ASK FATHER: Can someone excommunicated go to Mass?

From a reader…


The Catholic Encyclopedia entry on excommunication (from 1908) says an excommunicated person can’t participate in any liturgies, i.e. he can’t even be present. The CIC only says he can’t minister or administer the sacraments. Is the CE out of date or is the CIC not giving all applicable law?

The old Catholic Encyclopedia, while a good source to start with for certain things, is out of date.

According to the law currently in force, an excommunicated person is not excluded from attending Holy Mass. In fact she is obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days just like everyone else.

She may not, however, receive Holy Communion.  And depending on the reason for the excommunication and the faculties of the confessor, she may not receive sacramental absolution until the censure is lifted… except in danger of death.

We no longer have the category of excommunicate who is also vitandus, to be avoided, shunned.  That was rarely imposed and was done away with in the 1983 Code.  There was also, once, a tolerandus category I believe.  I can’t help of thinking of Card. Kasper’s odd solution for the divorced and civilly remarried, to be seen as “tolerated but not accepted” insofar as Communion is concerned.  How odd.

A handy resource is Dr. Peter’s book HERE

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. SSPX chapel example from recently: woman with a living ex-husband remarried by a diocesan priest after obtaining a diocesan annulment not recognised by the SSPX; not allowed to attend Mass at the SSPX chapel, not even allowed to cook food for the priest.

  2. DonL says:

    “…she may not receive sacramental absolution until the censure is lifted… except in danger of death.”
    Yes, but isn’t even the efficacy of that absolution dependent upon a real intention on the part of the recipient to repent?

  3. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Rural Virologist,

    Your example of the SSPX is troubling in that it exposes the kernel that thwarts reconciliation. The SSPX professes that it remains Catholic and cites as its evidence for this that it prays for the Pope (and the local ordinary) in the Canon of the Mass, while it acts disobedient to, and therefore undermes, the Church’s authority. The Laws of the Church (including the 1917 Code of Canon Law that the Society claims to accept) recognize the existence of marriages that lack sacramental intent and therefore provide for annulment of those marriages. The case you cite indicates that the full process of the Church was employed and as a consequence the woman obtained a decree of nullity from the Tribunal, was subsequently certified as free to marry and was indeed married in the Church. The SSPX priest’s opinion of the matter is irrelevant and his action is presumptuous and beyond his competence if he claims to be in union with the Catholic Church. Were he legitimately incardinated in a diocese or a Personal Prelature as required by the Catholic Church instead of free-lancing, he would be subject to Church discipline for his act.

  4. Matt R says:

    Gerard, the SSPX, being that they are not sedevacantists, also recognize the 1983 Code, or at least they pay lip service to it.

  5. JamesM says:

    Can someone who is excommunicated go to Mass? Well the answer clearly is yes. They can also receive Holy Communion.

    Canon 915 gets ignored all the time.

    Who is going to stop someone who has been excommunicated from receiving Holy Communion? I doubt the majority of our bishops would…….

    …..the question really is are they supposed to receive Holy Communion.

  6. Imrahil says:

    They do so, but they may not necessarily think that the authorities which they too do, per se, recognize as the responsible ones have the right attitude about only annulling such marriages which really are null and void. After all, America is reported to be rather over-represented in worldwide annulments statistics and the percentage that goes through is rather high. Just saying. That said, “an SSPX chapel” is not “the SSPX”. Specifically the part about not even allowing her to attend Mass sounds un-typical to me.

    Leaving this aside, to the topic of the general article,

    a tolerated excommunicate is each and every excommunicate which is not vitandus.

  7. HeatherPA says:

    JamesM brings up a valid point.

    Many a politician who has incurred an excommunication via Canon 915 marches up for Communion anyway and no one says a word.

    Also many in same sex relationships who attend Mass together.

  8. Neal says:

    The diocese may have granted the annulment based solely on the fact that the marriage was officiated by a non-Catholic. As such, you can probably imagine why the priest and community would disagree with the judgement.

  9. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Many a politician who has incurred an excommunication via Canon 915 marches up for Communion anyway and no one says a word.” See how pandemic confusion over basic categories is? Pater kindly mentioned my book, may I mention my webpage that sets akk this out in luminous detail?

  10. Gerard Plourde says:

    Since vitandus is no longer part of the Code, an excommunicate is required by the laws of the Church to attend Mass.

