Tag Archives: Holy Communion

Holy Communion: To receive or not to receive?

Mike Aquilina shows both sides of a very complex issue that many bishops face . . .

Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina

Sometimes we see public figures taking Communion when they seem to be violating the rules: politicians, for example, who actively support abortion or who make public statements that disagree with Church teaching.

One of the principles of canon law is that penalties are a last resort. If a Catholic is straying from the true path, the Church has the duty to use every means in her power to bring the lost sheep back to the fold.

In the case of a public figure, bishops must also consider the public effect of their own actions. What message will they be sending about the Church by how they react to such provocations? Should they make a statement correcting the public figure’s error but let him continue to take Communion, to show that the Church values mercy and forgiveness? Should they excommunicate him, to show how seriously the Church takes her teachings? It’s not an easy decision.

To some bishops, erring on the side of mercy seems like the more Christian thing to do, as well as the course most likely to convey to the world what Christian love is like. Others, however, say that the greater concern should be for the sinner’s scandalous effect on the public, who may grow confused or cynical about Catholic doctrine, devotion and discipline. Sometimes, if a bishop has met privately with public figures and failed to persuade them to change, the bishop must refuse to admit them to Communion.

In August, the bishops’ conference in Bolivia opted for the latter approach. The adjunct secretary of that body, Monsignor José Fuentes, said that government officials and others who support abortion should not receive Holy Communion.

“If as a legislator, a judge, or whatever, I support an abortion law, I am separating myself from the Church. I cannot receive Communion unless I show my repentance,” he said, according to Catholic News Agency.

As St. Paul says, we should examine ourselves before we take Communion, because we’re in a better position than anyone else on earth to know what’s lurking in our souls.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

The priest has a duty to make sure Communion is not offered to anyone who is not allowed to receive it. If he knows of an obstacle to your receiving Communion, he will usually speak with you about it, explaining what the problem is and what you can do to overcome it.

MIKE AQUILINA is the author or editor of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011). Information on the Bolivian bishops’ conference is from the Catholic News Agency.


Catechism 101

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, 915

Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person — among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 270

Mass brings heaven’s glory and joy to earth

Mike Aquilina writes that Mass is a participation in the worship going on in heaven . . .

When we’re at Mass, we are participating in the joyous worship that goes on eternally in heaven. Obviously we can’t know precisely what heaven is like — it’s too wonderful, too glorious for our limited mortal comprehension.

Scripture, however, gives us images to help us get some idea of what heaven is, especially in the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament book of Revelation. What we see in those images is our Christian liturgy, eternally celebrated in the heavenly court of the Father.

Many of the words of our liturgy come straight from those Scripture passages. The Sanctus, or “Holy, Holy, Holy,” is the hymn the seraphim sing at the throne of God. We also recognize just before Communion these words of the angel: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb” (Rev 19:9). In the Mass we participate for the moment in that marriage supper of the Lamb that goes on eternally in heaven.

But the most important way the Mass is like heaven is not in the details of the liturgy. To be in heaven is to be with Christ, dwelling constantly in the presence of the living God. In Holy Communion we are truly with Christ. When that happens we’re in heaven, and no matter how unheavenly the rest of our earthly lives may be, we carry heaven with us into the world if we have the faith to see what we’ve just experienced.

Although Mass is required every Sunday, thinking of Mass as an obligation is really a backward way of looking at it. Going to Mass is an extraordinary privilege. Instead of trying to decide when you have to go, why not go as often as you can?

Yet, our Sunday obligation satisfies the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath. The Catechism strikingly calls the Sabbath “a day of protest against the servitude of labor and the worship of money” (CCC #2172). It liberates us, if only for one day out of seven, from slavery to mundane concerns and frees us to look upward toward God.

Part of that rest is the spiritual refreshment of the Mass. Our Sunday obligation gives us two things we desperately need and that we tend not to leave time for if we’re left to ourselves: It gives us rest, and it gives us close contact with the divine.

Especially in modern society, the temptation is to work without ceasing — or to cause others to work constantly for us. But we are more than machines for performing work. We are God’s children with not only a right but an obligation to make ourselves better and to help others around us become better. The obligation to go to Mass on Sunday takes us out of the cycle of endless labor. It forces us to make room in our lives for joy, whether we like it or not!

This column is reprinted with permission from “Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers” by Mike Aquilina (Servant Books, Cincinnati, 2011).


Catechism 101

Having passed from this world to the Father, Christ gives us in the Eucharist the pledge of glory with him. Participation in the Holy Sacrifice identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.

The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified, so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1419, 1371