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On the Giving and Receiving of Holy Communion: Some norms to recall.

June 3, 2012

Recently here in the Archdiocese of Washington there was an issue regarding the denial of Holy Communion to a certain individual, which caused no little debate among the faithful. I am NOT going to reopen that case here, and ask all readers to please recall that, no matter what you may think, you do not have all the facts, and I do not wish to rehearse the (partial) specifics of the whole affair.

That said, a number of us priests asked for a review of the norms of the policies of the Church and the Archdiocese in these sorts of situations, and the Archdiocese responded at a convocation of the all the priests, which discussed many matters, this one among it. (At the same convocation we also discussed the specifics of the lawsuit initiated by the Archdiocese and other Catholic groups and diocese against the Administration).

I am grateful that the Cardinal and his senior staff responded in a concise and clear manner. For, it is a fact that these sorts of situations, wherein, Communion must be withheld, are both delicate and complicated. It is always helpful to know the norms, and review them frequently since there are times when a priest must deal quickly with situations that arise, and having command of the norms is immensely helpful.

Frankly, we do not always get every situation right. Being human, our judgment is sometimes flawed. But to the degree that we have reviewed and pondered the collected wisdom of the Church, and have a grasp of the basic policies, we stand the chance of avoiding mistakes either of excess or defect.

All that said, here are some norms and policies that were presented to us from a variety of sources.

From the Sacramental Norms of the Archdiocese (promulgated 1/25/2010; 6.41.1-6.41.6) (I have included a few remarks of my own in red) :

  1. Any baptized person, not prohibited by law, can and must be admitted to Holy Communion (cf Canon # 912).
  2. Full participation in the Eucharist takes place when the faithful receive Holy Communion. Yet care must be taken, lest they conclude that the mere fact of being present during the liturgy gives them a right or obligation to receive Communion. Even when it is not possible to receive Communion, participation at Mass remains necessary, important, meaningful and fruitful. (cf Pope Benedict Sacramentum Caritatis # 55)
  3. A person who is to receive Holy Eucharist, is to abstain for at least one hour before Holy Communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine (cf Canon 919.1)

From the USCCB Guidelines (also referenced in ADW Liturgical norms and policies):

  1. Those who receive Holy Communion should not be conscious of grave sin.
  2. Should have fasted for one hour.
  3. And, if there is no reasonable opportunity for confession, the person should make and act of perfect contrition, which thereby includes the intention of confessing to the priest as soon as possible. (For it sometimes happens that, in current circumstances where most receive Holy Communion, that to abstain would raise difficult questions and possibly result in a person announcing publicly that they are in mortal sin. To avoid this, the Church does allow this act of perfect contrition, which obviously includes the intent to seek the Sacrament of Confession to be valid).

The recipient of Holy Communion also makes declarations by presenting himself for Holy Communion:

  1. That he or she is a Catholic.
  2. That he or she accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church in toto and is not consciously or intentional dissenting from known doctrines or dogmas, from whatever the Church professes and believes to be revealed by God. (For Communion means cum (with) + unio (union), and thereby is more than a “me and Jesus” thing, it involves a union with the Church his Body and Bride. Dissenters and those in schism who cannot make this declaration of union, thus should not claim communion when there is a significant lack of union either by dissent or schism).
  3. That he or she is not conscious or gave or serious sin.

Therefore a strong responsibility falls on the one coming forward to receive Holy Communion. Since priests and deacons cannot know the state of each person in most circumstances, the fundamental responsibility is on the one who comes forward to receive. For, as St Paul says, Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29). Note that Paul and Scripture place the responsibility primarily on the communicant, rather than an (non-omniscient) clergy.

Therefore, the minister of Holy Communion is to:

  1. Presume the integrity of the persons presenting themselves for Holy Communion.
  2. Trust in this fact is to be presumed unless proven clearly, otherwise.
  3. It may be the case that one, whom the Minister (priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister), sees come forward has in fact been to confession, and/or renounced previous sinful practices. I was once told of a situation wherein a person who had been in an invalid marriage, in fact, had the marriage validated. Yet, on coming forward was told by the priest to stand aside. Though the couple was reconciled to the Church, the minister of Communion presumed their incapacity and dismissed them. This caused embarrassment and anger.  When in doubtful situations, however, the priest ought to give Communion and perhaps seek counsel, and to counsel the person later.

On the prohibition of Holy Communion to Public Sinners.

  1. Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted, after the imposition or declaration of the penalty, and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to Holy Communion (Canon # 915).
  2. Thus, if a person has been publicly excommunicated (rare today!) They are to be denied Holy Communion if they come forward. There are other forms of excommunication (often called Latae Sententiae (or automatic) excommunications) that are more secret and unknown to the general public. For example, if one procures abortion they are automatically excommunicated. But such an excommunication is usually not publicly known and the Minister who may know of this, third hand or simply in a counseling situation, ought not deny Communion only based on that. For confidentiality is to be preserved even if it is outside the Seal of Confession (which can never be violated). In cases such as this, where an excommunication is not publicly declared, the Minster of Communion, ought not publicly deny Communion, but speak privately to the person to ensure that the Latae Sententiae excommunication is, or has been, lifted in the Confessional setting.
  3. But if one is clearly and publicly been excommunicated they should be publicly refused Holy Communion. (Rare today!)
  4. Further, if a person publicly attempts to use Holy Communion for purposes beyond the Spiritual intent, they can be denied. (For example, a troublesome group known as “Act-up” has sometimes disrupted Catholic Masses, coming forward in public ways, often wearing symbolic insignia or “stoles” and demanded Holy Communion. They are rightly refused Holy Communion for they deny its significance by their action, and politicize the reception of Communion, calling it a right rather than a privilege, and a confession of the true faith. Thereby they publicly forfeit the presumption that they approach communion worthily or with proper disposition of faith).

