ASK FATHER: Am I obliged to receive Communion?

From a reader…


As a recently baptized Catholic (2016, entirely in the traditional form), I am used to attending the TLM or a NO mass at a monastery (and so without EMHCs). I occasionally sing in a choir at a Sunday afternoon mass (NO) at the cathedral near my home. I was just “called out” by one of my fellow singers (who is a friar from a new community in the area) for not receiving communion during the mass. He claimed that all faithful rightfully disposed are obliged to receive communion at each mass they attend. While I know this is not entirely correct, and I was quite bothered by his intrusion into my personal life (“Did you not go to confession?”, etc.), upon reflection, I did realize that, besides other “normal” reasons like not having gone to confession, already attending mass with my family in the morning, etc., I have not received communion while singing in the choir because it is distributed by a friar, who is not a priest, from a choir loft tabernacle. I have also been bothered by the speed of communion and the audible crunching noises as everyone has “chomped down” on the host in order to sing the next piece of music. Also, with all the singing (since I am a professional musician), I sometimes feel that I’m fulfilling a role as a singer at that moment, more than participating in the mass as a member of the faithful, especially since the cathedral mass isn’t the mass I attend with my family. Am I within my bounds here, Father? These are events that troubled my soul at the moment of communion, but should I have been looking past them, especially my “concerns” about the person handling the host? I would appreciate any clarification you could offer on this manner.

There are a lot of issues in what you wrote.   Certainly the manner of reception of Communion by others, when irreverent, is off-putting.  You wonder if they believe in the Eucharist.   Then again, you wonder if they have ever seen anything else, from their parents or parishioners or co-religionists (of whatever religion it is that they think they belong to).

However, let’s make this part clear.  You are obliged by the Church’s law to receive Holy Communion once a year, at Easter or in the Easter season (can. 920).  You are obliged to confess and receive sacramental absolution once a year (can. 989).  The two obligations are logically connected, if not formally connected.

That is what your obligation is.   You are not obliged to receive Communion at any other Mass during the rest of the year.

You are obliged to attend Mass on all days of obligations (i.e., all Sundays and some of the great feasts, etc.).  You are not obliged to receive Communion at all Masses of obligation.   As a matter of fact there are times when you may be obliged not to receive, as when you know you are not in the state of grace or properly disposed by a fast to which you are bound.

Many people find it beneficial to receive Communion more than once a year.  The Eucharist has been described as the “source and the summit” of the Church’s activity.  If that is so, then our own activity as Catholics is bound to the Eucharist and to the Eucharist’s celebration, which is Holy Mass.

Receiving Communion in the state of grace is the apex of our “active participation” at Mass.

Friar Buttinsky should mind his own business.    Similarly, perhaps you would also do well to take less note of how others may be receiving.   Barring actual nefarious sacrileges, you should mind your own manner of receiving.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mibethda says:

    To the list of reasons for not receiving Communion can be added that one may not receive Communion more than twice in the same day (and, on the second occasion, only in the course of a Mass in which the person participates) unless in danger of death. Canons 917 and 921.2

  2. Sawyer says:

    I am pretty involved at my parish. I once had a nosy EMHC ask me why I hadn’t received Communion. There are such nosy people in Catholic parishes. Believe me, it adds to the pressure to go to Communion when improperly disposed if you are aware that people are taking notes about who does or doesn’t receive. Terrible thing to subject people to.

  3. Nan says:

    The difficulty of the choir loft is that it’s far more convenient to send someone up than the choir to come down. While I have a strong preference to receive from a priest, which is the only option in my little church, I have sung in the choir of a church that never bothered changing Mass, and they sent someone up.

    The bottom line is that it’s up to you to receive or not receive and your reason is nobody’s business.

    I’d be interested to know more about that Friar, whether he’s new, misguided and trying to be helpful, whether he’s the Friar giving communion and feels slighted or whether he thinks that everyone should receive every time.

    My parish is reviving its choir and I may be faced with descending a 100 yr old staircase in order to receive communion. It would be so much easier if someone came up, but that isn’t an option in the Byzantine Rite.

