ASK FATHER: In what scenario would you give Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried?

13_05_13_no_communion_hand1QUAERITUR:

You wrote in a recent post, “Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried (which in 99.99% of cases would be sacrilege).” Can you tell me what scenario would permit your conscience to give communion to the remarried? I can think of a couple, perhaps; curious what you’re thinking, esp. as I teach a marriage class every semester.

Okay, I left myself open to that fair question.

First, before anyone tunes out… I have to ask: Has reception of Holy Communion in most places come to be about something other than getting to heaven?  I have a strong impression that, in many places, if you were to quiz people about Communion, the answer would be along the lines of, “That’s when they put the white thing in your hand before you sing the song together.”  Seen that way, why shouldn’t everyone go up and get the white thing?  Excluding people would be mean!

If, however, Holy Communion is known to be the reception – in the state of grace – of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, who is Savior, King of Fearful Majesty and the Just Judge, then there are going to be limitations on how and when we receive.

Amoris laetitia is objectively vague.  I have little doubt that this is intentional, so that priests who have been inclined to do whatever heck they want with distribution of Communion can now have some official “cover”.  Amoris is being taken by some to mean that Communion can be received by people who are, at the time of Communion, not in the state of grace and who don’t have a firm purpose of amending their sinful ways.  I think that that is a reduction of the Most Sacred Host to “the white thing”.

A priest who allows or prompts the reduction of the Eucharist to “the white thing” is probably going to go to Hell.

However, those who are faithful to the Church’s perennial teaching can interpret Amoris in a way that is harmonious with the Church’s perennial teaching.  That’s how I choose to work with Amoris.

Now to the question about the .01%… which is an arbitrary number, of course, chosen to show that the scenario would be rare.

If a couple who are civilly married, etc. etc., have entered into a process with a priest who has helped them to see what their situation truly is (according to the teaching of Christ and His Church), then they know that what they are doing is wrong.  They know that they are in an adulterous union and that they have committed mortal sins.  Therefore, they know that are not properly disposed to receive Communion.  They also know that Communion is not “the white thing”.

That is what the priest must help them to understand.  That is his duty, at the peril of his own immortal soul and theirs.

If they then choose – for whatever compelling reason suggested by the objectively vague Amoris, etc. – to stay together, then the priest must help them to make a choice.  After Father lays out the options, they will tell the priest either that …

1) they will not live in continence as brother and sister, or
2) they will try to live in continence as brother and sister.

If they say they won’t, and they don’t, they cannot be admitted to Communion. They must be told not approach to receive Communion, for that would be a mortal sin and a sacrilege.

If, on the other hand, they say that they will try, and if they confess their sins and intend to live in continence, they probably can be admitted to Communion – remoto scandalo – provided that scandal is avoided.

HENCE…. and here is my answer…

If, in those circumstances when such a couple might be properly disposed to receive Communion (i.e., they are in the state of grace), give them Holy Communion outside of Mass in the rectory.

That would avoid scandal.  Right?

Think about it.  If reception of Communion is so important to them because they a) really understand what the Eucharist is… WHO the Eucharist is and b) they reflect on the Four Last Things and c) they must  live together for some reason and they choose to live in continence, etc., and d) they manage to live in the state of grace, then they should be willing 1) to attend Holy Mass according to their obligation (like everyone else) but 2) not receive Communion during Mass so that they will avoid giving scandal.

If they have charity toward their neighbors, they would want to avoid scandal and to avoid putting the priest in a tough spot.  Right?  They should be thrilled to receive Communion but out of sight, in the rectory, away from public view.   Right?

Now I will track back to what I asked about Communion at the top.

What is it that they want?

Communion with its holy effects? Or do they want to be seen receiving Communion?

Do they want the Eucharist or the “white thing” that symbolizes affirmation?

If they really get the Eucharist, with the full implications of receiving as Paul describes in 1 Cor 11:27 (“Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord.”), and if they really get the Four Last Things, then … would they really want to put at risk their eternal salvation by sacrilegious reception?