Canon 915:

  1. Prohibits the reception of Holy Communion to those who are excommunicated.
  2. Permits the public denial of Holy Communion to those whose sin is grave, and manifest, and in which they are obstinately persevering in the sinful state.
  3. Therefore note, as others have, three criteria must be met. For a person may be in grave sin, and the priest must  know this outside the confessional. But unless the sin is manifest, i.e. a sin the priest knows, and one which is clearly known by most of the congregants, and unless he is sure they have not repented and received absolution prior to this Holy Communion, he ought not publicly deny the Sacrament. He may wish to confer with the person discretely and confidentially later to give further counsel, but he ought not otherwise deny the Sacrament unless he is sure their sin is grave, manifest and unrepented.

As I hope you can see, the primary burden of discernment in these matters falls in the recipient of Holy Communion. As Scripture says, Let a man examine himself…..

Those looking for showdowns at the altar rail or communion station ought to realize that Church law and policies, as well as prudential judgments, frown on such things. Priests and other ministers of Holy Communion need to remember they are not omniscient, and may authentically be mistaken in their assessment of those who approach the Sacrament.

Hence, doubts are to be resolved in favor of the communicant. Where there are concerns on the part of the minister of Holy Communion (i.e. a priest or deacon), he ought to approach the communicant privately and discretely and either give counsel, or clarify the facts. If an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion has doubts they should consult with the priest or pastor. Confrontations and showdowns at the moment of Communion should be avoided, and should be very rare, if the norms are proclaimed and followed.

There are some who may wish to applaud if Communion is denied to certain people in a public way. But confrontations “at the rail” usually flow from  a failure of catechesis, and/or a failure to follow policy in more remote and discrete settings such as the confessional, the pulpit and the catechetical setting . Denials and showdowns are to be lamented not celebrated. And thought they do rarely happen, the goal is to avoid them altogether.

These norms  along with a wider appreciation of their purpose may help in avoiding errors either by the clergy or by the faithful. Ultimately the norms for the worthy reception of Holy Communion and all the Sacraments , flow from a reverence that God is Holy, that He and his Sacraments are neither to be mocked, nor to be necessarily withheld from the faithful who desperately need them.

Perhaps it is well to end with a passage from St. Paul about Holy Communion:

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.  For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.  That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions (1 Cor 11:27-35)

OK, comments are open. But let me be clear, we are not going to rehash the whole affair of a certain priest here in the Archdiocese who was in the news two months back. Let me clear that comments are not open to bishop-bashing and to pontificating about an event wherein not all the facts are even public. If you choose to mention the case too specifically I reserve my right to edit, or to refuse the comment altogether. This post is about catechesis, especially as we move forward toward the Feast of Corpus Christi. Let’s look ahead, not back.

Comments (41)

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  1. Bender says:

    not prohibited by law . . . most circumstances . . . Presume the integrity . . . unless proven clearly, otherwise . . . obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin . . . publicly attempts to use Holy Communion for purposes beyond the Spiritual intent

    I’m just a lowly lawyer, a profession that obsesses about the actual words used in rules and regulations and laws and norms, and the above “clarification” is sadly filled with ambiguities that do not clear up anything.

    The above language would appear to contemplate that there will, in fact, be occasions when it is proper, if not obligatory, to withhold the Sacrament, even if only one in a million. But the above norms do not really address that extremely rare case. Instead, they appear to cover the other 999,999 cases where the issue does not even arise.

    What does “not prohibited” mean in a given situation? What does “most” mean? Is the presumption a conclusive presumption or a rebuttable one? What does “proven” mean, what does “clearly” mean”? How “obstinate,” how “persevering”? How public is “publicly”? And what do “use” and “beyond the Spiritual intent” mean?

    And why is there no rule that says “the good faith of, and proper application of the norms by, the minister of Communion is to be presumed”?

    Were I a priest and presented with that one in a million case, I would not know what to do in that situation. Indeed, given the late unpleasantness (in which the above norms were attempted to be applied in good faith), I would, solely in order to protect myself, I would have to read the above rules as “ALWAYS give Communion in EVERY case no matter what.” But if that is what the rule is supposed to mean in practice in that one in a million case, why does it not simply say that? Why maintain the wholly untenable ambiguity?

    The lawyer in me is not comforted.

    • It’s not unclear to a non lawyer like me, Bender. The strong presumption is to give the sacrament except in rare cases as described. The burden of discernment is ultimately on the communicant more than the priest. The priest should seek to assist those who are not clear of their status to the degree that he knows of an irregularity. It’s clear to me, and to the brother priests who were there. It may not be what you like or want, but it’s clear enough to those of us in the clergy who attended. And the “one in million case” (actually they happen a lot more than that) are to be handled pastorally away from the communion line, with rare exceptions as described.