  4. ex seaxe says:

    I can’t find the reference for this, Google is no help on this subject! but – one of the Early Fathers advised that when recieving the Sacred Host you should “chew on it as you would nibble the ear of a lover”. (Presumably he was using leavened bread, I do not know whether he had personal ear nibbling experience). My point is not that we should adopt his advice, but that it is possible to be holy and wise and still to have a different viewpoint, particularly in individual spiritual practice.
    In relation to the minister of communion – some Eastern churches take the idea of not self-administering to the point that the celebrant does not receive directly but is given the elements by a deacon.

  5. There are good reasons not to receive Communion. And looks like Father covered it!

    Having been in parish choirs for close to 30 years, I get that receiving at Mass when singing is typically less optimal. We are focused on the first downbeat of the next piece. That is how it is. Its hard to pray and very hard to make a recollected thanksgiving. [Though I like to think there are graces associated with the vocation and its sacrifices]. Because of this difficulty obvious to any church musicologist or performer, there used to be a pious tradition of the ‘choir Mass’ before sung Masses in big cathedrals. This would be a very quick private low Mass, no sermon or anything, allowing reverent attention to Mass and Communion. Then sung Mass could be done with less irreverence – thus proof that praying while singing at a Mass used to be recognized as pretty hard – and especially when the music is challenging. You can imagine how this fell out of favor LOL – makes a long day. Going to Mass earlier with the family is a great idea.

    Also, in reference to chewing the Host, chewing in and of itself is not the problem nor intrinsically irreverent. Catholics are taught to not chew so that no particle gets stuck on the teeth and put at risk for expelling [by coughing or sneezing, etc]. And besides a recollected silence, the reason we aren’t supposed to speak with the Host in our mouth or after swallowing is to stop any risk of expelling the tiniest particle. But now, on top of rare confessions and sacrilegious Communions, in the days of unconsecrated unordained hands blithely handling the Eucharist and priests ignoring when a Host falls on the floor or the Cup spills – details about reverent reception seem way beyond the normal sheep who don’t see devotion in action to teach them. People just don’t know.

    Being in close proximity with fellow singers, its hard not to notice everyone’s behavior. Especially egregious irreverent angering ones. If its that bad, keep your eyes closed and don’t look around if you don’t already. [and those clenched teeth! ha!] Don’t be distracted from holding God within you or making a spiritual Communion. Be the reverent, still example for those few moments.

    I’m sorry to hear of such difficulties with poorly informed religious and uneducated laity. That is tough. Be the reverent example. Exhibit patience [extra hard for the artistic types with the passionate temperament!]. Hope it gets better.

  6. APX says:

    When I was young I used to be disturbed by the organist sticking one hand out to receive and popping the host into his mouth while he continued to play.

    Did I read that correctly? There’s a Tabernacle in the choir loft? Is that even allowed given the irreverence that goes on up there?

    Personally, the most distracting part of singing in the hour during Mass isn’t so much being focused on the music, but rather people talking and visiting with each other during Mass and the sermon.

    Also, if you’re singing the parts of the Mass and singing actual hymns, you are praying and actively participating in the Mass. I use what’s being sung at Communion as part of my communion thanksgiving and even the closing hymn (if it’s appropriate), and make a habit of singing it from the heart and making it an offering.

  7. Legisperitus says:

    Catholics who are properly disposed may always choose to make a spiritual Communion instead (as long as the Easter duty is fulfilled), and this can work to the good of one’s fellow parishioners. The more normal this practice becomes, the less social pressure for those who are not properly disposed to go up and make a sacrilegious Communion.

  8. AlisonJF says:

    May I add medical reasons to the list of reasons not to receive communion sacramentally? Been through long periods of extreme exclusion diets and attempts to get food allergies under control.

    (I am able to receive regularly again, with enormous gratitude to our understanding priests who have to make an extra effort for me to be able to receive safely. As if they haven’t got enough to think about already. They don’t complain though. They rejoice when I am able to receive communion sacramentally. They’re inspiring.)

