An Admonition on the Worthy Reception of Holy Communion


In the afterglow of the Feast of Corpus Christi we do well to reflect a bit further on the gift of Holy Communion with our Lord and the need to receive Him worthily by his grace. I celebrated with a local Latin Mass Community last Thursday, the actual day of the Feast of Corpus Christi, and in the context of that liturgy the sequence Hymn Lauda Sion was sung. In the magnificent Hymn by Aquinas, are these words of reminder and warning that we receive Christ is a worthy manner, free from mortal sin:

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
sorte tamen inaequali,
vitae vel interitus.

Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial food,
But with ends how opposite.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
vide paris sumptionis
quam sit dispar exitus.

Here is life and there is death
The same yet issuing to each
In a difference infinite.

St. Thomas is clearly basing this teaching on what Scripture says, as we shall see in a moment. But these lines could not be clearer that unworthy reception of Holy Communion does not only not help, it harms.

Thus, Pastors have the duty first to instruct in a general sort of way that the faithful ought not approach the Sacrament of Holy Communion if they are aware of serious (mortal) sin, or are in grave disunity with the teachings of the Church. It is usually helpful to instruct them based on the scriptural admonition of St. Paul:

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. (1 Cor 11:27-32)

The context of St. Paul’s admonition makes it clear that he has in mind serious sins that include more than merely sexual matters, but also matters that extend to a grave lack of charity toward others, something which too few judge as very serious today.

And thus the Pastor ought to instruct in a general kind of way, taking care not to excite grave scrupulosity, but being clear of the need for regular confession, especially in the case of habitual serious sin.

More specifically the pastor may sometimes need to approach certain individuals and, after ascertaining the facts, warn serious sinners in a private and clear way to repent and to stay away from Communion until such time as they are ready to do so wholeheartedly. Cardinal Ratzinger cited this as a clear duty of pastors.

For my own part, and speaking in a very general sort of way, I have indeed undertaken this duty in more than a few cases to warn certain individuals in serious sin to repent. This was not, in every case, sinners who were only in sinful sexual liaisons, and almost never did it include politicians. It also included certain people who were exhibiting a very grave lack of charity or causing serious harm in their family or the parish.

It was my duty in all such cases not only to warn them that they should stay back from Communion, but also that they risked Hell. For when one is in so serious a state that they should refrain from Communion, this is not their only problem! The prospect of strict judgement and hell are also very serious and real likelihoods.

Hence, when the Church teaches on the manner of receiving communion worthily, it is good and important to broaden the discussion beyond certain politicians or certain subjects. Otherwise it appears that our agenda is more political than spiritual. Pastors (and Bishops too) thus should look to teach on this matter in broad as well as specific ways.

There are many sins that can and should exclude one from receiving Holy Communion unless and until repentance is manifest and Sacramental confession is received (or, in specific circumstances, a perfect act of contrition with the intent to receive the Confession is made):

  • One might habitually skip mass, and thus be in mortal sin.
  • One might ridicule sacred things or person and thus harm seriously the faith of children or others.
  • One might give grave scandal or harm the reputations of others in serious ways by gossip.
  • One might be gravely lacking charity or unreasonably refusing of mercy.
  • One might be seriously derelict in their duties toward parents or family.
  • One might be seriously insubordinate and cause grave harm to unity.
  • One might be reckless in their behavior and thus seriously endanger the lives or well being of others.
  • One might have procured or assisted in the procuring of abortion.
  • One might be in sinful and wrongful sexual liaisons, have engaged in seductive behaviors that led others to sin, or may be sexually uncontrolled and irresponsible.
  • One might have born false witness or told lies that seriously misled, endangered others or caused others to make seriously wrong choices or conclusions.
  • One might have taken from others, or failed to render what others were due in significant ways.
  • One might be seriously derelict in their duties to the poor and needy.
  • And might can be locked into serious greed that unreasonably seeks to posses what belongs to others or is needed by others.