      • Bender says:

        It is not clear as to how to handle, oh, let’s try a hypothetical — a gay man active in the gay marriage community who is known to live with his “husband,” having “married” in any of the various states (with or without it being public knowledge that they are sexually active), who has publicly declared that while once Catholic, he is now atheist, and he announces to those who know this that his intention is to go up for Communion, perhaps in order to provoke a reaction, and he does so, dressed properly.

        What to do? This is NOT “most” circumstances, this is a “not most” circumstance. It is largely apparent that he is not acting with integrity, but one person might say that the above evidence is sufficient to prove it clearly, others might say that it is not clear enough. Due to his repeated public advocacy, including his acknowledgement that he knows what the Church teaches and the Church is wrong, he has obtained public notoriety, and it would seem obvious he is obstinate and perseveres in his obstinancy. But — it is possible, however infinitely unlikely, that while in line for Communion, he had a conversion of heart, internally sought reconciliation with God and the Church, he repented of any and all sin and said an act of contrition.

        In such a case — which is coming — what to do?

        Let’s add to the hypothetical — the next day, after having been given Communion, this activist for gay marriage tells the media that he was still living with his husband, still sexually active, still an atheist, etc. This behavior repeats for several Sundays in a row. Even after being privately admonished and counseled by the priest, it happens again and again, each time the priest saying to himself, “this guy hasn’t changed, it is obvious, but because the burden of discernment is on him, and there is an infinitely slight chance that he might have changed this time, and we are not to expose anyone to embarassment, and I don’t want to take the chance of acting on my own, I’m obliged to admit him to Communion again even though the fears of public humiliation are greatly overstated since, given the crowds, only I and the man himself can really see and hear what is going on and the only way anyone will know he has been denied would be if he himself told everyone about it.”

        Let’s add further to the hypothetical — a couple of times, this activist receives in the hand, but does not consume. He tries to pocket the Host, to do who knows what with it. What to do? Chase him down, ask for the Host back? Insist that he consume the Host then and there? And what to do the next week, when all of the above is once again in play? Or perhaps the bishop calls him in a tells him directly to not present himself for Communion and the bishop informs the priest, but once again, he does so. (Or maybe it is a certain government official who is persecuting the Church who is told not to attempt to receive Communion without prior permission from him.) Dare the priest deny him (after all, it is possible that he might have repented, etc. while in line, it is possible that he might have obtained permission from the bishop earlier that morning)?

        Reading the above rules about admitting a person to Communion, and considering the precedent that has been set in application of those rules, which are not at all new, the clearest thing is that any possible exception to the rules is illusory. At most, even if all of the above criteria clearly applies, the prudent priest will not act on his own, but will first consult the Archbishop for advice, which means again that the rules are not self-enabling, but only have the illusion of being capable of application. Rather, our activist must always be admitted. And, in doing so, far from being an act of charity, it merely permits him to persist in this destructive behavior.
        _______________________

        Again, I am not at all one of those advocates for the denial of Communion to various politicians, etc. We should not treat the Body of Christ like a pawn. But the above rules provide no clarity as to what to do in a given situation — at most, they say that, regardless of the above, you should “consult the Archbishop for further guidance, but [do] not act on [your] own regarding [such a] figure without that advice.”

        • You present a pretty clear case for the public denial of communion as the norms I cite indicate. Norms need to be applied and that’s how I’d handle it. You seem to want an airtight world Bender, and as lawyer I suppose I understand your world view. But pastoral life isn’t supposed to be so litigious and every possibility can’t be litigated or legislated. There are norms and they must be applied by a pastor on a case by case basis. If I see some one not consuming the host but walking away with it, I do follow them. and ask it be consumed, but I also have ushers near the stations on the watch.

          We are aware in the Church that set-ups are coming. And to the degree that a person or a group is going to do a public action, they can expect a public result, i.e. the public denial of communion, as the norm states. We won’t always get it right, sometimes a parish or pastor will not even know that an activist is in line etc. But to the degree that we have a heads up the pastor is expected to withhold communion in such cases. There may even be a need for him, as was done in New York some years ago, to inform the congregation, and to have ushers or even police at hand. Here in DC we have several of our parishes also targeted by “gay” activists and this is how we handled it. Public actions get public responses, as the norms above indicate.

  2. Andrew J. Decker, III says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    If a high-profile Catholic politician publically (i.e., outside the Confessional) (i) supports abortion, (ii) votes to fund abortion and (iii) declares that one can support the right to choose to have an abortion as not being inconsistent with the Catholic faith how would the norms you reference guide a priest at Mass if that politician presents himself for communion?

    Thanks for the excellent articles you provide us!

    • If such a one were in my parish I would meet with them privately and counsel them to repent. I would add that if they do NOT repent not only should they not come to Communion, but they will quite certainly go to Hell. I would not, however publicly refuse them Communion unless they met all the criteria of Canon 915. The burden is on them to reflect and only thereafter present themselves for communion. I have had to warn parishioners in the past not to approach the Sacrament, for this and other reasons, an generally I had no subsequent problem. In certain cases, i.e. marriage cases, I am able to return them to the sacraments. For all I know, they may have just repented and confessed. If the matter were to cause public trouble in the parish, I would certainly consult the Archbishop for further guidance, but I would not act on my own regarding a public figure without that advice.

      • Diane Korzeniewski says:

        Dear Monsignor,

        Canon 915 reads: Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.