  9. IacobusM says:

    I would underscore the comment above that interrogating someone about why they are not receiving encourages sacrilegious reception of the Eucharist. Talk about putting somebody on the spot!

  10. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I imagine that people are nosier because the OP is a new Catholic. They probably feel protective and worried.

    But inquiring about stuff like other Catholics’ Communion reception should rarely be done, and only with a lot of explicit saying that it is not your business. Because it isn’t.

    Re: lack of quiet reception – What kind of choir eats noisily? Is it a denture problem?

  11. Cafea Fruor says:

    Wow. I can’t believe (well, really, I guess I can…) that a friar would be that intrusive. It’s none of his business. There are times when I don’t receive Communion that have nothing to do with not having been to confession. Sometimes I go to Mass right after work and happened to have had a snack or cup of tea late enough that I wouldn’t make the fast. Sometimes I don’t receive because, even though I’m in a state of grace, maybe I’ve not had a good attitude toward the Lord and need to refrain for the sake of not taking Him for granted. If someone ever asked me what this friar asked (and in years of working for the Church, I’ve never had that happen), I’d say something like, “That’s between me, my spiritual director, and the Lord.”

  12. Gerard Plourde says:

    Two Comments:

    First – As well-meaning as the friar may be, his inquiry as described was inappropriate. If our questioner had expressed his/her reasons, the friar could have made an effort to reassure that Our Lord gladly invites all who are not in the state of Mortal Sin, who are properly disposed and in conformance with Canons 917 and 921.2 to partake of His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity contained in the Sacred Host. [Which doesn’t oblige them to receive.] If it were the second Mass attended by the questioner, following the counsel of St. Augustine that “he who sings prays twice”, that being part of the choir certainly counts as participation in the Mass. [NB: Augustine didn’t say or write that.]

    I do have a question regarding the practice of spiritual communion – Is it stated anywhere that this practice in any way provides the grace inherent in the actual reception of the Sacrament?

    [Spiritual Commununion is a different topic.]

  13. I can’t usually receive Communion when I’m singing for our Sunday Missa Cantata – purely because I find it painful to get down from the choir loft and back up again quickly and yet with enough puff to lead the singing of the Communion antiphon… so I just go to Communion on other days instead. I feel a twinge of sadness / loss, but it is to aid the celebration of the Mass, so I’m sure God understands… and I’ve told Him that if He isn’t happy about it, to give me a miracle cure for arthritic knees!

  14. yatzer says:

    I’ve been given the impression that we should always go to Communion. I’m a convert without the best background. What IS the good of Mass without Communion?

  15. JGavin says:

    I knew the answer to this one leaving Grammar school at age 13. I am astounded that that a professed religious does not know this and has the temerity to stick his nose in this believer’s situation. I remember reading that frequent reception of Holy Communion is a recent (last one hundred years or so) practice. It may be that the our forebears in the faith knew intuitively that the quote attributed to Franklin that “familiarity breeds contempt” may in some ways be applicable here. By emphasizing the reception of the Eucharist over attendance for the sacrifice brings this fairly horrific misconception?
    I likewise am reluctant to receive from an extraordinary minister. ( For one thing they seem hardly extraordinary these days) However, I remind myself that the person distributing communion can not alter or change the nature of that Host once consecrated. It is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It could be shoved down my gullet by some Red Guard person or Communist in an effort to defile and demean but it does not change the nature of that host. I would suggest reading the Sequence for Corpus Christi, Lauda Sion. It is marvelous. I used it for a reflection after reception for years. The sacrificial nature of the Mass has been so deemphasized that we become complacent.

  16. Gabriel Syme says:


    I’ve been given the impression that we should always go to Communion. I’m a convert without the best background. What IS the good of Mass without Communion?

    Don’t worry about being a convert – you will probably know more than many cradle catholics! I tend to find converts make for the most informed and zealous Catholics.