  11. Gerard Plourde says:

    Although it’s not directly on the original topic and it doesn’t involve excommunication, do the clergy and religious associated with the SSPX risk violation of Can. 752 by their failure to give religious submission of the intellect and will to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council?

  12. robtbrown says:

    Gerard Plourde says:

    Although it’s not directly on the original topic and it doesn’t involve excommunication, do the clergy and religious associated with the SSPX risk violation of Can. 752 by their failure to give religious submission of the intellect and will to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council?

    What teachings of Vat II?

  13. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Robtbrown,

    Perhaps it’s more accurate to say their refusal to assent to the doctrinal preamble proposed by Pope Benedict.

  14. robtbrown says:

    The doctrinal preamble was OK with the SSPX until the phrase “accept Vat II” was added.

    I’ve been a Catholic since 1970 and have known a lot of priests (incl many during my 8 years in Rome). I’ve never met a priest who accepted Vat II–although most say they do.

  15. robtbrown says:

    Also: Although this pope often has me shaking my head, one of the things I like about him is that he doesn’t seem to be constantly referencing Vat II.

  16. APX says:

    Matt R,

    They don’t teach according the the 1983 Code of Canon Law in their schools when it comes to laws regarding communion reception.

  17. Giuseppe says:

    HeatherPA, I thought those in same sex relationships were not excommunicated by 915, as one couldn’t assume whether they were sexually active. Unlike marriages, where it is not unreasonable to assume sexual activity (a central element of marriage). This divorced and remarried fall in 915. Now if the gay couple gets ‘married’, then they merit excommunication under 915.

    I recall this in the interweb a while ago, but not fully sure it is true.

  18. Matt R says:

    The 1983 code is always on their websites along with the Pio-Benedictine code. The same is true in the Angelus Press handmissal.

    Gerard: there are no new teachings to submit to coming from Vatican II. It is more a question of showing everyone how the teaching falls in the tradition. Although the documents themselves could have been much clearer, the papacy usually leaves interpreting documents to theologians. The trouble is that this was a council with massive coverage and massive expectations, and so fifty years have been wasted because no one understood the council. The SSPX’s biggest issue is Dignitatis Humanae. Thomas Pink and several other scholars have worked on interpreting it in light of tradition, and to me, that is the definitive opinion.

  19. jhayes says:

    Guiseppe, the question of who is excommunicated is different from the question of who is excluded from receiving the Eucharist. You can be excluded without being excommunicated.

    There are only a few actions for which a person is automatically (latae sententiae) excommunicated, placed under interdict, or suspended. Persons can be censured in those ways for other reasons, but only after some sort of juridical process.

    The automatic excommunications, interdicts or suspensions are for:

    1. apostasy, heresy, schism
    2. violation of consecrated species
    3. physical attack on the pope or bishop
    4. absolution of an accomplice
    5. unauthorized ordination of a bishop
    6. direct violation by a confessor of the seal of confession
    7. procuring an abortion
    8. by means of technical instrument divulging to communications media
    what was said in a confession
    9. pretended celebration of the Eucharist by a non-priest
    10. attempt to hear confession by one who cannot validly do so
    11. false accusation of the crime of solicitation in the confessional
    12. attempted marriage by a religious or cleric

    [Are there a couple missing?]

    See further details here:

  20. jhayes says:

    Fr. Z asked Are there a couple missing?

    I’m not qualified to answer that. The article I copied that list from says:

    Mark Ravizza, S.J. composed the first draft of this document on canonical penalties while a student at the then Jesuit School of Theology-at-Berkeley, and it was subsequently edited and re-drafted by his professor, James T. Bretzke, S.J. The principal documents consulted were The Code of Canon Law: A Text and Commentary, commissioned by the Canon Law Society of America, ed. James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, and Donald E. Heintschel (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), and John M. Huels, , O.S.M., The Pastoral Companion: A Canon Law Handbook for Catholic Ministry, (Quincy IL: Franciscan Press, 1995). These pages are essentially a distillation of the relevant portions of these two documents, with some additional pastoral commentary.

    Dr. Peters?

  21. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Matt R,

    I agree completely with your observation about the complexity of the Council and the task of ensuring that it is understood in light of tradition. You’ve also focused on the issue that seems to be at the root of the SSPX’s difficulty, i.e. Dignitatis Humanae. One can only hope that they come to understand that its contents are neither revolutionary nor heretical.

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