        I think the disagreement between good bishops on interpretation of this canon is strictly on the last part of that sentence. What, in your mind, would be an example of “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” if not a politician who works against the Church in ways that are manifest to all on matters of morality?

        If that is not an example of having met the criteria of canon 915, can you think of another?

        • Andrew J. Decker, III says:

          Msgr. Pope,

          Mrs. Korzeniewski points to a tension between the appropriate prudential judgment which you point to and the last portion of Canon 915. I will candidly state that there are many of us who look to our Bishops and priests for a more zealous stance by the Church on these matters. We sometimes view the assertion of prudential judgment as timidity.

          That having been said, I have had to constantly remind myself that not am I not a Bishop but that I should be obdedient and humble with respect to the teaching and pastoral authority and leadership of the Church. In today’s polemical culture, everyone has a hair-trigger and the various pundits across the polticial spectrum react instantly to the issues. Historically, the Church has always moved at a more deliberate (and loving and kind) pace, hoping that its rebelllious children will return to the proper path. I have learned to tell my equally orthodox and conservative fellow Catholics that we must bear in mind that the Church does not “play” by the same rules as the secular world and that the Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Church in a profoundly mysterious and infinitely wise manner.

          In the final analysis, those of us small footsoldiers in the trenches need to stand firm in the faith and the sacraments, do our jobs with our children and within our familes, confess our sins, pray for the leaders of our Church and then trust in the Lord.

          After all, if the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against His Bride, Holy Church, do we think a mere mortal politician will do so?

          God bless, you Father, and have a blessed day!!

  3. Chris says:

    Msgr –

    When you say that “the Church does allow this act of perfect contrition, which obviously includes the intent to seek the Sacrament of Confession to be valid,” is that written somewhere? As a sinner, I have frequently done something I have regretted and, depending on the source, may have engaged in mortal sin – regardless or its rubric, it is something I need to confess.

    That said, I try to go to daily Mass, but they do not offer confession until after Mass (by request). If I have an intention to go to Confession regularly (as I do), and am sorry for what I have done, are you saying I CAN go to receive the Body of Christ? That would fill my heart with joy as I frequently sit there in the pew wishing I could have the grace so as to not sin again, but not wanting to defile the Sacrament. Sometimes, because of my and the priest’s hectic schedules, we are not able to connect after Mass and several Masses go by before I can get in.

    [NB: This frequently leads me to appreciate the Sacrament more than the sin, but I am firmly in need of the Eucharist in the times when sin troubles my soul…]

    • Yes, the Norms of the Bishops Conference as well as Canon 916 contain this provision in writing.

      • Christine says:

        Msgr. Pope,
        I just want to follow up with the hope that you will provide a clarification.

        The provision says that if there is “no reasonable opportunity” for confession, then a person can make an act of contrition before receiving Holy Communion.

        It sounds as if Chris has plenty of reasonable opportunities to go to confession–after Mass, or, if not on that particular day, then on another day that week. If he can wait a day or two to go to confession, then he should wait until those opportunities to confess mortal sin, rather than risk sacrilege by receiving not in the state of grace.

        The provision does not seem to apply to his circumstance. For the sake of his soul and the souls of readers, I hope you will clarify.

        • Yes, generally one should get to confession if it is reasonably possible. But I think it is best for him to work that out with a confessor who can deal with him pastorally rather than you or me, who have never met him giving him lots of pastoral direction. For those who have frequent issues with mortal sin, setting up a reasonable routine with a confessor is best for it is not always possible or reasonable to pull priests aside and depending on where one lives your notion of two or three days may not be in the realm of reasonable. We cannot legislate for every possibility. Norms are given and the faithful can and should consult a priest to apply them specifically to their situation.

          So, in the end, I will not clarify as you suggest I should, pastoral practice admits of some leeway and what a confessor can and should do will vary.

          A rigid interpretation and terms like “sacrilege” used indiscriminately are usually not helpful for otherwise good Catholics who struggle with repeated mortal sin, due to habit. I do not know what Chris’s particular issues are but the most common issue related to repeated mortal sin is masturbation. In such cases the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 2352) advises confessors against the kind of rigid way of dealing with it your comment suggests.

          Hence, once again, the best advice is to encourage those who struggle, but love God is that they confer with a confessor who can help them find a reasonable way out of the repeated cycle of fall, guilt, repent, fall, guilt repent….

          Anyone who knows me will affirm that I am no moral slouch, I preach the whole counsel of God from my pulpit and speak clearly to moral issues. But good pastoral practice applies norms and makes use of legitimate leeway, permitted by the Church, in such a way as to help people make real progress. It is the role of a confessor, not you or I on a blog, to decide how to apply the term “reasonable” as given in the norm. While respecting the norm itself, the confessor must weigh conditions, circumstances and the penitents over all disposition and spiritual state to a pastoral determination that also respects the law.

          • Chris says:

            It is always in the notion of “mortal” has always been confusing. The definition of “grave” was confusing (CCC lists some things like cheating at games and envy and anger – Lord help me I try…). How much thought goes into “sufficient” reflection – one hour, one second? And full consent of the will–doesn’t everything I do have my full consent?

            I have heard all sorts of theories on how I should think about it: a) If I feel guilty about what I have done, it is mortal; b) Unless my intent was to be distant from God, then it is not mortal; c) loose or conservative interpretations of the three conditions of mortal sin. I know I probably do ten things wrong a day–which of these is mortal?

