On the Worthy Reception of Holy Communion – Part Two (Particular Issues)

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In yesterday’s post we examined some fundamental principles related to Holy  Communion: that it is not akin to the “table fellowship” Jesus had with sinners but is rooted in the “family meal” of the Passover Celebration, and that it must be received worthily and authentically based on what Scripture and Tradition have set forth. Our “Amen” is more than an affirmation of the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, it is an “Amen” to all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

Today I would like to discuss some related issues.

  • What is mortal sin?
  • Why are the divorced and remarried asked to refrain from Communion?
  • What should be done about Catholics who prominently and publicly dissent from the faith?
  • Is there a way forward in restoring proper discipline in the reception of the Holy Eucharist?

I. What is mortal sin? – It is one thing to hear that we must confess all serious or mortal sins prior to receiving Holy Communion. As we saw in yesterday’s post, Scripture teaches that those who receive the Eucharist in an unworthy state (i.e., while in serious sin) do not obtain a blessing, but rather a condemnation.

But is there a simple list to be consulted to determine what serious or mortal sin is? No. But surely there is some guidance to be found. Common sense also tells us that certain acts are more or less serious depending on circumstances, not simply by declaration. For example, lying can range from being a very serious matter to a lighter one: there are serious lies that can ruin reputations and gravely mislead people, and then there are little polite lies (“white lies”) meant to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. Other sins such as lust can range from rape to impure thoughts.  Anger can range from physical assault to angry thoughts.

Thus a simple “list” approach to mortal sin will not suffice. However, we usually know that there are more serious sins in our life and less serious ones. With some degree of certainty we can also know what is more serious from what is less serious. We are asked to counsel with our own conscience, to allow it to be properly formed based on God’s teaching and to make honest judgments regarding ourselves.

Here are some parameters for mortal sin from the Catechism and Scripture:

1. When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object … whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. … But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial. … If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices for ever, with no turning back (Catechism of the Catholic Church #s 1856, 1861).

 2. For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” (Catechism # 1857).

3. Grave matter is specified by the Ten Commandments, corresponding to the answer of Jesus to the rich young man: “Do not kill, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and your mother.” The gravity of sins is more or less great: murder is graver than theft. One must also take into account who is wronged: violence against parents is in itself graver than violence against a stranger (Catechism # 1858).

4. One area, because it causes frequent trouble for many, especially younger men, receives special mention in the Catechism in terms of assessing culpability:  By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” “The deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is essentially contrary to its purpose.” For here sexual pleasure is sought outside of “the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love is achieved.” 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. (Catechism 2352). However, since no one is a judge in his own case, if this area is a struggle one ought to confer with a confessor in order to set forth a regular schedule for confession that is reasonable and assists the penitent in staying faithful also to Holy Communion.

5.  By extension, there are other scriptural lists of sins that can exclude one from the Kingdom of Heaven:

1 Cor 6:9-10 – Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.

Gal 5:19-2:1 – The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Eph 5:3-6 – But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No sexually immoral, impure, or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

Rev. 22:12-16 – Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.

Matt 25:41-46 – Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

And therefore we do well to examine ourselves and discern any serious sins we have committed and should confess them. And while we should avoid overly scrupulous fears, we also must not casually dismiss our sins with empty excuses. If we are faithful, God the Holy Spirit will bestow on us a Godly sorrow for sins, rather than a “worldly sorrow” that is deadly and discouraging (cf 2 Cor 7:10).

II. Why are the divorce and remarried asked to refrain from communion? – This matter became quite prominent at the extraordinary Synod in Rome last year. The odd thing is that there are already very generous possibilities offered in the Church to accommodate those in such situations. Some are so generous in fact that many wonder if we grant too many annulments for less-than-clear reasons (that is not a matter for this post, however).

But why is there an obstacle to such individuals receiving Holy Communion? Is this “another example” of an overly strict Church? No! The issue was set forth by Jesus himself, who was quite “restrictive” in offering divorce and remarriage to His disciples. He was asked if such a practice was to be allowed, as Moses had allowed it. The answer from Jesus was a strong “no,” with very little exception. Consider for example this rather typical answer of Jesus to the question of divorce:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt 19:3-9).

There are numerous other places in Scripture where Jesus and the Apostles make similar pronuncements and set strict limits against divorce and remarriage.

