Card. Collins: “receiving communion is not obligatory at Mass”

The Archbishop of Toronto, His Eminence Thomas Card. Collins has said something that I have been hammering at for years.  HERE

It is NOT obligatory to receive Communion at Mass.

Also, people who may not receive Communion are STILL OBLIGED to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of precept.

The Cardinal said:

Many people who are divorced, and who are not free to marry, do enter into a second marriage. There are various reasons that can lead to this, and their fellow parishioners should not occupy themselves speculating about them. [But they will.  This is the nature of scandal, I’m afraid.] Catholics in that tragic situation [His Eminence doesn’t candy coat it.] can be involved in many ways in the life of the community, but they may not receive the sacraments, such as Holy Communion, since whatever their personal disposition is or the reasons for their situation, known perhaps only to God, they are continuing in a way of life which is objectively against the clear command of Jesus. [Objectively… that is manifestly… openly… in way that is known.] That is the point. The point is not that they have committed a sin; [Well… it kind of is… no?] the mercy of God is abundantly granted to all sinners. [When they repent and amend.] Murder, adultery, and any other sins, no matter how serious, are forgiven by Jesus, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the forgiven sinner receives communion. The issue in the matter of divorce and remarriage is one’s conscious decision (for whatever reason) to persist in a continuing situation of disconnection from the command of Jesus. Although it would not be right for them to receive the sacraments, we need to find better ways to reach out to people in this situation, to offer them loving assistance.

[NB] One thing that would help would be if all of us realized that receiving communion is not obligatory at Mass. [YES YES YES!  Do I hear an “Amen!”?] There are many reasons why a Christian might choose not to receive communion. If there were less pressure for everyone to receive communion, it would be some help to those who are not in a position to do so.  [THEREFORE… let us restore a longer Eucharistic fast (at least 3 hours) and let us phase out row by row Communion.]

Often, people in this situation decide no longer to continue as members of the Catholic community, as they are not able to receive sacramental communion at Mass, even though they can experience a kind of spiritual communion through prayerful adoration, although abstaining for good reason from receiving communion; [A good option, though it remains unclear how one who has not confessed her sins and received absolution can receive more than certain prevenient actual graces.  But hey!  That’s a lot!] that, for a Catholic can be a truly penitential act. It is a great tragedy if they leave the Church. It is likely that they, and their children, and their descendants, will become disconnected from the source of life in Christ that is found in the Church. We need to think of what we can do to reach out to people in this situation, in a loving and effective way. But as we do so, we also need to be attentive to the command of Christ, and the necessity of not undermining the sanctity of marriage, with even more dire consequences for all, especially in a world in which the stability of marriage is already tragically compromised. If we proclaim in actions, even though not in words, that the marriage covenant is not really what Jesus says it is, then that offers short term comfort at the cost of long term suffering. As the sanctity of the marriage covenant is progressively weakened, it will ultimately be the children who will suffer most.  [Well said.]

So although fidelity to the teaching of Christ on the indissolubility of marriage is not open to change, [Not. Open. To. Change.] there may be things that we can change to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in this difficult and painful situation. Real assistance can be given through improvements in the way the Church examines the validity of marriages, and through efforts to give spiritual support to Catholics who are divorced and remarried, encouraging them to be engaged in their parish as much as they can, and offering them ways of prayer appropriate to their situation. We need to consider what the Church community can do to assist the couple with their children, often living in combined family situations. But over-riding the explicit teaching of Jesus on the unbreakable nature of marriage is not an option. Nobody has the authority to do that.


Read the rest there.

Fr. Z kudos to Card. Collins.

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  1. Sonshine135 says:

    Cardinal Collins is a warrior in the Church Militant. The concept is again to be therapeutic. Living the faith versus saying, “I am Catholic” and living as you please is the problem. Coming to church and being unable to receive the sacrament should bring in you a desire to become reconciled. When you understand this, you get it.