            I guess my other question/comment is about the reasonable opportunity (making the assumption that I am looking to make a good confession). Sounds like Christine would say that if there is confession AFTER Mass, I should go then. If I know it is generally after Mass, I should wait until I can go. But then 916 seems to say that if I INTEND to go, then this should allow me.

            I wish I had a regular confessor to answer questions like these–COMBOXes tend not to help me. It seems like every time I go to confession, I have a different confessor.

            Anyway–thanks for this ministry for us all! I keep you and all our priests in my prayers…

          • Exactly, comboxes are terrible places to seek advice. Too many people (including me) who know nothing of you at a personal level or of the specifics of your situation give opinions that are, at best general oobservations and at worse completely ill suited to what is pastorally best for you. Seek a good priest noted for his love for the Church and for his pastoral care and carefully discuss the matter. No matter what combox people may or may not say, there are important pastoral determinations to be made and you have articulated them well. For it is not always clear to casual observers and commentors who dont know you when there is full consent of the will. It is not always clear when scrupulosity needs careful attention or when one is need of correction in their inner moral reasoning. These sorts of determinatons require careful pastoral discernment. I wish you grace in these matters and in finding a good pastor or spiritual director. Avoid the armchair folks of the internet who may wish to diagnose you without meeting you.

          • Jennifer says:

            Chris, I feel your pain! I’ve been in your shoes. Hang in there – grace is there, and will rain down on you in a shower of mercy for your faithfulness and perseverance. He *will* bring you out of the desert. You may bear the scars of the heat, but they will serve as reminders to fortify your soul.

            Monsignor, thank you for your charity in discussing the norms. So many of the Kumbaya Generation just didn’t get any of this in our catechesis, and so here we are now, sweating bullets in the pew, wondering whether or not we’re in a state of mortal sin, if we even know what mortal sin is. Or if we even care.

            May God always bless you, and keep you close.

  4. Marie says:

    If someone, who was not a member of your parish but was at your parish “visiting” walked up to you moments before Mass and told you (manifest) they are participating in sin (one which according to the Church is grave) and then implied they are going to continue on that sinful path by not ask for confession (or obstinately persevering in the sinful state), but instead walked away so that you couldn’t talk with them privately, then how would the norms apply?

    • Well, of course, “manifest” means widely known to the congregation, not just that it is known by the priest. Hence, given my lack of knowledge of either the individual, or how the individual and his circumstances are known by the congregation, (after all, you say he is a visitor), I would give communion. If I had more of a chance to ascertain the facts and converse with the person I would advise them not to receive communion, but the scenario you paint does not give me that chance. So the norms would advise that, given my doubts (especially as to the manifest nature of the sin) and that a high level of certainty is required of the three criteria (which cannot be fully obtained given the highly unusual scenario you describe) from Canon Law, then the norms would advise I give communion. More of course can and should be done when one is a regular congregant and the priest becomes aware of an irregularity. Then the priest should clarify the facts, and if conditions warrant, he should privately advise the congregant to refrain from Communion. But these things of course would take place at the rectory, not the communion station, except in the rare conditions of all three conditions being clear: Grave, obstinate and manifest.

      • Marie says:

        The dictionary definition of manifest is making something evident. There is no futher specification of number of people who need to have knowledge of something before manifestation is somehow accomplished. So, does the definition you’ve provided come from Canon Law or somewhere else in the Catholic Church? And as I am not Catholic, I ask you to please forgive my lack of knowledge of Catholic definitions of words that differ from regular definitions of words.

        I also wonder based on what you are saying about the norms of Canon Law and the definition you’ve provided of manifest, if the situation where such that even if the person was a member of your congregation and you had already privately advised them that they should refrain from Communion but they simply decided to disregard you, then as long as the situation was not known to other members in the congregation you would allow the person to continue receiving Communion?

        • Well, dictionaries are fine, but it is the canonical definition that matters and your notion of the meaning of the word is not in accord with the meaning that Canon Law gives it.

          As for your second paragraph, I do not have a military branch or police force. If, after I have counseled them and they still come forward, I give a blessing. Were they to make a scene and demand communion (this has never actually happened) I would probably give communion to them and speak to them later. How and when, if ever, to get in a shouting match at the communion station would be very situation specific, the main point being if the giving of communion would cause grave scandal. Otherwise I would generally conclude that I had done what reasonably can to dissuade an improper communion and they will have to face God about it.

  5. Steve M says:

    Thank you Msgr. Pope for another great teaching.

    This is just another sign of the loving care of God for us I think. He made us with free will to choose to act rightly or to sin. He knows that we are only human so His Church is guided to encourage us to repent and not place priests or lay ministers in a place where they might make rash judgement and commit sins. A perfect sign of the All-Knowing God who made us and knows are weaknesses and strengths. I am terrible at remembering Bible verse by name and number but this sounds eaxctly like a teaching that said if you know your brother is in sin go and counsel him in private. Christ taught that we have to give a sinner (each of us) a few chances to see the light and repent before anything is done in public.

  6. Sandra Lipari says:

    The Holy Spirit says to me, that people in general receive Holy Communion far too often! For one person to remain seated in prayer or otherwise indicates that he or she is in mortal sin is ridiculous. This is the sense that has evolved from the come one, come all frivolity of the most solemn occasion. What if I ate breakfast late, without intention to attend Holy Mass at 11:00 then a family member necessitates the need to go and I have not had the “hour?” It moves BEYOND the absurd that EVERYONE should be standing in LINE! What is the fear?