If they have been working with a sound priest who helps them to understand what mortal sin is and what matrimony is according to the Church’s teachings – BECAUSE THAT’S HIS JOB! – would they really want to receive Communion in their irregular state?

Or course there may be times when they fail in their determination to live in continence and they have sexual relations.

What then?

Simple.  They go to confession and start over with a firm purpose of amendment.

That’s what we all do when we sin in any way.  We go to confession with a firm purpose of amendment and start over with God’s help.  In some Amoris scenario, they might have to live in a near occasion of sin, but for the sake of care of children, etc., they have to bear their Cross.

However, there is a rock solid principle that cannot be set aside: No firm purpose of amendment, no Communion.

My solution, given the aforementioned conditions are met: occasional Holy Communion in private, outside of public Mass, away from observing eyes.

The comment moderation queue is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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24 Responses to ASK FATHER: In what scenario would you give Holy Communion to the divorced and remarried?

  1. EC says:

    On a closely related note, suppose a couple is in such a situation (DR) and then receives an annulment and convalidation; how can scandal be excluded when they show up same as always next Sunday and start receiving publicly? [Marriage is a public matter. I would think that a couple who gets things straightened out would but like the woman who swept and swept and finally found her lost coin.] Of all the strange attempts Abp. Fernandez made in his defense of AL, the whole “nobody knows their situation/why they’re receiving anyway” argument was rather tricky to see through… This is a difficult situation, because while some people may continue to think so-and-so are not really married, they now really are, so c. 915 does not actually apply, even though scandal really can be taken (but not given, as there is no underlying “manifest” reality which reasonably implies obstinate perseverance in grave sin). Should Father point them out from the ambo and explain the situation? Should there be a large bann put out in the narthex? Does Father preach on the principle of “good faith” assumptions for communicants? Should we just hope it works out? Does it depend on the parish? What do you think? [A lot depends on the parish. And the use of the BANNS should be brought back.]

  2. mharden says:

    Was this not the case prior to Amoris Laetitia, in accordance with Familiaris Consortio? “Living as brother and sister”, after Confession: Communion can be received? If so, why did we need Amoris Laetitia? [Amoris laetitia addresses more than this point.]

  3. Julia_Augusta says:

    Two questions:
    – if they decide not to live as brother and sister, then they should not receive Communion and they should simply pray in the pews while others are at the Communion rail, is this correct? [Yes. They are obliged to go to Mass like everyone else, but that can’t receive.]
    – if one of the couple is Catholic and the other is not (and the latter does not attend Mass), then the Catholic spouse should not receive Communion, correct? [A Catholic spouse in the state of grace can receive Communion.]

  4. Back pew sitter says:

    Your thinking is totally sound Fr Z. Thank you for expressing it so clearly – even though it’s not rocket science.

    The condition that scandal is avoided is an important one. So it seems to me that it could, of course, mean that if the couple were away from home and in a Church where nobody knew them, then it would be possible to receive Holy Communion during Mass. [I suppose so.]

    Arguably too, if they were to make it publicly known within their community that they now fully upheld the Church’s teaching, and were no longer living as husband and wife (though still living under the same roof for the sake of the children) then, assuming that they would be avoiding scandal, public reception of Holy Communion would also be acceptable. [Which borders on Too Much Information.]

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  6. THREEHEARTS says:

    A very proper priest that is one who picks up his cross and follows Christ would say to any of his parishioners whom he knows are living a state of sin and not sanctifying grace do not come to receive HOLY Communion without coming to me for confession. Then his or her penance should be as it was for me for a number of years come weekly and I shall see if you are worthy and remember adultery is a mortal sin. [That’s not a penance.]
    Any parish priest who is worth his salt would not give out Holy Communion at any mass but should say come to confession and you will receive right after your absolution and been given a penance. I had a parish priest who did that.

