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Q&A: Don’t take communion in state of sin; finding a way to church — Father Kenneth Doyle

Father Kenneth Doyle writes the Catholic News Service column "Question Corner." He is based in Albany, N.Y. (CNS)


Q. Our pastor has told us that if a person receives Communion in the state of mortal sin, the host ceases to be the body of Christ and is just ordinary bread. But if that is the case, why would it be a sin? (east central Ohio)

A. If that, in fact, is what your pastor told you, he was incorrect. Once consecrated by the priest, the host becomes the body of Christ and remains so, even when someone receives it unworthily. That is exactly why it is wrong to take the Eucharist when in a state of serious sin — because of the sacredness of the sacrament.

Speaking at a papal audience in March 2018, Pope Francis reminded Catholics of the need to obtain absolution for grave sins before receiving the Eucharist. “We know,” said the pope, “that one who has committed a serious sin should not approach holy Communion without having first obtained absolution in the sacrament of reconciliation.”

Related to your question, a somewhat frightening study released by the Pew Research Center in August of 2019 reported that more than two-thirds of self-described Catholics think that the bread and wine at Communion are not actually the body and blood of Christ but only symbols of the sacred.

I call this frightening because the doctrine of transubstantiation is central to the teaching of the church. Didn’t we grow up learning that what distinguishes Catholics is that we really do believe that we receive Jesus himself when we take communion?

Remember in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel when Jesus said to his disciples, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”? Some of the disciples said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” and some of them walked away.

What did Jesus do? Did he say, “Wait a second. Don’t get nervous. I’m only talking symbols here?” He did not; he let them walk away, because he meant it.

Q. I am a lady who is almost 81 years old. All my life I have been a very strict Catholic. I raised seven children and took them to Mass every Sunday and holy day. I always thought that, as I got older, I would become even closer to the church — but the opposite has happened because of the way the church has changed.

In my town, we used to have three Catholic churches and three priests; but now we have one church and one priest. This has caused Sundays and holy days to be so crowded and the parking situation so bad that it is very scary for an old woman to attend.

So I decided a couple of years ago to start going to church during the week instead. Now, every Tuesday, I get up at 5:30 a.m. and go to the 6:45 Mass. It’s peaceful, easy to park and I feel holy when I’m there.

As much as I would like to, I don’t go on Easter or Christmas anymore because it’s a madhouse. Yesterday, I had a disagreement with a close friend about not going to Mass on Sundays and holy days. Am I committing a serious sin by not going? (North Hampton, New Hampshire)

A. Sunday has always been set aside for Christians to gather and worship the Lord at Eucharist; the choice comes, of course, because that was the day on which Jesus rose from the dead — and this is the center of our faith.

Interestingly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects on some of the other ways by which we should make Sundays special:

“Sunday is traditionally consecrated by Christian piety to good works and humble service of the sick, the infirm and the elderly. Christians will also sanctify Sunday by devoting time and care to their families and relatives, often difficult to do on other days of the week. Sunday is a time for reflection, silence, cultivation of the mind and meditation which furthers the growth of the Christian interior life” (No. 2186).

In your own circumstance, though, I do not believe that you are sinning by choosing a different day for worship; your fear of crowds is as real as any illness and could well dispense you from the Sunday obligation.

If there is no quieter parish within reasonable reach, then the option you have chosen may well be worthy and wise. So that you will feel comfortable, though, why not discuss your situation with a local priest?

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.