  7. Ken says:

    If every priest and deacon assumes open (i.e. public) homosexuals who present themselves for communion should receive communion based on a 1/1000000000000th of a percentage chance that they repented and went to confession right before Mass, then we will NEVER solve the growing problem of homosexual activity within the Catholic Church.

    The USCCB guidelines are part of the problem. Why is there an option to receive communion with the promise of going to confession later? Why is it so important that the person not in the state of grace MUST receive communion right there with absolutely no delay? Is he dying? Is there a universal wafer shortage? Is the government shutting down all Church activities that morning?

    The guidelines say there is not a “right” to communion, but then exceptions to the rule pretty mu

    • Well OK Ken, but its also Canon Law # 916 that speaks to the possibility of an act of contrition for a serious reason. Most canonists would permit that a grave or serious reason may be self disclosure that would likely happen if one were to stay away. Some may not like this, but the Church rules and the interpretive principles of Canon Law are not based on what we like. They are based on Centuries of jurisprudence and canonical terminology which does not always comport with everyone’s personal views or wishes. Also, this is not a rule aimed at practicing homosexuals per se. There are any number of reasons a person might or should exclude themselves from communion. But the norms are for all us faithful, not just for the homosexuals

  8. Fr. Kevin McGrath, OP says:

    I think the withholding of Holy Communion from pro-abortion Catholic politicians is a subject we pastors could use some more specific guidance about from the Bishops. I am absolutely in agreement with Msgr. Pope on the need to presume in favor of the communicant. But at a parish I used to serve, there were two politicians who occasionally attended Mass there who were, I daresay, quite notorious and adamant in their pro-abortion stances, i.e. they made a particular point of saying that their beliefs were contrary to those of the Church. They would seem to be fully ‘qualified,’ according to the canons, to be refused Communion. Yet, these same politicans also publicly received Communion from two cardinals (whose pro-life credentials were impeccable) on multiple occasions (it was in the newspapers). The message a number of my parishioners got from this was a) that if you were powerful enough, Church discipline did not apply to you, and b) the Church did not consider being pro-abortion all that serious a problem (therefore it was OK for them to be pro-abortion.) This is practically the definition of scandal.

    It is not a light thing to deny the Sacraments to someone. There is fear of provoking a ‘crisis’ which will be certainly manipulated by a hostile press to put the Church in a bad light. These are very legitimate concerns. But it seems to me that we are already in a crisis. And that the Church’s leeriness about denying Holy Communion to her people is being manipulated by some politicians so that they can present themselves as both solid Catholics and solidly pro-abortion. I have no desire to be more strict on these matters than my bishop is, but it seems this problem is not going away and, in being overly cautious, we may be undermining our own credibility promoters of a culture of life.

    • I think that if I were aware of a pro-abortion politician was receiving communion in my parish (I have never had this happen) I would most likely ask to meet with them personally and urge them to repent and also warn them that if they do not repent, not only should they not receive communion, but they will quite likely go to Hell. I suppose if they continued to do so, and the matter were a cause of scandal in the Church, then I would consult with the Ordinary. While many focus their venom on the Bishops for not publicly refusing communion to these sorts, I personally wonder about their pastors. We are the field commanders and ought be the first ones who go privately to these sorts of communicants. I realize that pastors may feel in over their heads especially in the case of nationally known figures but at some level it is us who have the first obligation. I have not had to deal with Pols, (even though my parish is right up the street from the US Capitol, but I have had to take certain people aside and warn them strongly to stay away from Communion. In some cases it had to do with a second marriage (and they usually take it pretty well). In some other cases it had to do with fornicators shacking up. In a few cases it was due to a grave lack of charity that was persisting. To the unrepentant (especially the fornicators and the ones gravely lacking Charity), or those who balked as my overtures I warned them very directly about Hell as their likely destination and that they may wish to mock me and Holy Communion, but they would have to deal with God. But only in a few occasions did I really have to get tough. Most knew what I was saying was right. Some did repent, and for those who could not make quick changes, they stayed away from communion until things could be resolved. Generally people handle it pretty well. So anyway, that is my take on it. It is true, if I had a big wig who might make a public stink I would consult with the Bishop if a personal meeting went poorly, but generally it is just me and my people.

  9. Jamie Ryan says:

    In one sense, the Church is stuck with some ‘uninforceable laws’. The priest cannot see into the individual communicant’s heart, and, unless there are some clear indicators as outlined by the Mgsr., he has no option but to presume the communicant (a) understands what s/he is doing, (b) agrees with it, and (c) is not in a state of grave sin. I am glad the Church has a policy that favors inclusion over exclusion.

    In another much deeper sense, however, we see a lessening of the understanding of and respect for the sacrament. On any given Sunday, I see 85-90% of the congregation walk up for communion; yet I know that hardly any of them ever go to confession. That has to mean that (a) many of them are in a state of grave sin and (b) they don’t link that to their readiness for communion or (c) they don’t really care. Neither option is good. We have an awful situation, I think, in which many Catholics view communion in an abstract form. There are large cathechetical responses required to address this – but two quick suggestions. Priests could remind congregants about the desired attitude to and preparations for communion (during each and every mass); and have confession available before every mass.