  7. Eric says:

    Clear, precise, and logical, which is why no one wants to hear it unfortunately. Scandal I believe to most of the faithful these days is NOT getting in line during the rush for the “white thing.”

  8. Lepidus says:

    I get confused on how scandal gets defined in situations such as this. Ignoring close friends and family (who would probably know about Communion in the rectory anyway), how would anyone in the congregation know that they weren’t married in the eyes of the Church? As an example, in my parish there is a couple that if you just met them you would know that they both have living (divorced) spouses. They also have annulments and were properly married in the Church. In another case, I happened to attend a regularly scheduled evening Mass. There were no announcements made prior, but a civilly married couple became actually married in the Church during that Mass. While the couple in Father’s example are in an extremely irregular situation, these two (I would think) would be called being in a regular situation now. Who is to know what the actual details are in either situation?

    [People get to know people. This isn’t that hard. Also, why does knowledge have to be wide-spread for it to be scandal?
    Moreover, marriages are public matters.]

  9. Akita says:

    Let’s just hypothesize that the abandoned spouse and children attend the same parish that “Mommy and her new husband” attend. Mommy went to confession with firm purpose of amendment and is sitting across the aisle with her new husband. She does not present herself for reception of Holy Communion. After Mass the kids see Mommy and her new husband talking to the priest and the three walk over to the rectory. Was scandal given? [It ought to be clear from what I wrote that proper steps should be taken to avoid scandal.]

  10. Akita says:

    In my opinion this being civilly married and living like brother and sister is a bunch of baloney. You will cause scandal and untold pain to the abandoned spouse and children even if Holy Communion is received on the sly. [In my opinion, people get themselves into all sorts of difficult situations – each situation being unique – and Holy Church must help them get to heaven.]

  11. hwriggles4 says:

    I know several practicing Catholics who are divorced and annulled. 95% of them have told me that the annulment process worked as a healing process and brought them closer to their faith. Quite a few were also told (Thank you GOOD priests and GOOD permanent deacons who TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY) not to date until if and when the annulment was finalized. The healing portion (I was a witness in a case) is one aspect the mainstream media NEVER talks about when it comes to annulment.

    Personally, I think a clarification needs to be issued, because I feel that allowing divorced Catholics without a decree of nullity to receive communion is a slap in the face to the Catholics who took the time (By the way, the expense is a donation – not required – sorry mainstream media) to go through the annulment process.

  12. hwriggles4 says:

    Julia Augusta:

    A Catholic married to a non Catholic can receive communion. My Protestant dad married my mother 50 years ago in a Catholic Church. My dad agreed to raise the children Catholic (all 4 of us were, and we still go today). Mom and dad are still married.

    I have also known of convalidation taking place between a Catholic spouse and a non Catholic spouse.

    A divorced Catholic who is living in a state of grace can also receive communion. For example, a divorced Catholic mom with three kids can receive communion if she is living chastely and is in the state of grace. This is not uncommon, and quite a few women in this situation have chosen to remain single (at least until children are older), regardless whether or not she has received a decree of nullity, or is waiting on a decision from the tribunal.

  13. bobbird says:

    Fr. Z’s “.o1%” scenario sounds like the situation that was described by Fr. Stravinskas of the OSV publication Catholic Answers some time ago. [Interesting.] In the long-forgotten 1950s, his divorced-and-remarried Mom & Dad chose to live as bro & sis, but only after a nun in a parochial school class called attention to their irregular situation and the danger to their souls. How “mean” those knuckle-rapping orthodox nuns could be! It — at first — provoked rancor and discord in the family, until the parents did some real soul-searching. As the delayed reward that is so characteristic of Grace, their son became a priest and says Mass for their souls, I am sure quite often!

  14. mimicaterina says:

    I sincereky believe that part of the problem with the progressives is that they reject the notion of mortal and venial sin and have adopted the Protestant concept that sin is sin without any dufferentiation between grave and lesser sin. So given this mindset, everyone sins and being impatient weighs the same as adultery. Consequently, in their eyes, everyone is “entitled” to Holy Communion.