Now the Lord uses the word “adultery” to describe divorcing one and marrying another. This is His word. And He teaches in many places using this word. So we cannot simply say he had a “bad day” or that this is just an unusual saying of the Lord. It was His consistent teaching. The teaching was unpopular and considered irksome even when the Lord gave it. (See Matthew 19:10.)

As an Apostle of the Lord, St. Paul echoed the same stance:

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife (1 Cor 7:10-11).

Thus one in the state of being divorced and married to another is in an ongoing situation of what the Lord calls adultery, and cannot present himself for Holy Communion unless and until the objective conditions are changed. To those who consider this unkind or too strict we can only refer them to the Lord Himself, who unambiguously asserted it. In today’s “divorce culture,” we do well to ask ourselves who is wrong. Clearly, it is the culture that is wrong, not Jesus.

There are options and possible solutions. We can investigate prior bonds for the possibility of annulment and then grant annulments when possible and appropriate. In the meantime (or if an annulment cannot be reasonably obtained), the couple in the second marriage can live as “brother and sister.” Some scoff at this as being unrealistic. But some of the same scoffers see the denial of Holy Communion as so odious as to deny them essential graces. If they see Holy Communion as so essential (a good thing), then why are they not willing to make this sacrifice? Sex is not the only thing in life.

If they cannot obtain an annulment, and cannot live as brother and sister (for the reason of not wishing to deny their current spouse jus in corporis, (i.e., the expected recourse to marital intimacy)), then they must refrain from Holy Communion until the death of the current or former spouse or until they cease sexual intimacy with the current spouse.

Otherwise, we are dealing with a case of ongoing adultery (Jesus’ description, not mine). Adultery is objectively a serious violation of the 6th Commandment, even if there are subjective factors involved that some or all parties think mitigate the situation. No one is a judge in his own case and even the Church cannot blithely set aside the teaching of Jesus.

People in this situation who cannot reasonably attain an annulment (and that is rare today) or live as brother and sister should continue attending Mass for the other blessings available, such as the prayers, blessings, the proclaimed Word, the fellowship, the praise, and so forth. God, too, may be able to understand and offer them blessings that the Church, given our limits, cannot.

The fact is that many good people are caught in situations that often stretch back years before a conversion. Some of these situations are bound to occur in a culture as broken and dysfunctional as ours. But the Church can only do so much. God knows the heart, and the faithful in these situations should be taught to reach out to God and allow Him to care for them in other ways, unless and until the Church, which has some necessary  limits, can readmit them to Holy Communion.

The Church cannot simply regard the needs of the individual but must also concern herself with the common good, the need to heed Jesus’ words and insist on the permanence of marriage. But God’s mercies are not exhausted and His compassion is not spent.

III. What should be done about Catholics who prominently and publicly dissent from the faith?– More and more Catholics in the public eye today dissent from the faith. Some of those even support things like abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex unions.

Canon 915 speaks rather explicitly to this situation:

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.

Cardinal Ratizinger, in a 2004 Memo to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, applied Canon 915 rather insistently. Here are some excerpts:

The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin  … there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. […] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it … Christians have a grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. …

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. …

Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. [***]

And thus there is a clear teaching regarding what is to be done in such cases. That many bishops have declined to enforce Canon 915 and apply the norm as set forth by the congregation is irksome to many. Refraining from judging them or claiming to know their motives, it seems likely that a way forward needs to include a broad teaching by all the bishops to all of God’s people about the need to receive Communion worthily and in a way wherein their “Amen” includes not only a recognition of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, but also a union with his whole body, the Church (as we saw in yesterday’s post). This would avoid, to some degree, the charge that politicians of a certain party were being singled out. Fair or not, the charge would surely come in the current political environment in this country, in which popularity and power are more important than right and wrong. In such an environment, moral teaching and instruction is often misconstrued as mere politics. It is not a fair charge, but realistically there is little chance that a focused teaching of this sort will be heard through the static of the political filter.

IV. Is there a way forward in restoring proper discipline in the reception of the Holy Eucharist? – A broad initiative by all the bishops that includes all Catholics may be the best approach. On any given Sunday, there are many Catholics who should not approach Holy Communion for any number of reasons. Many of these reasons can be dealt with through the Sacrament of Confession. Other situations are more ongoing such as with those in invalid marriages and must be addressed in greater detail. Those who are in significant, obstinate, and often public dissent from one or many Church teachings need to work through their doubts and decide more clearly for the faith. Some who merely struggle to understand Church teaching might not need to stay away from Holy Communion. But we need to be clearer for all Catholics that our “Amen” confesses both the true presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and our belief in all the Holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and professes to be revealed by God.