    In most parishes, yes, everyone troops up for communion without a second thought. This is because contemporary Catholics – undoubtedly the most poorly instructed Catholics in all history – are not taught about sin, grace or the need to be properly disposed to receive communion.

    A good priest I know was thrown out of the Archdiocese he was working in, (Dublin), because he attempted to teach schoolchildren about these things. The teachers complained to the local ordinary that a Catholic priest was instructing people about Catholicism and so poor Fr was sacrificed on the altar of modernist appeasement.

    Today there is a mindset that communion is chiefly about the Church affirming people and accordingly some see it as exclusionary or judgmental to refuse someone communion, or suggest they might not be properly disposed to received. Which is absurd.

    Traditionally, communion lines were short and confession lines long. Today we have the precise opposite, which is a big problem. The precepts (rules) of the Church only ask that Catholics receive communion at least once per year, around Easter. This reflects the traditional reserve, rather than the glib attitude of today.

    It is still very worthwhile to go to mass, even if you don’t take communion.

    All of God, Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church have authoritatively bound us to attend Church and “keep the Sabbath Holy”. So we are in fact obliged to attend.

    Plus, we can receive graces at mass (if our soul is in the right state) and it is pleasing to God to offer Him worship. And we might learn something, or be inspired, from hearing a good homily.

    So there are still lots of reasons to go and possible benefits, even if we do not receive communion.

    When I first started attending the traditional mass, I was honestly deeply shocked to see people not go to Communion and was horrified at the thought of not going myself. But, gradually, as I learned more, I came to understand properly and so now I always make sure to consider if I should go or not.

    This has had the benefit of increasingly my frequency at confession – because obviously we want to receive. This in turn has had the benefit of helping me reflect on my own weaknesses, in terms of the kind of sins I might fall into with regularity, (the things I found myself confessing often), and so I can fight my faults and resist temptation more effectively. Catholicism is brilliant, if you try to “do it properly”.

    Nowadays, on the rare occasion I find myself at a modern mass (such as at a recent funeral), I am shocked to see all and sundry reliably troop up to receive, as well as by the manner in which communion is distributed and by whom.

    I personally avoid receiving Communion at the modern mass because I do not wish to receive in the manner of protestants and I also consider it sacrilegious for lay people to handle the Eucharist. If lay people can handle the Eucharist, what is the point of a priest and his consecrated hands?

  17. Mary-Kathleen says:

    yatzer: The good of the Mass is the grace we receive: “it is through the Sacrifice contained in the Mass that every grace which has come into the world has come”

  18. ex seaxe says:

    At the blog Canticum Salomonis they are working through Honorius Augustodunensis 12th century liturgical commentary Gemma animae, written before the Roman church decided on unleavened bread. In describing the fraction at a solemn papal mass Honorius wrote “The pope does not break the oblation, but rather tears a morsel off with his teeth and places the rest in the chalice ”
    Liturgical practices, and our ideas of reverence, both change over time.

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  20. ic78 says:

    I’m the person who asked the question. Father, thank you for your answer, and thanks to everyone else for your additional support and tips.

    I feel that I wasn’t as clear as I should have been: my intention wasn’t to judge how others received communion. From a practical standpoint, I didn’t see how I could do so in such a quick manner then sing a piece of Renaissance polyphony after. I did not mean to imply that I was concerned about whether or not others felt comfortable doing so, only that, as I saw it, the rapidity led to a strange experience of having to “chomp down”.

    To fill in the gaps, I receive communion on a frequent basis and always according to what the Church asks of the faithful. In fact, I had just received on Thursday at a weekday mass when I was approached by this person concerning the past Sunday! Perhaps out of pride, but certainly out of surprise and a bit of anger, I did not explain myself to him. However, what prompted me to ask the question of Father Z—and perhaps this was not clear in my question—was whether or not it was right to avoid communion for reasons such as I stated, i.e., being bothered by the distribution by a non ordained friar or by the fact that I couldn’t commune fast enough to sing the next piece of music. I appreciate all the answers others have added that helped me with this.

    Once again, thank you for the tips and kind words! This blog has been a big help for me as I came into the Church.

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