  2. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    This is without a doubt one of the clearest, most unambiguous, letters I’ve read in an age, and combines so beautifully sound orthodoxy with charity. Definitely a Prince of the Church is Cardinal Collins.

    The “cattle call” Communion experience drives me up a wall. Put with that people almost high-five-ing each other following communion makes me want to put a pencil in my eye…not a good way for me to be properly disposed to receive the Blessed Sacrament.

    Father Z., and whoever else may be reading my reply, could you please pray for me that I remember charity in speech and thought, and that I can get through Mass without wanting to scream? Thank you so much. God love you.

  3. JudicaMe says:

    Thank you Cardinal Collins for this great reminder. Once, I got into this rabbit hole with a friend from the Charismatic Renewal movement. She gave an example that one should receive the holy communion even if he/she is late for Mass and came in during the Gospel, for instance. I think she has good intentions, but I feel there is something wrong with the campaign of “frequent communion” that is not accompanied with catechesis on the proper disposition and frequent confession as well. My mom, brought up in the pre V-II council, mentioned that my grandparents would bring them to confession every Saturday. They have “no confession no communion” policy.

    But oh well, “Probet autem seípsum ho­mo: et sic de pane illo edat et de cálice bibat.”

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “We need to think of what we can do to reach out to people in this situation, in a loving and effective way.”

    The best way to reach out to such people is to get them to stop sinning. That may be hard, but no one can be forced into a second marriage, so in most cases, they made their own bed, so to speak. Living as brother and sister is the best way to do this, barring examination and processing for a declaration of nullity. If they are already living as brother and sister and have gone to confession, then they may go to communion. I think that is both a loving and effective approach. Unfortunately, the level of Catholic ignorance on even the basics of the Faith in the modern American scene is astounding, so shaming should be reserved for those who know better, but as un-PC as it might seem, shaming really isn’t always such a bad tactic for some people. Perhaps, if there were more sense of shame in society, there would be fewer second marriages.

    In any case, this is, largely, a crisis in Catholic adult education.

    ” She gave an example that one should receive the holy communion even if he/she is late for Mass and came in during the Gospel, for instance.”

    This might be alright during weekday Masses, since being late may, sometimes, be due to an act of God and not willful (the car ahead of you breaks down, for instance).

    The Chicken

  5. Traductora says:

    Excellent! I grew up in the pre-Vatican II era, and lived in several different parishes in those years. Nowhere did everybody get up and go to Communion; in many parishes, only a handful of people went. Some hadn’t kept the fast, some had their own private reasons for not going. When I started college (just before the NO was unleashed upon the world), those of us who had been out partying until the wee small hours didn’t go to Communion…but we did go to Mass.

    We were always told to “make a spiritual communion.”

  6. kevinm says:

    I understand that attendance at Mass is obligatory and that someone in this situation is not permitted to receive Holy Communion. What about their Easter duty? How can one fulfill their Easter duty if they are not permitted the Blessed Sacrament?



  7. Uxixu says:

    While I see the good intent of St Pope Pius X, I do sometimes ponder if frequent Communion has helped contribute to irreverence if not inadvertently taking the Blessed Sacrament for granted as it becomes too routine. Similar to the thinking of Vatican II & the Precious Blood, which envisioned it being a rare event that wouldn’t even be regular but only on significantly special occasions (First Communion, etc).

    Do Eastern Catholics communicate as frequently as in the Roman Church? I know the Catholic Encyclopedia said that at the time pious Orthodox laity generally only communicated 4 times a year.

  8. robtbrown says:

    Uxixu says:
    While I see the good intent of St Pope Pius X, I do sometimes ponder if frequent Communion has helped contribute to irreverence if not inadvertently taking the Blessed Sacrament for granted as it becomes too routine.

    I agree that taking the Blessed Sacrament for granted has occurred. Did it occur before the post VatII liturgical changes?