Collectively speaking, it is clear that we in the Church, especially bishops and pastors, have not had proper balance in teaching on the worthy reception of the Eucharist. We have rightly sought to encourage frequent reception of Holy Communion, but often have not balanced that encouragement with instruction on the need for worthy reception. It is a Church-wide problem that affects far more than just Catholic politicians. Clear but charitable instruction must be more ardently offered in parishes and from the bishops to all the faithful. This post is my own humble attempt to do so.

It should go without saying that Confession must be more readily available, both prior to Masses and at other times, to assist those who can to confess and thus receive Communion frequently.

35 Replies to “On the Worthy Reception of Holy Communion – Part Two (Particular Issues)”

  1. I’m a daily Mass-goer and I go to Confession every 3 weeks. I’m almost never aware of what I would have thought mortal sins. But in reading the list of scriptural references to what can exclude you from heaven, I get very nervous. Am I greedy? Do I ever look away from someone in need? Have I sown discontent?

    I’m wondering if the safest course of action is to only receive if I attend Mass immediately after Confession and on all other days just make a spiritual Communion.

    1. This is not an invitation to scrupulosity. Greed can admit of light matter or grave matter. The point is to at least include it our examen and be sure it does not grow out of control. Same with discontent and other things on the list. It is possible that greed can combine with gross insensitivity to the poor as in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. But not all greed is mortal.

      1. I appreciate your response. I think one of the issues that lay faithful who are serious in the pursuit of faith struggle with is the mixed messages we get from the pulpit… one priest says it is almost impossible for a serious Catholic to commit a mortal sin because they would have to be thinking as they did so that they were doing it in defiance of God, the next says committing a mortal sin is “as easy as falling off a log.” I think the truth is somewhere in between. For someone who struggles with scrupulosity it is a constant, prayer-drenched battle to make the choice to relinquish worry and fear, to petition for trust and not tip over into hyper-vigilance. I know all this and yet, as you can see, the Devil is always waiting with the back door open to chip away at my peace. Back to prayer I go…

        1. That’s an excellent point, in my opinion. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure I’ve experienced a priest changing his mind about whether or not one of my sins was serious or venial over the course of more than one Confession. I have the same problem with myself. It shows that it is as difficult for a priest as it is for us.

        2. This post (and this comment thread) is really meaningful as it’s something I’ve been struggling with a lot, as of late. I’ve been erring on the side of hyper-vigilance, since, as I look back on my life, I’m certain I’ve received unworthily before and never want to do so again. But I also don’t want to cut myself off from the graces of the sacrament. I agree with everything you’ve written here Sasha. And Monsignor, this is a very good post, it might be the clearest explanation of mortal sin that I’ve read.

        3. Hi Sasha,

          I found your comment very helpful as it illustrates by earlier points.

          If we look at Jesus’ words, we see an incredibly high standard of morality:

          “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.…Matthew 5:28

          Jesus here is DIRECTLY equating lustful thoughts with gravely sinful behaviour, namely, adultery.

          Given the emphatic nature of Jesus’ words here, it’s not hard to see why people would feel that they need to be hyper-vigilant and constantly monitoring every thought, lest they commit a mortal sin.

          Scrupulosity is not an aberration; it’s exactly what you would expect from a true believer given the plain meaning of scripture.

  2. Msgr. Pope, honestly I’ve always found the concept of “scrupulosity” in Catholicism to be comical.

    Telling people that being in a state of mortal sin can entail eternal torment and then telling them not to sweat it too much when fastidiously trying to figure out if they’re actually in a state of moral sin is somewhat laughable.

    Scrupulosity is a natural and logical response to an infinite cost.

    1. No its just excessive fear rooted in a neglect of understanding of mercy at all. Wretched sinner forsake your pride and hide in the wounds of Christ. The worse sin of all is pride and thought that you have to pay the “infinite cost” instead of being astonished that Christ alone can pay that cost and did! Paradoxically scrupulosity is is a manifestation of pride. Repent of pride and everything else will be added unto you. Change your thinking you backslider, sweat has nothing to do with it. If you laugh, let it be at your own foolishness.

