Reception of Communion, penance and annulments

    Why do some people not go up to receive Communion during Mass?
    There are many possible reasons. For example, someone might not be Catholic; someone might not be living in a state of grace (living in mortal sin); someone might be living in an irregular marriage, etc. While there are a number of reasons why someone might not receive Communion, it is important to remember not to judge someone and assume that they are living in sin. In Luke, Jesus teaches, “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37).
    How do I know if I am in mortal sin?
    Mortal sin refers to a sinful action that completely separates us from God. In order for an action to be a mortal sin, there are three requirements that must be present: it must be a grave or serious matter; it must be committed with full knowledge (of both of the sin and the seriousness of the sin); and it must be committed with full consent. If one of these conditions is not met, the culpability of the sinner might be lessened. For example, addiction interferes with one’s freedom and could subjectively lessen the guilt of the person.
    Why can’t everyone receive Communion?
    The rules and regulations are there to preserve the proper respect for the Eucharist. Every baptized Catholic is welcome to receive Communion, but before they do that, they must know who they are receiving and be properly disposed to receive the Lord in the Eucharist. For example, if someone is not Catholic, but desires to receive Communion, they are welcome to begin the process of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) and be welcomed into the church. If someone is living in sin, they are invited to seek the sacrament of penance. If someone is living in an irregular marriage, the church invites them to regularize their marriage by seeking an annulment and having their marriage convalidated in the church. Convalidation occurs when the couple whose marriage is recognized civilly enters into the sacrament of marriage in the church.
    What should I do if I am not able to receive Communion?
    You have two options during Mass. The first would be to stay in your pew when others go up to receive Communion. Another option would be to get in line with the rest of the congregation and, when you approach the priest or deacon, cross your arms across your chest indicating that you do not want to receive Communion and that you would like a blessing. In both situations, you can make a spiritual Communion by saying this prayer or something similar: “Jesus, I believe that you are present in the Most Holy Sacrament. I love you above all things, and I desire to receive you into my soul. Since I cannot at this moment receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace you as if you were already there and unite myself wholly to you. Never permit me to be separated from you. Amen.”
    How often should I go to the sacrament of penance?
    One of the precepts of the church is to confess our sins to a priest at least once a year in the sacrament of penance. While annual sacramental confession is only a minimum, Catholics are encouraged to go when it is necessary. Some people prefer to go on a more regular basis such as once a month or when they are in mortal sin. Venial sins – sins that weaken our relationship with God but do not separate us from God – are forgiven during Mass through the reception of the Eucharist if we have sorrow for our sins. While we are only required to confess mortal sins in confession, it is appropriate also to confess venial sins in order to receive God’s help in avoiding them in the future.
    How do I prepare myself for the sacrament of penance?
    Before entering the confessional, it is necessary to properly prepare for the sacrament by spending time in prayer making an examination of conscience – a time when we recall our sins and failings since the last time we went to confession. Many examinations of conscience follow the Ten Commandments and the Precepts of the Church. There are many resources available online – and even smart phone apps – that can guide you to make a good examination of conscience. After making an examination of conscience, if one still is unsure about how to go to confession, the person can always ask the priest to guide him or her.
    Can I receive Communion if I am divorced?
    A common misunderstanding is that if someone is divorced, they cannot receive Communion. However, if someone is divorced and not remarried, they are permitted to receive Communion because divorce is a civil legality and not a church category.
    What if I am living in an irregular marriage?
    If someone was divorced and remarried outside of the church without seeking an annulment, it is necessary to regularize the marriage before receiving the Eucharist. In order to do this, the person must seek an annulment and then have the civil marriage convalidated by the church before returning to the Eucharist.
    What is an annulment? Is it just another name for “Catholic divorce”?
    A common misperception about annulments is that it is just a Catholic divorce. Catholics believe that a marriage takes place when a man and woman pledge their free, faithful, fruitful and total love before God and the church. If one of the conditions for a marriage is not present, then the marriage did not occur and it is declared null through the annulment process. It is important to note that the church affirms the legitimacy of children who were born to a marriage before it was annulled.
    How do I go about getting an annulment?
    Contact your parish priest. Questions about the annulment process can be directed to either the Metropolitan Tribunal (861-6291) or the Family Life Apostolate (861-6243).
    Tim Hedrick is a second-year theologian studying for the Archdiocese of New Orleans at Notre Dame Seminary. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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