  9. JacobWall says:

    In my early years after conversion, I made some errors in this point; I remember my wife choosing not to receive communion for personal reasons, the wrong disposition, “not feeling right,” having to leave Mass with the baby, arriving late, etc. I put in a good deal of effort to convince her that these were not good reasons to refrain, but only mortal sin, and to convince her to receive more often.

    I now realize that my wife’s habits were healthier, and it would be better if we didn’t have the idea we should receive communion EVERY Mass.

    Now, to undo what I did …

  10. JacobWall says:

    I’m very happy that this is coming from Cardinal Collins – the Archbishop for our ecclesiastical province (I’m right next door in D. Hamilton.) It seems to me that he has been speaking out publicly on important issues considerably more over the past year or year and a half. Or perhaps I’ve just been paying attention more now that I’m back in Canada? In any case, he was also the first bishop to condemn the heavy-handed pro-abortion policies of the new (“catholic”) leader of our federal Liberal Party. We in Ontario REALLY need this – thank you Cardinal Collins!

  11. Uxixu says:

    It’s definitely an excellent question, robtbrown. I think too many are wont to pin everything wrong with the Church today on Vatican II, if not the “spirit” that defied the actual conclusions of the Council. The dearth of vocations was predicted if not seen well ahead of time, for example, as I see a quote of St Pope Pius X about the Psalter in the Breviary:

    “…among other things, that the ancient custom of reciting the whole Psaltery within the week might be restored as far as possible, but in such a way that the burden should not be made any heavier for the clergy, whose labours in the vineyard of the sacred ministry are now increased owing to the diminution in the number of labourers.”

    Can anyone imagine a daily Mass where Communion was not offered to the congregation? Without protest? What would the EMHC do with themselves?

  12. Jason Keener says:

    I believe that Pope Benedict XVI, once gloriously reigning, in one writing or another also pointed out that it is good from time to time to not receive Communion as a reminder of what a great gift the Eucharist is. We can tend to take the Eucharist for granted if we receive at every Mass.

  13. Patti Day says:

    I wish my bishop would say something like this. God bless Cardinal Collins.

  14. Johnno says:

    Uxixu –

    Actually, many who are critical of VII don’t blame the council as the cause of every abuse, but rather that the council, as a solution, was a failure; one that only sought to encourage what was already happening in the overall political sphere where mankind was turning away from God and the Church’s authority over nations, while the new Mass is heavily diminished from its Catholic roots, thus making it more vulnerable to all kinds of abuses, particularly with the help of de-emphasizing the Pope’s authority through the confusing language of collegiality.

  15. Papabile says:

    I see no problem walking up to receive Communion if you take a couple minutes to recollect before doing so — so long as it’s not a Mass of precept (Sunday’s’Holy Days).

    Even then, while there is certainly sin attached to arriving late for Masses of precept, the manualists would say as long as you were there from the offertory to the Priest’s communion, one fulfilled the precept.

    Many would suggest that it you arrived by the Priests Communion and went to another Mass through the offertory, one had fulfilled precept. (I’m not sure I would go so far – but the manualists did.)

    With that said, I often find myself abstaining for various reasons.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    “She gave an example that one should receive the holy communion even if he/she is late for Mass and came in during the Gospel, for instance.”

    The correct answer is that “one could,” not that “one should.” You have the Church’s generous permission to do it; you don’t have Mama Church putting a gun to your head and demanding that you receive. (And yes, I’ve kinda wondered whether people mistakenly thinking Communion at every Mass is mandatory on pain of sin might not be coming. I guess this answers that.)

    “I remember my wife choosing not to receive communion for personal reasons, the wrong disposition, “not feeling right,” having to leave Mass with the baby, arriving late, etc. ”

    And again, there are some of these that seem clearly reasons not to receive (wrong disposition) while others don’t seem so clear (leaving Mass with the baby is performing a duty, not having a failing, and it’s actually a bit difficult to “leave Mass” in such circumstances because the environs often count as being at Mass).