    • Joanna says:

      “On any given Sunday, I see 85-90% of the congregation walk up for communion; yet I know that hardly any of them ever go to confession.”

      How do you KNOW that hardly any of the 85-90% of Communicants in your Parish do not go to Confession? Due to my work schedule, I cannot go to confession during the time frames available for the Parish. I am fortunate that all of my pastors (former and present) have made themselves available when I can and need to go. I also travel a lot and go in other States (I want to be in a state of grace if the plane crashes). I certainly hope none of my fellow parishoners look at me and think the same thing you do, that would be insulting. And in that vein, I think you just made Msgr Pope’s point for him . . . every situation is different and we do not know the circumstances of all people. So your suggestion that Confession be available during Mass is a wonderful idea (actually Pope JP2 suggested it), I would no longer have to worry that you presume I am receiving unworthily if you actually see me go to Confession.

      • Jamie says:

        I know, Joanna, because the parish I attend offers confession for about thirty minutes every week. Unless most of the 300 or so parishoners attend confession elsewhere or see the priest outside of those hours, it is a logical to conclude that most do not benefit from the sacrament. Also, there have been several studies showing the massive decline in confession attendance. Do not misinterpret my comment to suggest that I “look” at individual communicants to make judgments about them.

        • Fr. Mike Santangelo says:

          Jamie, unless you are there every time the parish offers confession and are taking attendance you cannot possibly know who has and who has not gone to confession. Also, as Joanna points out it is entirely possible that some have gone to confession in other parishes or at times other than those scheduled.

          I am Chaplain to the Scouts in my diocese and I work with a number teens putting together an annual retreat. Many of these teens become very comfortable talking to me and would rather come to me for confession than their parish priests. If we were in the same diocese and any of these scouts were in your parish you would have just judged them unworthy of communion. You would also have been wrong.

          I think everyone of us needs to be more concerned with how we are approaching communion then someone else’s worthiness. I would caution everyone that the type of judgment being made by you may place one in an unworthy state for receiving communion. Fortunately that would be between you and your confessor.

  10. Dismas says:

    I understand why people feel so strongly about this one way or another, however, for me to get involved in a decision like this would feel like I was messing or interfering in someone else’s marriage.

  11. Joanna says:

    Thanks to Father McGrath for mentioning “scandal.” In the Bishop’s “zeal” to protect those whose status is questionable it appears they are allowing scandal to others who are not as learned. Not that I would ever suggest to my shepherd or his field commanders on proper norms at Mass, but maybe before the opening prayer a quick catechesis on not receiving the Holy Eucharist due to the grave result of hell and clarify the Church’s teachings on the grave subject at hand.

    There are those who believe that it IS as cut and dried as denying Communion to pro-abortion politicans and others engaged in public, grave, continuous and unrepentent sin. Maybe that quick catechesis would also serve to illuminate the difficult situations that priests find themselves in.

  12. Cynthia BC says:

    Today’s post dovetails nicely with that about the 8th commandment. I suppose that most of us are not quite beyond wanting the smug satisfaction of seeing someone Get What He Deserves (or, as we often tell our mooching dog, You’ll Get Nothing and You’ll Like It). Not unlike the smug satisfaction of getting a sibling or classmate in trouble by tattling.

  13. Melika says:

    Not being a Catholic but finding this whole debate fascinating, maybe someone can help clarify a few things.

    Basically what you are saying is, that the priest has no responsibility to 1) protect the Holy Eucharist from sacrilege and 2) prevent a person from committing another sin on top of what they have already committed if such action will 1) cause anyone (including the grave sinner) any amount of embarrassment or 2) be used politically against the Church.

    It seems that the crux of the argument involves the word “manifest” and how the USCCB defines it. Under the guidelines you have set forth, “manifest” is defined as “being known by most of the congregants”. What percentage is most of the congregants? If 10 out of 50 congregants know about a certain grave unrepentant sin, would allowing the sinner to commit sacrilege by receiving the Eucharist not send a message to those 10 that not only would a priest knowingly allow a member to commit another sin, but that the Church considers the sin not grave enough to be taken seriously? If the onus is on the individual to prepare their soul to receive Communion and there is obviously a system (the “norms”) in place in America to enforce this policy so that a priest is discouraged from using his own judgement, what is the purpose of Confessions or even the clergy? Why not just put the sacred Host out on a table and let people decide in their own hearts what to do with it?

    As an outsider, the message I and many others have received from all of this is: 1) the Catholic Church condones homosexuality, abortion, and pedophila in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge kind of way; 2) even if the Church proclaims an action to be a grave sin, they no longer enforce any responsibility or consequences for those actions upon the sinner; 3) therefor, you can do what you want; 4) if you are committing a politically correct sin the Catholics will eat their own to make you happy; 5) there is nothing sacred within the church (if the Host isn’t, what is?); 6) Catholics will not battle evil, even when it presents itself and all that is needed is no action.

    • Yes the primary responsibility is on the recipient despite your rather pejorative way of putting it. The final part of your comment is simply absurd, no church has suffered more than the Catholic Church regarding her prophetetic stands against the very things you snidly list. Your conclusion is way off base.

  14. Chris says:

    This question may seem absurd, but my catechesis as a child was seemingly poor…

    One thing that I never was able to get a good answer on (or one I liked…) was whether coffee breaks the fast…and does it matter if I have cream and sugar?