We tend, in our culture and times to emphasize certain things to the exclusion of others. But there are many things from which we should repent and which, when repentance is lacking should require us to step back from the Sacrament of Communion, the Holy Sacrament of love, union and charity.

Jesus says,

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matt 5:23-24)

We all do well to, as St. Paul says, “examine ourselves,” and be frequent in confession if we are going to frequent the altar. Then Cardinal Ratzinger has said,

Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion # 1).

And this admonition is for us all, not just for some, lest we fall condemned under the condemnation of the Prophets, such as these words  from Isaiah and Amos:

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord. “I have had more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals;….Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Is 11:11-20ff).

I hate, I spurn your feasts, says the LORD, I take no pleasure in your solemnities; Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings. Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But if you would offer me burnt offerings, then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5:21-24)

Though it is right that we trust in God’s mercy, the door to that mercy is repentance and humility. God is clearly not pleased with presumption, vain worship or sinful Communion. A message for us all.

Here’s a video I put together for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Music is by Fiocco and the text is: Homo quidam fecit coenam magnam, et misit servum suum hora coenae dicere invitatis ut venirent: Quia parata sunt omnia. (A certain Man made a great banquet, and sent his servants at the hour of the feast to say to the invited that they should come: for everything is prepared). For it happens that a common sin today is the widespread neglect of the Lord’s feast of the Lord’s Body and Blood for us. Remain devoted to Jesus and say, “Though all forsake you Jesus, I will never forsake you.”

21 Replies to “An Admonition on the Worthy Reception of Holy Communion”

  1. Let’s pray for the conversion of sinners who receive unworthily.

  2. My experience is that Communion is often seen as kind of an “easy confession” act that will “wipe away” our sins and makes us clean without all the bother of examining our conscience, asking for forgiveness, and doing penance. The message preached from the pulpits this weekend about the readiness for receiving Our Lord should be repeated weekly to instruct the ignorant, thus enabling them to draw nearer to Our Lord..the reason we receive Him in the first place.

  3. Thank you, Father, for this great post. We hear too little about this from our pastors. Thank you for making the point, also, that this isn’t just about wayward politicians (although that is grave). It’s about ALL of us.

  4. We are all sinners. Let’s pray for the inclusion of all in the outpouring of God’s Grace.

  5. And for all Catholics who use birth control and support abortion – repentant for you have violated the law of God!
    You have chosen to eat from the Table of the Lord yet rejecting the very teachings of the Bride of Christ (the Catholic Church).

    “You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord, and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord, and of the table of devils.” – 1 Corinthians 10:21

    Be not of double minded nor double heart!

    “Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
    A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways.” – James 1:7-8

    “Be not incredulous to the fear of the Lord: and come not to him with a double heart.”- Ecclesiasticus 1:36

    “For if we sin wilfully after having the knowledge of the truth, there is now left no sacrifice [atonement] for sins, but a certain dreadful expectation of judgment, and the rage of a fire which shall consume the adversaries.” -Hebrews 10:26-27

    To all abortionists (and those who support and promote this intrinsic evil):

    Since you can see on the ultrasound the face of babies (the knowledge was given to you), yet you still cut the spinal cords of babies, you have chosen to lose eternal life over MONEY. You must repent and turn back for
    “….. a certain dreadful expectation of judgment….awaits you.” – Hebrews 10:26-27

  6. Another terrific post, Msgr.

    As for sin and Communion, well, It seems to boil down to how firmly the recipient believes in “Real Presence”. The Council of Trent declared “in the sacrament of the most holy Holy Eucharist is contained truly, really, and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ” (Denzinger 1636, 1640). So, if we really meditate on this, our entire self presentation to Jesus at the altar would be radically different, wouldn’t it? Expanding this out, we essentially are taking Jesus into our body, like the most pure Blessed Virgin Mary, as a human Tabernacle for our Lord. Simply incredible.

    My hunch is that more teaching, like your post Msgr., is needed as a reminder to the faithful of the Transubstantiation. Like sin and Hell, this is another core belief within Catholicism that somehow got “minimized” over recent times.