    Anyhoo, it’s good to teach people about making spiritual communions, and it’s good to exercise our legitimate options and our legitimate freedom and prudence as children of God. Options which are never used have a tendency to be lost and forgotten, and sometimes you really really need that range of options!

  17. tzard says:

    I do like the approach to stick up for doctrine, however, actions are what are required, not just one’s stance.

    I second Chicken’s statement – they need to stop sinning, and that’s important, not just for catholic culture, or creating scandal, but for their own souls. This is a “situation”, yes, but it’s moreso a decision.

    One can love someone chastely and fully, without the sinful attachments of adultery. The full measure of love is to sacrifice one’s life for another and marriage or marital relations are not required at all for that. It requires daily perseverence, but it needs a first step, a decision to stop sinning.

    In reading the document of the upcoming synod on the family, I seem to think some clerics are forgetting the act of charity of helping people to stop sinning.

  18. John V says:

    Jason Keener

    You may be thinking of the following, which appeared in “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith” (Ignatius Press 2005), pp. 87-88:

    “It seems to me that the problem of people who have been divorced and remarried, yet equally the problem of intercommunion (in mixed marriages, for example), would be less of a burden if voluntary spiritual fasting was at the same time undertaken in visible recognition and expression of the fact that we are all dependent upon that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord effected in the ultimate solitude of the Cross. I would not of course wish to suggest by this a return to some kind of Jansenism: in biological life, as in the spiritual life, fasting presumes that eating is the normal thing to do. Yet from time to time we need a cure for falling into mere habit and its dullness. Sometimes we need to be hungry—need bodily and spiritual hunger—so as once more to comprehend the Lord’s gifts and to understand the suffering of our brethren who are hungry. Spiritual hunger, like bodily hunger, can be a vehicle of love.”

    I, too, thought of this passage when reading Cardinal Collins’s remarks. It occurs at the end of a discussion of the practice of “fasting from Communion”, within a segment titled “The Problem of the Excommunicated” (pp. 83-88), which in turn is just a small portion of a paper titled “Communion: Eucharist—Fellowship—Mission”. Because context is important, one would do well to read the whole thing, but it certainly fits well with this discussion.

  19. Lin says:

    Row by row Communion! How did this become standard operating procedure? When I was growing up only a third of the people at Mass (if that!) approached the Communion rail to receive the Eucharist on their tongue. And the church was packed! Standing room only! We lost the reverence. And many do not know any better. Much prayer and fasting is required.

  20. Cantor says:

    I have vivid memories of the horrific embarrassment of not being able to receive Communion, so I can’t blame people for ignoring the rule. When I was 11 years old, I served the early morning Mass at church, scampered home for breakfast, and returned to school where the first order of business was daily Mass. Unable to receive, I was the only kid who had to remain kneeling in the pews. People noticed, of course, and I was often hit with, “Geez! We all just went to Confession yesterday! What did you do?” I suspect I was thought to be the school ax murderer or worse.

    Obviously, the cause was far less important, but being excluded from a sacrament whose very name means “come together” does lead others to make assumptions that can be patently wrong. We have grown in a Church where receiving Communion is an integral part of our active participation.

  21. stephen c says:

    Cantor – Like almost everyone else, I have been looked down on and condescended to by fellow Christians on many occasions, that is just part of life in this fallen world, and rather than looking at the sometimes unfair insults I received as an embarrassment, I have tried to look at them as an opportunity, to pray in a specific way for the people who were, for whatever reason, unkind to me. I may have gotten a few dirty looks at mass for walking in late (or for similar mistakes, such as – and these are recent examples, I have forgotten the older examples – not passing the collection basket quickly enough, or walking out the noisy side door instead of the quiet front door during the 40 hours of Eucharistic adoration – although I must say that at the Latin Mass I attend there has never been the slightest hint of criticism when I do not approach the altar rail for communion) and I thank God for those dirty looks because the people who looked at me that way really really could use my prayers, which I have specifically prayed for them (and plan to continue to do so through this life and as much of the next as necessary), and though they are only my prayers, and as such, are almost nothing, when even my prayers are raised to the Lord, and acted on by the Lord, they are really something.

