Reminders about Christmas and Holy Communion

First, if you are not in the state of grace, don’t just go to Holy Communion anyway.  That’s a sacrilege and a mortal sin.  Those of you who are lax about Mass attendance need to remember that not going to Holy Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation, when you could go, is a mortal sin. Go to confession and then make your good Holy Communion.  We all know the bit about making a perfect act of contrition… maybe you can do that and maybe you can’t.  That’s up to you.  But God cannot be fooled.  If you know you shouldn’t receive then don’t.

Second, if you know you cannot go to Holy Communion that does not mean you are excused from going to Mass.  You still have the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and days of obligation even if you can’t receive.  That’s why they are called days of obligation.  It is your attendance that is obligatory, not Communion.

Third, observe the Eucharistic Fast, which is one hour before Communion not one hour before the beginning of Mass.  If you want to fast longer, fine.  One hour is the law, unless you are sick, etc. etc.  Remember, to receive Communion we have to be disposed in our souls (by being in the state of grace) and in our bodies (by observation of the fast which pertains to our state in life).

Fourth, if you are in the state of grace you may receive Holy Communion at Midnight Mass and also receive once more if you also go to Christmas Mass during the day (even if “Midnight Mass” begins at or after Midnight, that is, on the same calendar day).

The 1983 CIC c. 917 for the Latin Church states that you can receive twice in a day, “iterum… again”.  Iterum doesn’t mean “repeatedly”.  So long as the second time is in the context of a Mass you attend, you can receive one more time.  A third time must be in death of your death.

Fifth, all this this pertains both to the old Mass, the Extraordinary Form, as well as the new Mass or Novus Ordo.

I write this because I noted the 2011 Ordo for the Extraordinary Form put out by the SSPX states (and here I make the assumption that their 2010 Ordo says the same thing):

Those receiving Communion at this Mass after Midnight may not receive again at Masses attended on Christmas Day.

That is not what Holy Church’s law says for Latin Church Catholics.  Eastern Catholic laws are probably stricter, I don’t know.  I don’t doubt for a moment that Easterners will chime in.

That doesn’t mean that you must receive.  It only means that you can receive, contrary to what is printed in that Ordo.  It is otherwise a pretty good source.

If you hear an announcement or read something about that in a bulletin, now you know the truth of the matter.

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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41 Responses to Reminders about Christmas and Holy Communion

  1. “We all know the bit about making a perfect act of contrition… maybe you can do that and maybe you can’t. ”

    I think anyone who is tempted to speculate in making an act of perfect contrition instead of seeking out confession when possible may be absolutely certain that they are not in possession of perfect contrition! Afaik, perfect contrition includes the desire and intention to confess sacramentally asap. It really astounds me that anyone would feel confident of being able to make such an act of perfect contrition at either rate, but that it should ever be viewed as a ‘get out of the time, effort, and the embarrassment factor of confession and receive Holy Communion anyway’ really is a stretch!

  2. capebretoner says:

    This is one of your best posts ever Father! Thank you :)

  3. Geoffrey says:

    “Those receiving Communion at this Mass after Midnight may not receive again at Masses attended on Christmas Day.”

    I’m not surprised. I wish someone would tackle the examination of conscience in the SSPX’s “Christian Warfare” prayer book that lists attending the new Mass as a sin needing to be confessed in Confession!

  4. Londiniensis says:

    An excellent aide-memoire, but, but, why should any of this even need saying? The basics of 1 to 3, mutatis mutandis, had already been drummed into me by the good sisters of the Cross and Passion by the age of 11.

  5. It used to be a pious custom to attend all three Masses: the Mass of the Angels (midnight), the Mass of the Shepherds (dawn), and the Mass of the Divine Word (day). I’m pretty sure it was also the custom to try to receive at both midnight and dawn (which would let you eat a little something before the day mass). Maybe I read about this in the Von Trapp Family’s book.

  6. MJ says:

    “Those receiving Communion at this Mass after Midnight may not receive again at Masses attended on Christmas Day.” – SSPX

    “That is not what Holy Church’s law says for Latin Church Catholics.” – Fr Z

    You’re right, Fr Z! I plan on receiving at Midnight Mass and again at 9am Mass…I’m required at both, because both the Midnight and the 9am Mass are High Masses, and I sing with the choir…and I would like to receive twice. Curious that the SSPX would say that, because as you pointed out, that’s not what the Church says.

  7. MJ: To be fair, that Ordo is supposed to be closely based on pre-Conciliar editions of the Ordo. If they did not update the Ordo according to the 1983 Code, then… well… they are out of date in the Ordo.