  15. Unwilling says:

    That 99.99% caught my eye. Your clear pastoral indubium covers the multitude of sins. However, in the shadow of Francis’ relevant remarks, one of his key motivations in relaxing the rule is to avoid such peripheral couples being made to feel like “second-class” Catholics. And the workaround of reception in the rectory would seem likely to excite such a feeling. [Not in a person who truly understands her situation and is properly disposed!] Of course, to be sure, they are after all not living an ordinary Catholic life; so the feeling may be unavoidable and appropriate (guilt). Anyway, what about the feeling issue? Asked as a willing student.

    [The Catholic Church is not a Church of the “pure”. It is a Church full of sinners working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Hence, avoiding what whatever leads to denial of or downplaying of sin is to be avoided.]

  16. Curley says:

    Father- I found your comment about the point of communion being heaven to be right on. So many parishes today seem to have the goal of having people “active” or “involved”. How about HOLY!

  17. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Convalidations are usually announced in the church bulletin. It’s not a secret.

    OTOH, a lot of scandalization is actually someone who refuses to mind his own business, and who has a nasty mind. Sometimes it is more logical, and kinder, to assume that everything is fine and Father knows the couple’s business best, unless you definitely know otherwise.

    For example, I have heard that elderly women whose husbands have always refused to go through a previous marriage’s annulment or who may have treated the woman badly, but who now is beyond being able to resist living like brother and sister, often are able to repent, go to Confession, and begin receiving Communion again, even before their husband dies. And this is often a way of strengthening both of them in courage, and of helping the man become sorry for his sins, also.

  18. Ultrarunner says:

    There are over 8 conditional ‘IF’ statements in this article which need to be applied in order to allow 1 in 1000 divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion in a covert manner so as to avoid scandal. Meanwhile, spoiler alert!, the other 999 trot right up to a priest to receive Communion, and they are given a consecrated Host. Every. Single. Time. [So?] But presumably without the scandal, right? [Apparently not. You are writing about it and we all know about it and many go forward, knowing they should not, because others do.] The rest of the congregation, who also overwhelmingly doesn’t go to confession and everyone knows it, receives likewise. To pretend that there are, “limitations on how and when we receive,” simply does not exist in actual practice. Priests know with absolute certainty that over 95% of their congregation avoids going to routine confession and yet they serve to everyone who presents, period. From the pew therefore, scandal does not appear to be the exception, but rather the rule. [So?] As a result, singling out a particular sinner in the vast sea of mortal sin in attendence during any given mass, and requiring that one person to receive communion via a backroom practice is, with all due respect, absurd. [You are wrong. Just because many sins are committed, we don’t then say that some particular sin is okay.] Furthermore, priests who wish to avoid scandal would do well to stop pulling individuals aside in order to do things covertly out back following a Mass. [So, priests should do… what? Nothing?] While I fully and sincerely appreciate the defense which resists serving communion to those in a state of objectiveve mortal sin, [“objective mortal sin” isn’t visible, like a tatoo.] the application of that ideal simply doesn’t exist in reality. [Again, so?] I have never seen a priest in the US deny a Catholic the Holy Eucharist. [Again, so?] By way of comparison, German priests are exceptionally ruthless in not serving communion to millions of Catholics that have opted out of paying the 9% Church Tax, which proves that priestly denial of Communion can be done, and quite efficiently, when the clergy is properly motivated. [Again, so?] Amoris Laetitia wins because of well established contradictions in practice. It’s not Professor Seifert’s logic as applied to AL which leads to the death of traditional Catholic morality, it’s the deeply embedded contradiction already inherent in the universal administration of communion to those in a state of objective mortal sin that does the trick. [Therefore… what? Give up?]

    Priests shouldn’t serve communion to objective mortal sinners as defined in AL. Priests shouldn’t serve communion to objective mortal sinners not defined in AL. Both of these statements should be true, however, in practice, only one of them is true. The contradiction is what will eventually result in neither of them being true. [Unsatisfactory. Fail.]