  22. Bosco says:

    Aren’t all Catholics required to receive the Holy Eucharist at least once a year so as to fulfil what once was called their ‘Easter Duty’?

  23. Gail F says:

    When I first returned to the Church I went for Communion every week because nearly every single person in the building did. It took me a long time to actually follow the rules of the Church — even though of course I eventually knew what they were and went to Confession etc. — and not go for Communion if, for example, I had missed Mass the week before. I found the pressure of everyone going up and the fear of being stared at overwhelming. I figured that people would think I had murdered someone or cheated on my husband or something equally dire. Now it is no big deal but for a while it was and caused me a lot of emotional distress. It is hard to be the only one (at least in your own mind) following the rules. I am very glad he said this and I wish that priests would say this often. It’s not hard to understand and helps people to overcome the very real pressure of conforming to others. OTOH, if more people in parishes like mine sit or kneel during Communion, it normalizes being there without receiving for everyone else.

  24. Bosco says:

    Sorry, Father. I meant to cite Canon 920 §1 in my previous comment.

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  26. Magpie says:

    Where does 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 figure in modern Church thinking???

  27. slainewe says:


    “Where does 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 figure in modern Church thinking???”

    Short answer: it doesn’t. (On the right forum, this would make for an interesting discussion.)

  28. Justin_Kolodziej says:

    Bosco: It is part of the 5 Precepts of the Church (quoted verbatim from the Compendium of the Catechism on the Vatican’s website:)

    1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and remain free from work or activity that could impede the sanctification of such days.
    2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.
    3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
    4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
    5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church.

    I believe like the obligation to attend Mass, circumstances can allow for a dispensation from the other precepts. But the minimum ordinarily appears to be one Confession and one Communion a year.

    Uxixu: Whenever I’ve attended the Ukrainian or Byzantine parishes in the area everyone or almost everyone has also received Communion. Depending on the exact Orthodox Church, many may commune or none each Sunday. Depends on the customs and what Father says is required.

  29. Bob B. says:

    I’m old enough to remember the long, long lines on Saturday for Confession (no one hour were these). Those who didn’t receive the next day were the ones who missed going to Confession on Saturday.

  30. James Joseph says:

    I pretty much figure “I” don’t need to receive the holy Eucharist when I have a priest and we both pray “Our” Father.

    How does it go with Fr. Hugh Thwaites? If Our dear Lord would be allowed to establish only one sacrament it would be Confession.

  31. Imrahil says:

    I’m afraid that although things might help, it’s still not approaching the real issue.

    Let me say beforehand that some things are, around here, rather unheard-of; maybe I’m living in an island of the blessed…

    Anyway, for one thing I have not ever seen, or heard, anyone presuming anything about a person’s choice whether or not to receive Holy Communion (even though around here too, the 1-hour fast is not publicly known – which albeit short is not entirely irrelevant; we tend to drive less than 30 minutes to Church). For my personal feelings, overseen abstention plays in the same area as overheard informations from the confessional. (We don’t have row-by-row Communion, but get-all-up-and-run-forward Communion, but you still can see.)

    Then, a weekday-mass EMHC is utterly unusual too (dear Uxixu).

    We can, of course, livelily debate about whether or not Frequent Communion should-be or not. There are probably good arguments on either side. The Church, though, seems to have said “yes” theoretically at all times (as in the Summa theologica of St. Thomas, and I guess canon law); and while in the past the practical use was to the contrary, and moralists (once for a change I’m not using the word negatively) had to deal with the fact that a danger of “outwardly presenting one’s own holiness” might arise and thus would advocate for less frequent communion even theoretically (see e.g. St. Francis de Sales). As an aside, an argument for frequent Communion is that in the allowedness of reception of Communion, a clergy/laity distinction seems artificial; yet priests are encouraged to celebrate daily.

