls, the faxes, the meetings downtown, the affairs of the parish which could be handled by the nun but aren’t because it’s always a battle with her, the fear of what some other available priest might say if you let him at your parishioners, even in some cases the visits to your own parishioners in hospitals amply staffed by priest-chaplains. At least you have a thriving apostolate to excuse you, and you still offer Confession on Sunday — a rarity!”

        You obviously have a lot stored up. Dragging nuns into this, doing his pastoral duties for him, then him fighting with her over power? Hospital visits? Apostolate? There are so many barbs in that paragraph, I lost count. Monsignor does not deserve that from you.

        In my observations it is usually very sexually frustrated middle-aged women, single, married or religious, who have zero sympathy for a young man and his miserable struggle with masturbation. You/they have no idea what it is like to be in a testosterone soaked body, full stop. It is like sitting in the cockpit of the space shuttle as the launch engines are smoking and rumbling. I am speaking on a biological level. With time and practice, he must control it. His mind and spirit must control the body. The Church and the confessor, in persona Christi, are there to help him if he himself is willing to bear this as a cross and rise above it. Hence, the quotes from Persona and the CC that advocate a pastoral approach. Monsignor clearly comprehends this.

        Your words are right in an academic sense. But Monsignor is clearly one who is worthy of absolving sins, not you.

      • C. says:

        Brad,

        Are you kidding or do you not know what “apostolate” means? I have great respect for Msgr. Pope.

        Do you want that young man to have a priest available to hear his Confession any time, or to have to wait until he turns 18, gets a car, and his parents’ permission to drive 100 miles whenever he wants? Sometimes young people die, sometimes suddenly, and sometimes on the road. Perhaps the reason he can’t control himself is because being deprived of the grace of Confession, he spends 98% of the month in a state of mortal sin, and can never seem to stay in a state of grace, so he gets depressed out of the guilt and the shame. Perhaps eventually he may even despair and gives up on practicing the faith.

        There are two approaches to this: first, lie to him and make him think that he is not sinning mortally (this “must not be presumed”, according to the Church…sounds like you’re presuming it applies to all young men), and second, form in him the positive habit of humbly and cheerfully seeking God’s pardon and working to avail himself of the means, even if it means he has to sit by himself in the pew on Sunday when the whole crowd surges to receive Communion. In fact, the boy who makes a devout and contrite spiritual Communion on account of a partly voluntary act of passion may well be the only sinner in the whole church that day who walks away justified. This second approach requires more work, both on the part of the penitent and on the part of the pastor, especially in this day and age when children usually can’t walk to church by themselves and parents are not in the habit of going to weekly or even monthly Confession themselves, let alone offering to bring the kids.

        I have plenty of sympathy for the normal kid whose desire for reach heaven in spite of his human sinfulness is threatened by a sea of heresy and heteropraxis, and by the corruption of Christians in every state of life. Kids just like him grew up seven hundred years ago and remained Catholic in spite of it. I have zero sympathy for liars and the enablers of immorality, and those who encourage the weak to lie to themselves rather than obey their consciences. I have some sympathy for priests, because they are under a lot of pressure from laymen like me to do silly things like return phone calls and sit on committees and attend parties and resolve disputes with other parishioners and to make me feel important, and they never hear from me that I want them to hear my Confession because I never have the courage to ask.

        BTW, I hope you have a good day, Brad, not a nice one. St. Aloysius, pray for us.

  20. Brad says:

    C., sorry my return key got ahead of me. I wanted to finish by saying that lest you think I am too permissive, please see what I wrote to Nick, one of the original commentators, above. Lastly, although I am vigorously defending monsignor to you, please don’t assume that I do that with all clerics or clerical actions/views. Also, please let me say that I am respectfully disagreeing with you in the spirit of charity and I hope you have a nice day. Brad.

    • Thanks for your words here Brad and for the addition as well. I agree that I think it is hard to communicate that some degree of pastoral practice and sympathy does not equate with permissivness. It is clear that masturbation is a sin. How best to treat it in a productive way that breaks the cycle of shame, embarrassment and fear which tend to fuel the sin, is a matter for careful balance. I appreciate your understanding of this insight which I think the catechism is trying to communicate.

  21. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Every time any minister of Communion gives Communion to a person who is publicly known to be a supporter of abortion, that minister of Communion is proclaiming that support for abortion is not grave matter.

    Or, he is teaching the faithful that, for a sufficient amount of taxpayers’ money to support Catholic Charities, the Church will sell the Eucharist to politicians.

    Attempting to teach the truth about worthy reception of Communion is futile, as long as no more than fifteen bishops in the U.S. refuse to sell the Eucharist to pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

  22. Dale says:

    Also, up above, is mentioned the question of INVALID CONFESSION.
    I would say that THIS is extremely rare.
    It would only apply to someone who is confessing out of “rote” and has no intention, whatsoever,
    of even trying to amend his or her life with God’s help.
    Confessing, even if only out of fear of hell or only out of fear of receiving Christ unworthily in communion,
    is valid because it is IMperfect contrition, which the Sacrament itself “makes up for.”
    Now, of course,
    a person who is going to confession merely for appearances’s sake, and has no regret at all for what he
    or she has done, is of course making an Invalid Confession because he has NO contrition at all, not even
    imperfect. This would be like a certain, from-Massachusetts former presidential candidate going “to confession” but continuing to advocate Abortion On Demand brazenly. Such a confession by such a man would be a despicable act. As is his receiving of communion – publicly at that !! – televised and at the hands of a nationally-known Archbishop, who then processes out of the Cathedral with this proAbort Radical as if they are the Best of Buddies (and I’ve seen this with my own eyes).