ASK FATHER: Sex before Communion

UPDATE 15 July 2019:

Rev. Mr. Kandra remarked at his blog about this post.   He disappoints.

The non-canonist deacon disagrees with the canonical arguments of the esteemed canonist Ed Peters.  Fine.  Kandra can state a position and attempt to defend it. So can Peters.   That’s not the disappointment.

What disappoints is the flippancy with which Kandra treated the issue of continence for deacons.  He concludes…

Meantime, the Church has moved on to more pressing matters.

Regarding his last point: I suspect many would greet that admonition the same way they greeted Humanae Vitae.

“More pressing matters”?  Like… what?  Climate change?

This is a big fail because a major component in long-building Present Crisis has to do with the eroded identity of Holy Church’s clergy.   It is hard to think of a “more pressing matter” than clerical identity.   Who is the cleric and how should the cleric live is at the core of many problems we face today.  Are married deacons clerics or not?   Remember, there are married priests out there, too.

In the post above, I cited how seriously GOD takes priestly continence in the episode at the mountain before the Law was imposed (because of disobedience).  The Church has taken clerical continence seriously for a long time and for good reason.   If married permanent deacons want to be taken seriously as clergy, they need to take issues that concern clergy seriously and not just blow them off.

And moving to that second part, and the reference to Humanae vitae… how to read that?

If I understand Kandra correctly, I think he is referring to the fact that many lay people ignored or willfully and knowingly violated the Church’s teaching concerning contraception.  Many of them did this because their clergy told them they could and should.  I may be wrong, but it seems that Kandra is, with that Humanae vitae reference, suggesting to his married diaconal confreres ignore or disobey the admonition in the Roman Catechism.

There may be a newer catechism since the Roman Catechism, but that doesn’t make the Roman Catechism into a nothing.  This is a serious issue addressed by serious and saintly theologians (including St. Charles Borromeo).  They didn’t include that admonition for the heck of it.   Clearly they thought there was a spiritual good in it and, therefore, a good for the whole people of God.

One of the traps of modernists is the erroneous notion that we of this, our 21st century, are more mature, more sophisticated, better now than our benighted forebears.   We’ve outgrown all that old stuff and can put it aside without any qualms.  Who cares what the letter says?  Who cares what our predecessors thought or admonished?   We know better.

I’m not saying that I think Rev. Mr. Kandra is a modernist.  I’m saying that this is a modernist trap into which many people can and have fallen.

In any event, canonical issues aside, I think that this is a serious issue precisely because it concerns a key and divinely instituted component in our collective Catholic identity.

 

___ Originally Published on: Jul 14, 2019

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

The Roman Catechism (Trent) says that a couple should abstain from the marital act at least three days before receiving Holy Communion. I have read that this, though still advisable, is not required under current law. Please advise? Thanks and Jesus and Mary be with you.

In a section concerning the ends of marriage, the Roman Catechism – intended to improve the preaching of priests in parishes – temporary abstinence from the marital act is recommended for the sake of greater prayer.

It was recommended.  It is not required by law.

This is still an issue in the case of married permanent deacons.  Canonists such as Ed Peters argues – convincingly – that, as clerics, they are obliged to abstinence by can. 277 and tradition upon which it rests.

Unlike angels, we humans have both body and soul.  It therefore makes sense that people should prepare in both soul and also body for reception of Holy Communion.

In our souls we prepare by making an examination of conscience, confession of sins, prayer and meditation on the profound implications of such a daring act.

In our bodies we prepare through self-denial of bodily appetites which, obviously, includes sexual desires.

Food is good.  Sex is good (natural sex, of course, not the same-sex filth that makes even the demons turn away their gaze).  We practice denying ourselves good things.  These mortifications and sacrifices are good for us.

Abstinence, especially for clergy, is attested to in Scripture.  It was the will of God that, before His descent upon them after the Exodus, men (they were all priestly then) should abstain from sexual intercourse.  They weren’t even to set their feet on the mountain.   They violated God’s will and, as a result, since they weren’t to be trusted on their own God imposed more laws on them.  The Roman Catechism also cites the example of David, who abstained from sexual relations for three days before receiving the show-bread from the priest.   Of course David is a priestly-king. But by baptism, the baptized participate in Christ’s three-fold office.

Remember too that while the Roman Catechism advocates frequent Communion, it comes from an era when Communion was received relatively rarely, even as seldom as once a year. The Church did have to demand, as a matter of a “commandment of the Church” to receive Communion at least once a year.

It is a matter of conjecture to consider the relationship between the infrequency of Communion and the strong admonishment to refrain from sex for three days before Communion.

It is perhaps a sign of the times that, now, bodily preparation for Communion is so attenuated. It is as if the post-Conciliar Church succumbed to the “ghost in the machine” view of man.  Abstinence from food before Communion devolved.  It was, once, from midnight onward.  Then it was for three hours.  Now it is a laughable one hour before Communion under normal circumstances.   But at least there is a law about the Eucharistic fast.  There is nothing whatsoever about sexual abstinence, not even a recommendation.

And it isn’t as if practicing Catholics are going to Communion once a year only.   They go all the time.  It has gotten to be that people think they haven’t been to Mass if they haven’t received Communion. FAIL!  People think that they have to go to Communion.  FAIL!  The result is that there is now a kind of psychological pressure to receive which overrides sound judgement about being in the state of mortal sin.