    I hope they will tweak future editions.

  8. Brad says:

    Would someone be kind enough to clarify for me if my Saturday obligation is properly met by attending a 4pm Friday (Christmas eve) Mass (sundown basically). It’s called the children’s Mass (adults like me are not precluded from attending, however) in the bulletin, I guess because most who attend that Mass don’t stay up late enough for midnight Mass. So, if I attend the 4pm this Friday, should I also go to 12am or Saturday 9am? I am not trying to be lax. Only trying to plan my schedule!

    Ave, Maria!

  9. Denis Crnkovic says:

    As the good Father moderator hints, the regulation was changed with the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law in 1983. I clearly recall that it was forbidden to receive communion twice on any day, say, at both Midnight Mass and another Mass on Christmas day (same with Easter); thus it was at least until the 1970′s, when local ordinaries were permitted to allow communicating twice on the two most holy feasts. In spite of the earlier restriction, it was also the pious custom to attend a couple of Masses on Christmas and Easter. Spiritual Communions were in order!

  10. aladextra says:

    Father Z.- the permissibility aside, is it generally advisable to receive communion more than once in one day? [I can't make that judgment.] My understanding is that it is pretty ancient tradition not to do so. This provision of canon law strikes me as intended as a liberality that is allowed to the faithful as recommended by circumstances, but generally not appropriate. It seems to me to contribute to the climate of automatic communion. [That is why canon law allows for twice, not repeatedly... so as to avoid abuse or obsession.]

  11. Beau says:

    I have an interesting situation I’m curious about. Our parish (a larger parish) has Mass in the Extraordinary Form daily including Sundays (I know, we’re lucky). Christmas is the fist time we will be having more than one Mass in the EF. We’ll have a midnight Mass, then one at 2:30pm and again at 5:00pm. All three will be celebrated by the same priest. My son is an alter server, and while we will not be available at all three Masses, several of the other boys will be. Should they abstain from multiple communions?

  12. Maria says:

    Father Z,

    Please can you advise me on this.
    My Priest says that although one may need to go to Confession, if the next Mass is before the Sacrament of Reconcilliation, one can receive so long as they attend the next available Confession. [My opinion is in the top entry.]

    I have read otherwise or else have got into a muddle over it.

    Last Sunday, I received Holy Communion with the intention of going to confession during the week and I was unable to attend and also The Mass during the week, so I feel I ought not to rceive Holy Communion on Christmas Day now and also need to confess that I did not attend Mass during the week next time I go to Confession.

    Also Father, am I allowed to receive a Blessing in my present state on Christmas Day. [Anyone can receive a blessing at any time.] I feel awful about this and so very sad that I cannot receive Holy Communion on Christmas Day but I hope I can at least receive a Blessing until I can get to Confession next.

  13. I must admit to not knowing exactly what the Eastern Code of Canon Law has to say about receiving twice on the same day, but I do know that my children and I have Communed twice in a day on several occasions – the annual Pilgrimage in Honor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help at Mt. St. Macrina Monastery has an Old Slavonic Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning at which we normally Commune, and then in the afternoon of the same day a Hierarchical Divine Liturgy at which all the Bishops concelebrate; we have received at this Divine Liturgy also. So I don’t think it’s prohibited, but I think it is to be a rare thing in the Eastern Church.

  14. Calypso says:

    Father, I wonder the same thing as aladextra. I think there are other groups besides the Society of St. Pius X who still adhere to the previous laws of the Church regarding reception of Holy Communion at only one Mass per day. I had heard, for instance, that the Benedictine monks of Clear Creek in Oklahoma frown on the idea of receiving Communion more than once. And they are in “full communion” with Rome, too.

    What is generally advisable? I know the immense benefits to receiving Our Lord often in Holy Communion, but I also have heard the argument that too much allowance could potentially result in a lack of appreciation for this great Gift by a certain trivialization of It. What are your thoughts? [I go by what the law permits, in this case. Whether a person in the state of grace goes a second time or not is up to that person to discern.]

  15. “We all know the bit about making a perfect act of contrition… maybe you can do that and maybe you can’t. ”

    Actually, my Baltimore Catechism (1963) states: “We may not receive Holy Communion after committing a mortal sin, if we merely make an act of perfect contrition; one who has sinned greviously must go to confession before receiving Holy Communion.”

    I too am also curious about whether or not receiving communion more than once a day, while licit under the circumstances mentioned, is recommended for the faithful.