  15. Lászlo Pallos, PhD says:

    Melika’s post of 7 June is blunt, no doubt. Yet, the Pastors and Shepherds in the US ought to consider her comments carefully.

    Let me preface by noting that I was born in Eastern Europe under the ‘utopia’ of atheistic Socialism. When I was a mere youth, my family fled — under machine gun fire. My parents, and later I myself, kept in direct contact with relatives still under this materialistic government and have visited a number of times, after as well as before the fall of Communism. In fact, my mother had a first cousin who was a nun, a professed religious woman, whose order was disbanded.

    Yes, Msgr Pope is quite right to point out that, over the centuries and across the globe, the Church Universal has indeed suffered, and indeed has suffered gravely, even to the point of ruthless, severe persecution. Consider not only the first three centuries after Christ, but throughout the centuries. The 20th Century may have even surpassed the shedding of blood for the sake of Christ over the 1st centuries: consider the pogroms against Christians under Stalin, under Mao, under Hitler, etc.

    However, Msgr Pope, your comment confuses the Church Universal with the contemporary Catholic Church in the West.

    As Jesus says: “I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” If anyone should think this pejorative, he or she needs to consult – not the polls nor their tax adviser — but the Son of Man, the Living Word of God.

    Peace be with you… and may the Lord have mercy on us all.

  16. Manuel says:

    Is it correct to give Holy Communion to a person that is gay and is sick at home or the hospital?

    • Any one who is in a state of grace may receive communion. If a person is repentant of their sins, and has a resolve not to go on committing them, they are able to receive.

  17. R. Spanier says:

    Melika wrote: “If the Host isn’t (sacred in the Church), what is?”

    Pope John Paul II made the same point another way in his 2003 Encyclical Letter, Ecclesia de Eucharistia: “The Church draws her life from the Eucharist…. Consequently the gaze of the Church is constantly turned to her Lord, present in the Sacrament of the Altar, in which she discovers the full manifestation of his boundless love.”

    It is true that those who receive the Jesus in the Eucharist must examine themselves of their worthiness (1 Corinthians 11:28-29). But it is likewise true that those who administer the Eucharist must not give that which is Holy to dogs (Matthew 7:6). Or, as the footnote from an old Catholic bible concerning that passage explains: “i.e. to scandalous libertines, or infidels, who are not worthy to partake the divine mysteries and sacraments.” Indeed, the twelve year old acolyte, St. Tarcisius, was martyred in the third century by unworthy hands attempting to seize the Eucharistic being carried by him to imprisoned persecuted Christians.

    And while both the giver and the recipient of the Eucharist take on serious responsibilities, the Church teaches that the burden of Canon 915 rests on those who administer the Eucharist because they admit the recipient to the Sacrament.

    The June 24, 2000 Declaration from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts gives direction on how to handle circumstances where: “The Code of Canon Law establishes that ‘Those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared, and others who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to Holy Communion’ (can. 915).”

    Specifically: “Naturally, pastoral prudence would strongly suggest the avoidance of instances of public denial of Holy Communion. Pastors must strive to explain to the concerned faithful the true ecclesial sense of the norm, in such a way that they would be able to understand it or at least respect it. In those situations, however, in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible, the minister of Communion must refuse to distribute it to those who are publicly unworthy. They are to do this with extreme charity, and are to look for the opportune moment to explain the reasons that required the refusal. They must, however, do this with firmness, conscious of the value that such signs of strength have for the good of the Church and of souls. The discernment of cases in which the faithful who find themselves in the described condition are to be excluded from Eucharistic Communion is the responsibility of the Priest who is responsible for the community. They are to give precise instructions to the deacon or to any extraordinary minister regarding the mode of acting in concrete situations.”

    The Declaration states furthermore that “no ecclesiastical authority may dispense the minister of Holy Communion from this obligation in any case, nor may he emanate directives that contradict it.”

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/intrptxt/documents/rc_pc_intrptxt_doc_20000706_declaration_en.html

    Similar guidance to the above is found in the June 2004 ‘Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion’ letter (made public in the first week of July 2004) from then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.

    “Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist. When ‘these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,’ and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, ‘the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it’ (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration ‘Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics’ [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.”

    http://www.ewtn.com/library/curia/cdfworthycom.htm

    Finally, in a 2009 interview, when asked how Canon 915 should be applied, Archbishop Raymond Burke, Prefect, Apostolic Signatura said the following:

    “The Canon is completely clear, it is not subject in my judgment to any other interpretations. When someone is publicly and obstinately in grave sin we may not administer Holy Communion to the person. And that, basically, for two reasons: number one, to prevent the person himself or herself from committing a sacrilege, and secondly, to protect the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist. In other words, to approach, to receive our Lord in Holy Communion, when one insists on remaining in grave sin, is such a violation of the sanctity of the Holy Eucharist, so that Communion must not be given to people who are publicly, obstinately, in grave sin.” And, “In fact, the Canon puts the burden upon the minister of Holy Communion whether it’s the ordinary minister which would be a bishop, a priest, a deacon – or an extraordinary minister – it doesn’t make any difference.”

    http://www.pewsitter.com/view_news_id_16673.php

  18. marcia kay williams-Jones says:

    question. washing of the hands before toughing the communion plate is this the proper order.