  3. If a person in a state of mortal sin consumes the body and blood of Christ he condemns himself, right?

    If a person dies in a state of mortal sin he ends will suffer eternal torment, right?

    So how can there be “excessive” concern with whether one is in a state of mortal sin if the above are true?

    The vagueness of what constitutes mortal sin and how to judge whether one is in a state of sin compounds the problem.

    1. You come off as a legalist who wants everything specified However, life does not always work that way For example, there is no mathematical number that indicates whn a lie goes from being venial to mortal. There are too many variables and factors such as the matter of the lie, how critical the information is, whether influences or impacts a person’s reputation, The kind of pressure the liar was under and so forth.
      And the same can be said for many other sins that Can be mortal, but also venial, . God asks us to walk with him in faith, trusting his mercy, but also serious about our need to repent and not make easy excuses Hence, frequent confession and honest more reflection are necessary for every individual, we are given a conscience it must be informed and used in the reflective way. But the kind of mathematical certitude you seem to demand is not realistic, and tends either to scrupulosity, or scoff at the whole enterprise of moral reflection

  4. i appreciated the reflection on the the need for the Church to provide more instruction. There is not enough instruction nor preaching on important matters such as this (in my experience and opinion). I think the solution has to start with the healing and support of families. If the parents are not instructed and do not instruct or if the Church does something to hurt the family(ies) and does nothing to console and heal them afterward, they lose faith in the Church as a sacrament. Some leave. What then? Blame them for leaving? While some parents have their children in Catholic schools, the same parents may be just as needy as the children are for religious instruction, and so the children are not reinforced at home by good example, and they lose their way. Instruct and heal the whole family as a unit. How might this be done?

  5. I find it interesting that it was the Pharisees who set about to ‘test’ Jesus. Nothing new under the sun, as even though this question of divorce & so called ‘remarried’ receiving the Holy Eucharist was asked and I believe answered by Saint John Paul II. Is this not being ‘tested’ again?

    I while back I found another scripture that was very interesting as well; Luke 16: 14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him. “Lovers of money” being the key phrase that jumped out at me.

  6. Msgr. Pope, suppose you were told that if you don’t have your car inspected accurately and comprehensively today there will be a 90% chance that your brakes will go out in the next week, and you absolutely have to use your car in the next several days.

    Being a reasonable person who doesn’t want to harm himself, passengers, other drivers and pedestrians, you would almost certainly take it to the best shop for a thorough examination, insisting that the mechanics be meticulous to a fault in their inspection.

    If it’s reasonable to have this level of “scrupulosity” for a temporal risk, how much more reasonable is it to do the same for an eternal risk?

    Also, asking for crystal clear clarity on the nature and definition of sin is not unreasonable when someone is told that sin can determine their eternal fate.

    Is not the idea that a person should refrain from an act b/c of their sinful state itself legalistic?

    I appreciate your engagement.

    1. Your analogy is not apt since we dont have numbers like 90% moral scenarios are more complex than simply having your brakes go out at 90% certainty. The analysis of a moral act has more factors that are variable. This does not mean that everything is vague only that there are many factors as my example about lying shows. Your deaire for a simple list is understandable but lists cannot usuLly replace proper moral reflect where we examine our life with Gods help and the moral guidance of Scripture and tradition. There are somethings that are ex toto genere suo some that are wrong ex genere suo etc. there are even some things that are good but become wrong in certain circumstnces. So there are many factors and circumstnces to be assessed not just a 90 % number

      1. Msgr. Pope,

        I agree, moral reflection is complex and nuanced.

        That’s WHY it’s difficult to know whether one is truly in a state of mortal or venial sin for anything short of the obvious (first-degree murder). There are so many variables to consider. And self-assessment of culpability complicates the matter given our penchant for forgetfulness, self-deception, etc.

        So, given the complexity of moral reflection, the real possibility of eternal torment in the face of erroneous moral self-appraisal further exacerbates the situation.

        As you said earlier, one either becomes scrupulous or simply checks out of the whole Catholic moral enterprise given the confusion and attendant anxiety.

        I’m arguing that the threat of eternal torment makes scrupulosity a very rational response for a true believer.

        The threat of eternal torment disfigures genuine and sensible moral reflection and growth.