  7. Mortal sin of SCANDAL – CCC: 2284, 2285, 2286, 2287, 2326.
    # 2286 clearly includes ‘Catholic’ politicians.
    On the Vatican web site please see: Code of Canon Law #915 and #1399.
    On the Vatican web site please see: the Apostolic Constitution “SACRAE DISCIPLINAE LEGES” of the Supreme Pontiff Pope John Paul II for the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law (1983) which includes: – “Finally, the Canonical Laws by their very nature must be observed.”

  8. Such graces and holiness in this precious sacrament given to the Church. Would that all our bishops and priests taught their flocks this truth.
    Thank you Msgr. Pope.

  9. One more thought on the Real Presence to share:

    I humbly submit that if it was even remotely possible, under God’s Omnipotence, that the Transubstantiation takes place, no Christian could possibly not want to join in this gift from God. Holding all things equal, it is the most compelling reason for all Christians to be Catholic.

  10. Msgr. Pope: I fully agree that all mortal sins must preclude receiving the Body and Blood of Our Lord until one repents, goes to Confession, and does his/her best to repair the damage done.
    All ‘Catholic’ politicians who give Scandal regardless of Party affiliation and must not receive Holy Communion. This takes it out of the realm of political favoritism. For example – all those supporting abortion or same-sex marriage or euthanasia.
    CCC: ” 2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.
    Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice,
    or to social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.
    This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values. ”
    Code of Canon Law: ” Can. 915 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. ”
    Code of Canon Law: ” Can. 1399 In addition to the cases established here or in other laws, the external violation of a divine or canonical law can be punished by a just penalty only when the special gravity of the violation demands punishment and there is an urgent need to prevent or repair scandals.
    You may also on the internet find the following of interest: “Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion, General Principles” (2004 by Cardinal Ratzinger).
    and “The Discipline Regarding the Denial of Holy Communion to Those Obstinately Persevering in Manifest Grave Sin” by R. L. BURKE (Cardinal) – which addresses Sacrilege, Scandal, etc.

  11. Oh, if only all priests would speak of this from the pulpit, and in the Confessional with the complete sentiment of the salvation of souls, how wonderful this would be! Of course, many souls would turn a deaf ear. Many would scoff at them, and persecute them…and this should come as no surprise!!! Let them fight for souls! Let them be brave and fearless, for they have the power and strength of God at their fingertips! I pray for priests every day in my Rosary. Here is the prayer. I encourage all to recite this daily!!!
    “God Our Father, please send us holy priests! All for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus! All for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with St.Joseph.”
    Thank you for posting this article!

  12. By not publically correcting Catholic public figures (including but not limited to politicians) who are obstinate in mortal sin, a Priest or Bishop seems to contribute to RELATIVISM in the eyes of those who are not well catechized.
    It seems to send a message that SCANDAL and SACRILEGE do not matter if one is a certain rank within Society.
    CCC: ” 1868 Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:
    – by participating directly and voluntarily in them;
    – by ordering, advising, praising, or approving them;
    – by not disclosing or not hindering them when we have an obligation to do so;
    – by protecting evil-doers.”
    By knowingly allowing anyone to receive Holy Communion who is scandalous (public) and obstinate in mortal sin, makes one a participant in the sin. This is very serious.
    May God bless and keep you.

  13. I am happy that this is being reinforced by a diocese. As a priest, it serves as a consolation to keep leading others towards heaven in a truthful and compassionate way. Thank you Washington.

  14. I know this is a little off topic but something has been bothering me lately:

    Can someone tell me what point the members who block the aisle and step backwards to allow people toward Communion is? Has anyone ever been in a parish (in the US) that didn’t know how a line works? Does everyone have to have a special role in the Mass so much that we much up unnecessary roles out of thin air?

    Secondly, for the occasions people can’t go to Communion (such as above or when they are in RCIA), these Communion bouncers only obstruct the ability for these persons to get out of people’s way.

    Thirdly, the line is a terrible idea. Is there a better way to point out when someone isn’t going to Communion? I was thinking about holding up a neon sign over my head.