  16. Maria says:

    Thank you Father Z for your direct answers.
    I will not receive Holy Communion this Christmas Day.
    I will receive a Blessing this Christmas Day.
    I will go to Confession at the earliest opportunity and never again will I receive Holy Communion except when I am in a proper State of Grace. [Keep in mind that I wrote "when you know...". Sometimes people are in doubt about the state of their soul. In these cases, a person could chose to go. It might be better no to, but they may. When you are sure you are not in the state of grace, don't go.]

    May God Bles you Father, and all on here this Christmas and in the New Year. [Happy Christmas!]

    Happy Christmas

  17. Maria says:

    Bles should be Bless, I apologise.

  18. MJ says:

    “MJ: To be fair, that Ordo is supposed to be closely based on pre-Conciliar editions of the Ordo. If they did not update the Ordo according to the 1983 Code, then… well… they are out of date in the Ordo.”

    Fr Z, I had not thought of that…makes sense…thanks for the additional info!

  19. Federico says:

    With respect to the Eastern Churches, there isn’t a single discipline but each Church sui iuris may establish its own discipline with respect to fasting and frequency. Relevant canon in CCEO is 713 § 2:

    §2. Concerning the preparation for participation in the Divine Eucharist through fast, prayers and other works, the Christian faithful are to observe faithfully the norms of the Church sui iuris in which they are enrolled, not only within the territorial boundaries of the same Church, but, inasmuch as it is possible, everywhere.

    Daily is obviously and explicitly permitted in all Churches sui iuris per CCEO canon 881 §3:

    §3. The Christian faithful are strongly recommended to receive the Divine Eucharist on these days [Sundays and Feast Days] and indeed more frequently, even daily.

    Federico.

  20. rtmp723 says:

    My pastor has always told me as long as it’s two distinct masses (ie. different readings, collects, etc..). Now I am altar serving the 10 pm “midnight” mass, OF, and then going to an EF at midnight. Could I receive from both? I figure I could because they are technically two different days.

  21. Dof says:

    I know a lot of SSPX priests, and this business about not receiving Holy Communion twice is not a typo – it’s forbidden by them. The same goes with the eucharistic fast. Very often (though not all) SSPX priests teach children in schools and announce from the pulpit that one must fast for three hours before Mass begins. I have found that when I’ve tackled them on this, they do generally concede that the law has changed and that they can only encourage to keep the older fast.

    This sort of attitude seems to create a lot of confusion, though.

  22. Federico says:

    Dof said: “This sort of attitude seems to create a lot of confusion, though.”

    And it’s an abuse if they know better. There is a single discipline throughout the Latin Church. As Fr. Z is fond of mentioning, Summorum pontificum did not create a Jurassic Mass.

  23. kat says:

    You just need to read the back of the SSPX calendars printed by the Angelus Press to know what SSPX priests teach: [Fine. However, the priest is going to look at the Ordo before Mass. That reminder is what he will probably take with him on the way to the pulpit. But it would be good for the Ordo to say the same thing that they print in popular calendars.] They explain very clearly what the actual law states now, which is to be followed under pain of sin; AND what the traditional laws of fast and abstinence were, and which days were traditionally held as such (Ember Days, all weekdays of Lent, certain vigils, etc.). It also explains that people are no longer obligated to follow the old rules, but that they are encouraged to do so because of the serious need of penance, as expressed by Our Lord to His Apostles. So there is really no confusion at all. Voluntarily performing more rigorous penance isn’t going to hurt anyone, as long as they understand it is voluntary.

    Even from the pulpit, during for example weddings and funerals when guests are present, the priest only reminds everyone that to receive Communion they must be baptized Catholics, in the state of grace (having no known mortal sins on their soul), and having fasted for at least one hour. Again, no confusion; no abuse; no maliciousness.

  24. PghCath says:

    rtmp723: Your pastor’s notion of “two distinct masses” is not required by the 1983 Code of Canon Law. You can receive twice on any calendar day, even if the readings & prayers are exactly the same at both Masses. Thus, my parish has Mass at 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM tomorrow, and I could receive at both if I wanted to, although the same readings/prayers will be used at both.

    Denis: The issue of reception at Christmas Masses was addressed in the 1964 Vatican document Inter oecumenici: “60. The faithful who receive communion at the Mass of the Easter Vigil or the Midnight Mass of Christmas may receive again at the second Mass of Easter and at one of the Day Masses of Christmas.” http://www.adoremus.org/Interoecumenici.html

    That was well before my time, so I’m not sure what actual practice was for Christmas/Easter Masses. Nonetheless, I found this document interesting.

  25. As a relatively new convert I must admit I react to the idea of an “obligation” to attend Mass with an ironic smile. I’m still on the opposite side of the equation in which I see it as an opportunity. “I get to go to Mass? You mean there is a Mass I can attend? Alright. Let’s get there.”