        1. I would say that obsessing over the ‘threat of eternal torment disfigures genuine and sensible moral reflection and growth’. Turn your heart to Jesus and trust in God’s mercy. St. Joan of Arc, when asked if she was in a state of grace, replied such; “If I am not in the state of grace, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” Do not let your doubts overshadow trust in God, Who is compassionate and merciful beyond our comprehension. Of this we can be certain. God bless

        2. Dusty, you need to take a breath! Go to confession if you are concerned and (here is the big one) REPENT of your sin. Remember how the Msgr has spoken on repentance? It is thinking differently I.e., not wanting to sin again and petitioning the Lord to help you in that effort.

          A confession given with no intention of repentance is a sin in and of itself.

          If, however, you did mean to sin no more, but the devil found another way to tempt you, well Jesus understands that we are weak creatures. In that He will judge your heart.

          There are several very good examinations of conscience out there to help one determine the state of sin you are in. The bottom line I think is intent. Did you slander another out of emotion “what an idiot!” With no intention of harm or self promotion, or did you tell your boss your co-worker was incompetent so you could get a promotion or have them fired?

          Both are sins, but only one intended to do harm.

        3. Dusty, it’s like you are in my head. I have the same exact thoughts and it’s not a good place to be. I sometimes think I view the Lord more as an angry punisher.

          That said, Monsignor’s reflection has actually given me more hope than previous discourses I’ve read on worthy communion reception and mortal sin. So for that, I am thankful.

          Maybe it’s my math and computer science background, but I share the frustration of the answer not always being balck and white/deterministic.

          Thank you again, Monsignor, for this reflection.

  7. So yet again we are reminded of “The Angel’s Prayer” taught to the three children at Fatima, prior to Our Lady’s appearance to them in 1917.

  8. God is not a lawyer. I think he is more of an engineer. He is loving, merciful and just. He has given of rules to live by to the most happy we can be in this life and to be able to share eternal life with him. He also made us and knows our limitations. We have the Sacraments to help us live with our limitations and weaknesses and still be what He calls us to be. I just can’t imagine God is focused on keeping people out of Heaven with a very detailed checklist. It seems clear that we judge ourselves. If someone wants to deny God exists then he doesn’t force himself on them and these folks may not have life eternal. But if we should know better and we ae capable of knowing and doing better then it is only judge to expect us to act better especially with the Graces of the Sacraments and our Guardian Angels. The Perfect Engineer. Probably not the best comparison but to an engineer it works.

    1. Hi Steve,

      I agree with your view. But unfortunately that’s not what the Catechism says. In fact, for much of its history Catholic moral theology has very much been a check-list theology, which is not surprising since it developed from Judaism (check-list of ten commandments).

      According to the Catechism, one’s eternal destiny is determined by whether they’re in a state of grace or mortal sin at the moment of death. That presupposes a very different moral theology from the one that you’ve outlined.

      1. Dusty, what are the two greatest commandments? Everything flows from those. Start there and let go of your anxiety. Anxiety is a tool of the devil, not God.

      2. Actually I have read/studied the Catechism a bit on this. Yes it is clear if you are not in a state of Grace but can be a complex answer beyond our understanding. Reading in Msgr. Pope’s post above inthe first paragraph of section 4, the whole discussion about certain issues. True there is a question of state of Grace and you can’t ignore mortal sins and not confess these but the Church teaches that we have to understand the complete situation and the condition of the person. If you read that part which is right out of the Catechism to me it shouts out justice. We should look at the ocmplete situation in assessing the situation whihc has ot be what God does if he is all knowing. Peter denied Christ three times and was given Mercy. God even sought him out to a degree to give him that mercy. We have a different understanding from the Catechism Dusty. Best to pray for each other.

      3. If you obey the Ten Commandments there is no way you will be found in mortal sin now or ever.

  9. I am curious to how this carte blanche approach to Holy Communion has evolved? What were the reasons and steps behind it? Has it always been this way? It first came to my attention at least 2 decades ago when I juxtaposed those at Confession to those receiving Holy Communion. Frankly, your blog here is the first time I have seen this addressed in print or speech. There seems to be a silence surrounding this topic.

  10. If someone who had free time asked me how to do an examination of conscience, I would tell him to read the Old Testament first, especially the history books. The writers of the history books did not record their own personal sins, but were fastidious in recording the sins of the kings and the of the people overall, and thus we get a picture of the state of the conscience of the Israelite people for each particular time period, even though the word ‘conscience’ seldom, if at all, appears in the Old Testament.

