ASK FATHER: Absolution from a heretical priest and then going to Communion

From a reader…


Today I went to confession during Sunday Mass at my parish (Novus Ordo, run by a religious order) [Why do I smell trouble?], and even though the priest (not the parish priest) said “I absolve you”, I also know (for many months now) that there’s a high possibility that he denies the existence of hell.

So I have two questions Father:

  1. Is the absolution given by priests who are heretics or possible heretics valid?
  2. Since I received Holy Communion during Mass, not knowing for sure the answer to the first question, did I commit Eucharistic desecration and/or sacrilege?

Thank you Father, and always have the courage to fight for God and thank you too for your blog.

Ad primum.   The absolution given by heretical priests is more than likely valid, just as is the consecration during Mass by heretics.  Provided that they say, do and intend what the Church intends by those acts, without a real act of will within themselves to deny what the Church intends – that is, saying to themselves “I intend to pretend to doing this”, then the absolution is valid.  The old phrase is that “the minister must have the intention at least of doing what the Church does”.  It could be that the minister has some faulty notions about the Church, but if he intends to make his own the Church’s own intention, the sacrament is validly administered.  Hence, in the case of emergency baptism, even an atheist can validly baptize, so long as she, when she pours the water and says the proper words, has the intention of doing for that person what the Church intends, whether she believes in what the Church teaches or not.

Remember that validity of sacraments depends not on the holiness of the priest, or his knowledge, or the accuracy of his notions.  Christ is the true administrator of the Sacrament of Penance and absolution through His agent the priest, alter Christus by reason of Holy Orders.

So, if Father Heretic gets into a confessional and hears confessions and gives absolution, he more than likely has at least an internal intention to administer a sacrament.  The absolution is, therefore, valid (provided he uses at least the minimal form).

Ad secundum:  You more than likely did not commit a sacrilege by going to Communion.  Even if you had a measure of doubt about the validity of the absolution at the time, you were not at the time of Communion sure that you were in the state of mortal sin.   You might have had a doubt or two, but you were not convinced that you were in the state of mortal sin.

If a person is sure that she is in the state of mortal sin, she cannot, must not, may not go to Holy Communion.  She is obliged not to receive, because she knows that she is in the state of sin and that Communion would be a sacrilege, compounding sin with sin.

If a person is in sincere doubt about her state, truly doesn’t know if she is in the state of grace, she can go to Communion.  Of course she should make a good act of contrition and resolve to go to confession, or to seek clarity about her state.  However, if she says, “I could be in the state of grace” or “I could be in the state of sin”, it is still permissible to go.  Mind you, that is not the optimal way to communicate, but remember the Lord’s mercy and the intention of one who cries, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” and as well, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Of course nobody is obliged to receive Communion at this or that Mass!  If a person has doubts about her state, really doesn’t know, it is also perfectly acceptable not to receive.  As a matter of fact, if receiving would increase anxiety rather than bring comfort and peace, then by all means stay in the pew and pray.

The point is this.  If you know that you are not in the state of grace, don’t receive Communion.  That would be quite wicked and a real mistake.  If you are not sure, you think you are in the state of grace, but you are not quite sure, you can still go to Communion, even though it is perfectly okay not to go.



You won’t have to worry about these things.

And pray for your priest confessors.  Pray for them.  If they are heretics, do what you can to help them out.  Some of these poor guys were cheated in seminary and even in basic catechism.  That means that, before you approach them or make judgments about them, you really have to know your stuff.  The problem is, these days, a lot of lay people don’t know that they don’t know things and they don’t know what they don’t know.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    It might be a good idea to remind people of the Donatists who heretically held that Sacraments were valid or fruitful only if the minister was worthy. Of course that undermines any trust in the Sacrament itself, because you can never know whether the man is worthy. The truth : Matter + Form + Minister + Intention = Sacrament, thankfully. That might be the “Get Out of Jail” card in this modern mess.

    Regarding doubts, Prümmer and others would seem to differentiate between a negative and positive doubt. A negative doubt is a worry, “what if” or “maybe”. A positive doubt has some factual foundation—a real reason, even if only slight.

    Whittling down Prümmer to basics : If you have a negative doubt, go to Communion. If you have a positive doubt, refrain, make a spiritual communion (the value of which is often forgotten these days) and solve the doubt, because if you act on the doubt you are accepting the consequences.

    “I think this might be a mortal sin, but I’m not sure, but I’m going to do it anyways” = mortal sin, since you fully consented to the possibility of mortal sin when you fully consented to act while still in doubt.

    So, if you just have this worried feeling, go to Communion. If the devil is trying to convince you you’ve not said what you needed as well as you needed but you didn’t purposefully withhold, go to Communion. If Father Confessor is a schmuck, you’re probably right, but still, go to Communion.

    If you had a bit too much to drink and don’t exactly remember last night, but have convinced yourself that it might be a mortal sin, or you think it could be, but you’re usually careful, except that one time, but … make a spiritual communion instead and have a chat with the schmuck in the box.

    Still, like Fr Z often says, go to confession. You don’t need mortals sins for confession, but bring `em if you got `em.

    [Ahhhh… Prümmer! You are an Unreconstructed Ossified Manualist after my own heart. That’s the clerical equivalent, by the way, of NASA’s Steely-eyed Missile Man.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. tzard says:

    Notice he said he went to confession DURING Mass! How nice to have that rare option.

    [It’s a very GOOD option. Hopefully in places where there are more than one priest it will be offered.]

  3. KateD says:

    Can one ask the priest, “Excuse me, Father. Before we begin, I have a quick question. Do you believe in Hell? And is it your intention to absolve me of my sin so that I am freed from surfing the pains of it?” Is it permissible to ask such a quick question in a confessional before saying, “Forgive me Father….”.

    I’d be tempted to lean in and ask that before actually entering the booth if I was unsure. He could of course lie, but wouldn’t I be off the hook? And maybe it would bring the question to the forefront of his mind and make him realize he is putting that vibe out there. Perhaps it would spark some introspection and help him get back on the right track.

  4. LA says:

    I think Fr_Andrew’s comments above, while great, need an asterisk. For those diagnosed by a good regular confessor with scruples, they will always worry that “I might be in mortal sin” because of X,Y, or Z reasons. They would therefore always have to refrain from Sacramental Communion if they applied the “positive doubt” rule. So, they need to go by their confessor’s particular advice with regards to receiving Communion in doubt.

  5. surritter says:

    “If you know that you are not in the state of grace, don’t receive Communion.”
    If I may amend to this…not just “don’t receive Communion,” but don’t leave the pew. Stay there and simply pray quietly.

    Too many people waltz up to the priest (or worse yet, the EMHC) and fold their arms for a blessing. I know they mean well — and were probably instructed to do that — but it’s NOT the time for such a blessing. We all get a very nice blessing at the end of Holy Mass.

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