    I was in Italy visiting a friend and there it was chaos, beautiful chaos. Some went up to communion; others didn’t. You couldn’t tell who did or didn’t easily because people just stood up and went whenever they felt like it.

    Oh well. I’d at least be happy if there wasn’t someone blocking my ability to step out of the way.

    1. Agree that the pew-by-pew line is not a good idea. When I was a child, a considerable number of years ago, the communicants went forward helter-skelter, and those who hung back were not easily remarked on. Now with the current system of regimentation, all are encouraged to go forward. And I suspect that some are swept up who otherwise would not present themselves.

      Now, if we can just restore communion kneeling at an altar rail.

  15. That is a really neat painting. When I first looked at the image of Christ, I thought it must be something painted hundreds of years ago, then I realized that the boy in the painting is dressed in modern garb.

    Some of the sins mentioned in this post I wasn’t sure that I understood.–or if I did understand them, I wasn’t sure how a Pastor would discern them.

    Neat video.

  16. Richard, to know exactly what the Church teaches that are mortal (grave) sins, please read the “CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition” for accuracy.
    (Homily time on Sundays is limited, and the CCC needs to be studied at home. Yes, there are mortal sins that will send people to Hell – if they do not repent (go to Confession) and repair the harm they have done to the best of their ability. CCC 1415 & 1459. )

    “ The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved … and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church’s faith and of catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Tradition and the Church’s Magisterium. I declare it to be a sure norm for teaching the faith and thus a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion. “ – Pope John Paul II. (CCC pg 5)

    “….the Catechism has raised throughout the world, even among non-Christians, and confirms its purpose of being presented as a full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life.” – Pope John Paul II (CCC pg xiv)

    “In this Year of Faith let us ask ourselves if we have actually taken a few steps to get to know Christ and the truths of faith more, by reading and meditating on the Scriptures, studying the Catechism, steadily approaching the Sacraments.” – Pope Francis, May 15, 2013.

    There is a good web site about the Catechism called: “What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE”.
    It includes links to directly to the Vatican web site, and some Vatican approved (licensed) catechism search engines.
    The Holy See holds the copyright to the CCC.

  17. Dear Msgr. Pope,

    Thank you for your posting. I was wondering if you had an examination of conscience that you would recommend for your “average” Catholic. I am having a hard time finding one that I connect with. I find many that go through the commandments with the serious sins pointed out (ie abortion, adultery, skipping Mass etc) and many examinations with a more spiritual approach that I wish was more concrete. I worry (accurately) that I am blind to many of my sins, which is a poor spot to be in. Thanks!

  18. “Otherwise it appears that our agenda is more political than spirtual.”
    This “false” fear is one of the reasons why Catholics are falling away from the Church. Our Bishops have to be courageous and call out hypocrites without fear. If our beliefs are worth dying for, then why are they not worth standing up and speaking out. Can anyone imagine John the Baptist, St. Paul, or St. Peter NOT calling out these “catholic” hypocrites who promote the murder of babies and the promulgation of gay sexual acts and life style?

  19. I have completely given up hoping for good behavior at the modern Catholic Mass. Our priest no longer gives out Communion … there are two EME’s every Sunday Mass, for about 50 people. The choir leader and pianist are wedged into the left front corner of the church and the singing and music is absolutely terrible when it isn’t just insipid. There is one little altar boy, newly trained .. there are a couple of girls and several women over the age of 60 who perform as altar boys at each Mass. The same 5-7 people clap at the end of each Mass to make sure all the performers know that their generous gift of their ‘talent’ is appreciated. And finally, we now have a man dressed as a woman who has been attending Mass every week. This last week he attended with his WIFE. He is a man dressed as a woman: makeup, nail polish, skirt, high heels, purse. And guess what? I bet you can’t guess? NO ONE has done anything about this! He goes up to Communion every time. there is NO reason to believe that Father has talked to this man, ever. I think this reflects the USCCB’s ‘soft’ approach to homosexuals and those under that particular banner …LORD HAVE MERCY ON US ALL!

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