    Here is one example of what I have in mind: 2 Kings 3:1-3 “1 It was in the eighteenth year of king Josaphat that Joram, son of Achab, began his reign over Israel at Samaria; it lasted twelve years. 2 He too defied the Lord’s will, but not so openly as his father and mother before him; the images his father had raised to Baal he abolished, 3 but he clung to the sins of Jeroboam, that taught Israel to sin, and could not bring himself to leave them.”

    1. By contrast, the writers of the history books of the Old Testament showed less interest in the work projects, and even the wars, except how the they show Israel’s relationship to God, of the kings, for example: 2 Kings 1: “What else Ochozias did, all his history, is to be found in the Annals of the kings of Israel.” It isn’t an accident that the Annals of the kings of Israel didn’t make it into the bible.

      1. In a similar way, as we put into act the kingship in us given by Christ Jesus, the Catholic Church tells us what we should and shouldn’t do, so that our consciences will be that of a citizen of the heavenly Israel, as Monsignor Pope generously shares in post.

        1. Also, I say that is an excellent video both in terms of content and craftsmanship.

  11. True (clinical) scrupulosity is actually one manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There are degrees of scrupulosity, no doubt, but the individual who suffers from the anxiety disorder goes to confession much the same way another OCD person washes his or her hands too frequently. Confession is the compulsion that temporarily relieves the anxiety.

    That being said, people who are scrupulous are probably not committing a lot of mortal sins because they are so concerned about their eternal destiny. They perceive themselves as great sinners, but that is more of a chemical imbalance in the brain than because they are overly prideful. I do agree that they have a misconception of God as an angry judge who is ready to send them to hell if they die with sins on their souls rather than a merciful God who desires their salvation.

    I also agree that part of the problem is the fact that Catholics get a very mixed message on sin from different priests as Sasha said and this makes it very confusing to the average Catholic. I imagine that people examine their consciences very differently depending on who their priest is and what they are hearing from the pulpit. The fact that confession lines are so short these days suggests a lot of things, but one of them is that people are no longer under the impression that they are sinning a great deal (or at least gravely sinning a great deal).

    Finally, the subjective nature of the gravity of sin also makes it very hard for a person to determine if an act one did is venial or mortal. Thus, the best thing to do if one is unsure is to receive the sacrament of Confession regularly. If you think an act might be grave (but aren’t sure), confess it (even if a Catholic moral theologian would argue that it isn’t). As a Catholic trying to grow in holiness, it is better to err on the side of caution.

    I liken it to doing one’s income tax return. The IRS tax code has become so confusing and hard to understand that one is often at a loss on how to report something unique or out of the ordinary. One CPA might tell you to do it one way and another CPA would give you different advice. So what is the good, law-abiding tax payer supposed to do? Err on the side of caution and pay the taxes on it even if you are unsure. The IRS is never going to audit or punish you for paying more taxes than you needed to and Our Lord is not going to punish a person for confessing things that don’t really need to be confessed.

    Having said that, the subjective nature of Catholic moral teaching and the objective nature of the eternal consequences of a mortal sin can drive good and conscientious people to scrupulosity and scrupulosity is hard to overcome since it entails anxiety about one’s eternal destiny. My father struggled with OCD and scrupulosity and it undoubtedly affected his quality of life. Priests should be trained about it in seminary so as to know how to help those with this anxiety disorder. For Catholics who struggle with it, a good priest can help them much more than a professional psychologist (most of whom are unfamiliar with Catholic moral teachings).

  12. I enjoyed the two articles and I think they point to an idea that is having a difficult time getting attention.

    What is the balance between God’s infinite grace and infinite justice? What good comes of experiencing grace without contemplating the need for such grace as arises in our constant falling short of God’s justice?

    The call for increased use of Reconciliation points towards a relationship with a spiritual advisor who can help us escape the (too) easy giving of grace to yourself.

  13. I see why some so easy fall into despair. Receiving the Eucharist unworthy brings on condemnation. Can someone repent of “bringing condemnation on themselves” through confessing their sin, or confessing reception of the Eucharist in mortal sin or is their condemnation permanent because they have defiled the Eucharist?

  14. Dear Father Pope: A point I require clarification; What of the frequency of receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament? By that I mean how many times in one day can one receive Holy Communion? I have always thought you could only receive once in a 24 hour day, however I know some who receives Holy Communion, twice sometimes three times a day.

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