Popes Clearly Say Who Can and Can’t Receive Communion


Reading the comments to John’s excellent post about Bishop Paprocki, I sense a kind of amnesia. So, for the record: There is already lots of clarity about communion and pro-abortion politicians.

And, lest we let ourselves off the hook while  scorning those awful no-good pro-aborts, there is also lot of clarity about how maybe many of us  shouldn’t be receiving communion, either.

Flickr; papistFirst, take the “Aparecida Document” edited by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who is now Pope Francis, and approved by Pope Benedict (it was the final report of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean meeting in 2007).

Pro-abortion politicians should not receive communion, it says:

“We should commit ourselves to ‘eucharistic coherence,’ that is, we should be conscious that people cannot receive holy communion and at the same time act or speak against the commandments, in particular when abortion, euthanasia, and other serious crimes against life and family are facilitated.  This responsibility applies particularly to legislators, governors, and health professionals.”

For further clarity there is the 2004 letter from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, just before he became Pope Benedict XVI.

He says such politicians should be told not to present themselves, and told they will be denied the Eucharist.

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to Washington, D.C., 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.”

benedict massBut that doesn’t mean that others need to be vetted for their votes while they are in the communion line, said Cardinal Ratzinger:

“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,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger. “While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.”

Does it seem harsh that these politicians are denied communion? Not if you consider that this is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ we’re talking about.

Pope John Paul II New Orleans 1987Pope John Paul II insisted that there are many people who shouldn’t receive communion. In his final encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II made this almost formal declaration:

“I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin.” [Emphasis mine]

It came at the end of a flurry of John Paul exhortation about confession and communion.

When Pope John Paul II spoke about the crisis in the Church in our time, he meant the crisis in the confessional. When communion lines are long and confession lines are non-existent, there is a serious problem: We have lost the sense of sin.

And people who have lost the sense of sin are capable of doing terrible, terrible things.

In the midst of the scandals of 2002, John Paul wrote a Holy Thursday letter to priests in which he said three times that people in a state of sin should not receive Communion without going to confession first.

That year on Divine Mercy Sunday he released an urgent “motu proprio” (from his own hand) document, Misericordia Dei, insisting:

  • •  Priests should be available at set times, not by appointment only.
  • •  Confession times should be convenient.
  • •  Confession should be available before Mass, and even during it, when possible.

He ended with: “I decree that everything I have set down in this Apostolic Letter issued Motu Proprio shall have full and lasting force and be observed from this day forth, notwithstanding any provisions to the contrary.”


The U.S. bishops took him at his word.

5789CVR.inddIn their 2006 document, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” the bishops pointed out that communion is not just  for Catholics only, but only for Catholics who:

— Went to confession in the past year, at least, or after they committed a serious sin.

— Fasted for an hour first “refraining from food and drink (except for water and medicines) for at least one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion.”

— Are wearing “modest and tasteful dress” — “clothes that reflect our reverence for God and that manifest our respect for the dignity of the liturgy and for one another.”

— Are in a recollected and prayerful state of mind.

The statement even spells out some common serious sins. These are sins that constitute grave matter. When we do them deliberately and with knowledge of their sinfulness, they put us in a state of mortal sin.

  • •  Abortion and euthanasia. “Committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia, harboring deliberate hatred of others.”
  • •  Any extra-marital sex. “Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage.”
  • “Missing Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation without a serious reason, such as sickness or the absence of a priest””
  • •  Theft, including “serious fraud, or other immoral business practices.”
  • •  Slander, Hatred and Envy. “Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their good name. … Harboring deliberate hatred of others. … Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else.”
  • •  Pornography. “Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography.”

So don’t think the Church is being mean for denying communion to politicians who reject the right to life for the unborn. Communion with Our Lord is a precious privilege, not a common right. Every one of us should be more careful about approaching it worthily.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.

1 Comment

  1. As an 84 yr. old, with Catholic Grade School n Catholic High School Education, I recently learned it at CatholicVote.com. that it is a Mortal sin to vote for those that favor abortion! Why did this take me all my life to learn this. Did my clergy commit a sin of omission or commission? Why do the clergy not preach this?? All Catholics who vote for pro-abortion POLITICOS are guilty of killing preborn BABIES and90% do not know it!!!! I have taken my own survey! It’s time for our clergy to speak out! What can we do about this???

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