  19. ChesterFrank says:

    I always think about the requirement for Catholics to receive Eucharist once a year. Does that requirement enter into the equation? [It ought to! Can. 920§1! This law exists so that people don’t remain in the state of mortal sin for years and years. They have to receive Communion. Hence, they have to make their confession with a purpose of amendment.]

  20. St. Irenaeus says:

    ChesterFrank: I don’t think I’ve seen anyone mention that. Fascinating wrinkle.

  21. Ave Crux says:

    Not that Father Z needs anyone’s endorsement, but everything he said is exactly in the spirit of the Catholic Faith and in perfect conformity with Church law.

    I have been heartsick that AL is used to draw a moral equivalence between adulterous sexual relations and receiving Holy Communion (!), as two “goods” deemed so important to couples who remarry without a declaration of nullify that they MUST have BOTH as though it were a right.

    I.E. as Father says: “What is it they want….?”

    If they just want the “white thing” as a sign of inclusion with the community, then they don’t see any reason to give up the illicit sex they deem so indispensable in order to have this badge of “acceptance”.

    On the other hand, if they realize it is actually Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Host, “Who will come to judge the living and the dead,” how could they dare to say their illicit sexual relations are too important to give up in order to receive Him?

    Essentially AL admits this possibility when saying the unwillingness to live in contingency is still sometimes the best one can offer in certain circumstances, and that God understands their sex is indispensable and thus wants them to receive Holy Communion nonetheless.

    This is a heartbreaking insult to Our Lord, the equivalent of making their illicit sexual relations as necessary as receiving Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

  22. edwar says:

    Thanks Father for this great post. It’s a nice, complete walk-through of the steps and considerations that come into play when there’s a compelling reason for the couple to stay together.

    There is an adjacent issue that I find very interesting. What really are the compelling reasons to stay together?

    I suspect that some of the reasons are less compelling than commonly thought.

    Many would tend to think that it’s somehow better for the children of the adulterous union, if their parents live together as brother and sister, vs. their parents splitting up and living separately. However, if the parents are thinking about the Four Last Things, and they know Who the Eucharist is, and they want to teach their children to know Who the Eucharist is and to grow up to be healthy adults, then how often can we say they are really compelled to stay together, vs splitting up but still collaborating to raise the children and teach them the Faith (including teaching the children, once they’re at an appropriate age, why it was wrong when Mom and Dad used to live together)?

    Is it a peculiarity of modern developed nations, that extended families are so disconnected that they can’t provide a safety net for those children?

    In poorer, majority-Catholic countries with strong local communities and extended family bonds, would the brave couple be less compelled to stay together? In those places, are they more free to split up, and, let’s say, the mom would take half the children and go to live with her sister’s family, the dad would take the other half of the children and go to live with his brother’s family, and no it’s not like “I’ll never see my other siblings again” because they all live in the same village of 50 huts and they all see each other every day?

  23. bobbird says:

    Also, another problem: there are prominent divorced-and-remarried Catholics not only in our smallish parish, but in large ones … who actually GOT AN ANNULMENT, but unknown to many. And some after decades of marriage and raising a family of adult children! It was a SCANDAL to have to watch X receive HC, especially with the former spouse and adult children at Mass! Then, you learn through inside whispering, “Oh, don’t you know? X got an annulment!” No, I didn’t know. MY QUESTION: Why doesn’t the Church publish annulments? If public scandal is to be avoided, it should not be my responsibility to 1) admonish X, 2) inform the priest (who might be a recent appointment) that this man is divorced-and-remarried, 3) answer the questions of students or family members who understand Church teaching and can’t understand why it is — apparently — being ignored, or 4) open up a painful question to X’s former spouse and adult children. Anyone else who has come across similar situations?

  24. Serviam says:

    I just have to thank you, Fr Z, for this awesome post. I too was curious about the 0.01%. :-)