    I’m not familiar with the history of an “obligation” to attend but I often think one might make better use of reverse psychology. i.e. “You are no longer obligated to attend but we are considering whether or not to give you the opportunity to attend.” The response most likely would be parishioners arguing vehemently that the Church is obligated to provide them with a Mass and they are going to be there no matter who says yes or no. Anyway, I find the idea of obligation pertaining to such a joy-filled event to be odd at best.

    Thanks for clarifying the “twice” in one day rule. I had been told it was once only and that did not make complete sense. Thank you for being such a reliable source, particularly for those of us who are newer to the faith, those of us who did not have the benefit of a sister helping us with formation.

  26. Stephen Matthew says:

    Taming Author Greg,

    The Church tried some of that approach, particularly in America, in the same hope you mentioned. It was further hoped that there would be greater spiritual benefit from people doing freely what was once required, and that what was thought once to fully meet an obligation would now be seen as only a starting point.

    However, the truth is the results have been at best mixed. The great example of this is the case of a penetential act on Fridays. In elder days it was the custom, backed by the law of the church, to abstain from flesh meat on Fridays all year as a minimal weekly act of penance. In our own time the law allows each conference of bishops to provide for a proper Friday penatential act. In the US the bishops decided not to require anything as a matter of law but rather to request and encourage the faithful to perform penance every Friday. The result is that virtually everyone eats meat on Fridays and very few people observe any penance, many not even knowing that Friday penance remains part of the universal practice of the church.

    Perhaps the US church is simply bad at reverse psychology. Or perhaps the church developed its laws over time because it learned the hard way that failed human being often try to do the bare minimum.

    I very much am glad to hear of your attitude. It encourages me and reminds me of how we should all view the mass and the feasts of the church. Would that we all had your enthusiasm all the time. If we did the church would need very few laws, it would merely need to propose opportunities to us. May the Lord perfect in us such an attitude.

    p.s.
    I am a “cradle” Catholic but with a, shall we say middling formation, and I too learned the lesson on this blog years ago. The second time must be as part of a mass. Thus in theory the first time might not be at a mass, though obviously better to receive at a mass than some other way. I have at times received twice in one day, but I have not, nor would I encourage, going to an extra mass just to receive an extra time that day. What I mean is if for example you are traveling for a wedding and you go to confession at a parish and stay for the mass immediately following as an act of thanksgiving, it would be reasonable in my mind to receive both at that mass and the nuptial mass later in the evening. Likewise this most recent Easter I was at both an Easter Vigil and Easter Morning mass, so that seemed reasonable. However I can not imagine going to both the daily masses at the parish (now, sadly, only one many days) and receiving both times unless some particular circumstance indicated it. We don’t want to be the new version of those Catholics that ran from side altar to side altar just in time for the elevation and ringing of the bells and then scampered off to the next altar (did that ever really happen or is that just a story told to scare children?).

  27. gambletrainman says:

    I went to an EF Mass one day (SSPX), and received communion. But, it turned out that a relative (elderly aunt) was going to be buried later that day. I was given permission from the SSPX priest to also receive communion at the Novus Ordo funeral service. This was in 1984, after the new Code of Canon Law came in. The actual explanation was that the Society tried to stick to the old (1917) code, but under the new code it was okay. The same went for fasting. The “new” old code (I think around 1955 or thereabouts) stated that the fast before communion was 3 hours, but the new code said 1 hour, so, he was satisfied with either. Strange, coming from a priest who should have said one way or the other, not either/or.

  28. Sixupman says:

    Some years ago, during a general election time, a Catholic [Labour] politician was criticised/questioned regarding her receiving Communion three times in one day!

  29. priests wife says:

    regarding us Easterners- one must be in the proper state (of course) of grace and actually BE at the Mass to receive. We will be at the 6 o’clock vigil, the 9:30 and the 11:30 (and then collapse after church dinner and an hour drive to get home and opening presents at about 6 in the evening)- if we can keep it together, we will receive Jesus in the Eucharist at each Mass (but maybe I should call our bishop)

  30. Simeon says:

    Fr Z
    “Anyone can receive a blessing at any time” (Added to Maria’s comment 22 Dec).

    What about the Catholic couple who have just married at the Registry Office and stop off at the Church to light a candle on the way to the Wedding Party. Father is in Church saying Midday Prayer. They ask for his blessing. Can they receive his blessing?

    [You may be (purposely?) confusing a blessing a person asks for from a priest and the Nuptial Blessing a couple receives at the time of their licit marriage.]