    Now, the current law on Communion is that everyone may communicate who is not conscious of grave mortal sin, has followed the one-hour fast, has not communicated twice that day already, or once if it is not in Mass.


    Hence, dear JudicaMe, while we are hold to (true) ancient morality … ancient policy is quite a different matter, all the more if the policy (if it was one at all), as “one Confession one Communion” is, is intrinsically opposed to an officially present Church policy (viz., Frequent Communion). And for all things that may be wrong with the Charismatic renewal, your friend was actually quite in the right direction – if she was not speaking about people conscious of grave sin, who have not fasted, or who have already communicated the day (need I say it). Though the dear Banshee is right: you can. You need not. But there’s one thing you are not to do and that is rebuking others who do. It is not a sin to miss the entire Mass, on a weekday. A fortiori it is not a sin to miss part of it. It is allowed to receive Holy Communion outside Mass; a fortiori it is allowed to receive it inside it (I mean the non-obliging one) when late.

    (Yes, I was once rebuked for that. On a weekday. In public. For all the churchgoers to hear. In between the Eucharistic Prayer and the Our Father. – Well, in a sense it was successful: I abstained. I felt too spiritually distracted after that.)

    You need to be spiritually prepared, but an Our Father, prayer of St. Thomas, etc. “Holy Mother of God prepare me for a worthy Communion”, reflecting on who He is who is there present, or the like, should do that.

    Dear James Joseph, that seems strange as Confession is merely the second plank after shipwreck. – Anyway, I disagree with Fr Thwaites, then. And while according to general theologian consensus all sacraments make sense – Confession is not the greatest among them. That’s the Eucharist, and Baptism too, in a way, the door to the Sacraments that washes the sins away (you can’t deny there’s some logic behind Protestantism, after all, and neither did Bp Sailer). Confession is the second plank after shipwreck; the Sacrament of Reconciliation is Baptism.

    About this here, I am afraid, the problem is not really too frequent Communion, nor too little reflection on who He is who is present, nor even too little sin-awareness or too little being-shamed-into-not-sinning. The dear Masked Chicken quite rightly says this is the right tactic for some people: namely, for those who hold a behavior sinful and are tempted to it, and for behaviors that society holds as sinful to force dissenters into complying.

    The problem is that people – while they do hold that adultery is sinful, and that marriages are contracted to endure – do not think that, if marriage is “broken” by unfortunate accident, that then remarriage is a sin; and even less that remaining in the remarriage, when it cannot be done without hurting the new partner (and when the old partner would not take you back or is remarried himself), is a sin.

    That’s the issue. The issue is not so much about Communion at all. The issue is “you don’t seriously think I’ll go to Hell only for not throwing my loved new wife out of the house and hurt the children”.

    I guess people might even be convinced to refrain from Holy Communion and communicate spiritually “as a sign of the disorder in the situation, and witness for the indissolvable bond” (in a sort of ritual impurity; this is by the way actually the apologia within orthodox circles around here), if there was not that grave sin topic lurking behind the corner.

    It might still be better to shame people into not marrying secondly at all (as they are still being shamed into not marrying siblings, and are, to lesser extent, but even more than in former times, shamed into not marrying cousins) – but for that, it does not suffice to be right, but it is necessary to be powerful too.

    In fact, as the common phrase heard by orthodox side is “in such situations make a spiritual Communion” (which is quite correct), the real problem does not seem to be Communion. It’s Confession; it’s that those who cannot confess this sin because they persist in it (not holding it to be sinful) cannot confess their other sins they still commit and are ashamed of and do repent.

    Of course er… if you think it speaks volumes that they are crying out against not being able to Communicate (which by the common answer given to them they can spiritually) but not against not being able to Confess… well… yes. We might have, er, known.

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