  31. catholicmidwest says:

    Thank you for printing this in plain terms like you have. I already know all this stuff, but you’d be surprised how negligent many parishes are about this information. Many people don’t know.

    Every Christmas here, many many non-Catholics show up and get in the Holy Communion line and no one lets them know any better. It’s very sad for them that Catholics that run these things don’t even care enough to let them know.

  32. catholicmidwest says:

    Taming Author Greg,
    Wait til you’ve been catholic a couple of decades and have 92 odd assorted serious and nightmare-provoking mass abuses under your belt. You’ll still really want to go to mass sometimes but other times, you’ll go because you’re supposed to, and that’s okay. It’s your faith coupled with obedience that compels you to go then, not necessarily your raw enthusiasm.

  33. Well, there’s no need to blame liturgical abuses when you can blame the Old Adam, or the Old Isaac Newton (ie, inertia). Generally, I do want to go to Mass, and I know I will feel a little dead inside if I don’t go to Mass on the Lord’s Day at least. But when the flesh gets unwilling, the obligation makes me get up and go.

    It would be nice if the higher functions of the brain and soul were always operating on all cylinders, and we lived like the angels. But that’s not how we were created, even before the Fall; and despite Baptism, we need the basics of morality to keep us doing what we’re supposed to do, when the higher functions fail. Like a safety net or a scaffold.

  34. pjsandstrom says:

    It would be salutary for everyone who is worried about the “Three Christmas Masses” and how they are to be observed read the short story by Alphonse Daudet with that title in its English version. This story with a smile reminds us of ‘what it was like’ for several centuries before the 20th — and also with the ‘warning at the end of the tale’.

  35. Simeon says:

    Fr Z
    “[You may be (purposely?) confusing a blessing a person asks for from a priest and the Nuptial Blessing a couple receives at the time of their licit marriage.]”

    No, Father, I am not confusing the two. I know of a Catholic couple who married in the Registry Office and did exactly what I mentioned above. As far as they are concerned they received a Blessing from a priest (although not a Nuptial Blessing) and now claim that their “Marriage” has the Blessing of the Church and that they may receive Holy Communion.

    What should a Priest do if a couple come to him in these circumstances i.e after their Registry Office wedding whilst on their way to the wedding party, and ask for his blessing?

    [Can you explain what this now-closed rabbit hole has to do with reception of Holy Communion on Christmas? - That was a rhetorical question.]

  36. Jerry says:

    @Simeon: Did the couple you mention tell the priest of the circumstances before asking for the blessing?

  37. catholicmidwest says:

    Simeon,

    The Church can’t anticipate all the things that people choose to do, especially the particularly stupid things they choose to do.

    People have moral agency by definition. If they choose to abuse that moral agency against all the publicly available information there is (in this case about marriage), and do immoral things, who do *YOU* think is responsible for that?

  38. Maria says:

    ?????????

    I cannot for the life of me understand why any Catholic couple would want to marry in a Register Office, then ask for a Blessing.
    Why not marry in a Catholic Ceremony?
    Surely a Catholic Marriage is a Sacrament.

  39. Simeon says:

    Maria

    A Catholic couple would marry in a Registry Office because one of the parties not being free to marry could not undertake a Catholic ceremony. Subsequently by obtaining a Blessing from a priest they would then claim that their marriage had been blessed by the Church and so they could receive Holy Communion (worthily in their own estimation).

    This would suggest that a priest should not give any blessing if presented with the scenario I outlined earlier. But what, if anything, should be do instead?

  40. Maria says:

    Simeon,
    Surely if this couple did not tell the Priest the truth and tricked him into giving them a Blessing, then the Blessing is not valid. God knows what they were up to even if the Priest did not so the Priests conscience is clear.

    The couple have surely knowingly committed four sins here.
    Very serious I would say.

    Going back to Father Z’s point for this topic/thread, surely this point was raised by Father for the benefit of those who would be thinking to receive Holy Communion this Christmas without having been to receive The Sacrament of Reconcilliation.

    I know for sure now that in my case it would be wrong, so I would rather deny myself until I can get to see a Priest for absolvement.

    How can I possibly recieve The Sacrament of Holy Communion under a lie.
    It would be another sin and so I would not be receiving Christ worthily.

    Some people seem to treat Our Lords’ Body like a magic potion.

    It is horrible to knowingly do this.

  41. catholicmidwest says:

    Maria,
    Maybe they didn’t want to do the preparation which lasts about 6 months and involves living separately; or perhaps it was a spur of the moment thing on the way home from the bar.
    Who knows.