Heck, Amoris laetitia has even given license to adulterers who are not living in continence to go to Communion.   Ideologues are on the ascendancy right now, and therefore totalitarianism, with its tenet, “Everything that is not forbidden is compulsory”.  Both Communion and sex are now obligatory, even for adulterers.

I wonder what would happen if the Church started to admonish married people to abstain from sexual relations for three days before Communion.

Or, let’s be post-Conciliar, and say one day.

Or, let’s be post-Conciliar and into Amoris laetitia, and say maybe only one hour?  Including adulterers?

No, that’ll be shouted down too.

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25 Responses to ASK FATHER: Sex before Communion

  1. richiedel says:

    Fr. Z, A reference may be added to St. Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue when noting even demons turn away their gaze from that same-sex filth.

  2. bobbird says:

    For another twist on this topic, what of devout couples who are daily communicants? Especially those who are still in their fertile years?
    Another item Fr. Z mentioned is regarding communion fasting. As a child, I saw that my mother denied herself HC for years as a sacrifice in an effort to bring about a certain prayer she had, most likely for the conversion of our Dad. This might have been the result of a local Italian custom and discipline that she learned as a child. I once read about it but not sure where. I am guessing she was told by her confessor to halt the practice. But these were Latin Mass days and many people attended w/o receiving HC. We were amazed when one day she went to HC, but never asked her about all this until decades later.

  3. I’m probably going be brutally criticized for this comment, but I feel compelled to make it. How can unmarried people be expected to abstain from sexual activity day after day, month after month, year after year; in fact for their entire lifetime (assuming they never marry), if married people are bad examples to them? Just two examples: married couples (of all ages) speaking openly and often jokingly and irreverently about their sexual conduct when in the presence of unmarried people (of all ages) and authors and screenwriters doing as much and worse in books, TV shows and movies. Imagine a conversation with unmarried people revealing they can’t even abstain for three days.

  4. rcg says:

    In the context of the rare communion and the requirement for at least once a year on Easter if possible I wonder if it was an imposed abstinence during Triduum?

  5. Hidden One says:

    Fredi D’Alessio has a point.

    Married Catholics need to be very careful about how and when they speak about such things.

    Some married Catholics are not.

  6. Charles Sercer says:

    Fred, one way to attain to God’s law on sexual purity (aside from the main one of frequenting the sacraments) is to avoid temptations. So in the case of the two examples you gave:

    1) avoid the company of people who think it is appropriate to talk in such a manner, or, if they are your good friends and are truly good, moral people, to respectfully but firmly request that they do not speak that way in front of you; and

    2) refrain from watching and reading material that does what you describe. Most material out there today is, at best, a near occasion of sin or not conducive to a life of virtue – or at worst, objectively wrong and at complete odds with the life of purity/all virtue.

  7. mysticalrose says:

    Given the realities of NFP, three days abstinence from weekly communion (today’s norm) would basically be choosing a Josephite marriage. I think my husband would de-convert!

  8. Deborah Y says:

    I would hazzard a guess that a contemporary Catholic married couple practicing NFP abstains from relations far more days than a married couple observing the three day guideline before infrequent communion in previous eras. Humbly following the Church’s teaching in this regard can also be seen as a beautiful sacrifice and preperation for receiving Holy Communion.

  9. Stepheno says:

    Dear Fredi, you need to find some new married couple friends. Peace.

  10. TonyO says:

    if married people are bad examples to them? Just two examples: married couples (of all ages) speaking openly and often jokingly and irreverently about their sexual conduct when in the presence of unmarried people (of all ages)

    I know plenty of married folk who do not, ever, talk about their sexual conduct in front of unmarried people – or in front of married people, for that matter: it’s supposed to be private between the two who are married, and being private about it in speech is just one part of being modest about it overall.

    Imagine a conversation with unmarried people revealing they can’t even abstain for three days.

    Hah, the funny thing is that both married folk, and those who are unmarried but living together long term, exhibit somewhat similar frequency of sexual relations. Overall, on the average, it tends toward about 1 in 6 or 7 days, with some cultural and (obviously) age differences. That leaves plenty of room for abstaining for 3 days before receiving Communion. On the other hand:

    what of devout couples who are daily communicants?

    That’s just what I was going to ask. What, especially, of a couple who WANT to conceive a child and earnestly hope for that gift, but who are daily communicants? Well, it remains true that even for them, there will OFTEN be stretches of 3 or 4 or 5 days where they don’t have sexual relations without any intent to adjust things for conception. (Normal married people (especially those with kids already) simply don’t have the time and energy for sex every day or every other day – even those without kids generally don’t.) This is where, I think, Fr. Z’s comment about the plague of EXPECTING everyone in the Church to receive Communion has landed us. If there were no such expectation, it might be rather common to see 2/3 of the people at daily mass receive Communion, and the other 1/3 or so not receive. Would this be a not-good thing? I think the Church has some thinking and teaching to do: while receiving Jesus is (always) a moment of receiving grace (if one is not in a state of mortal sin), is there a possibility that waiting 3 days to receive with a better disposition would be even better in terms of grace and the benefit to one’s soul, all other things being equal? Or is the benefit of receiving each of those 3 days generally going to outweigh the benefits of preparing more thoroughly? What about the aspect of “give us this day our daily bread”, especially with respect to daily temptations? St. Augustine taught (I believe) that in sexual relations all men sin venially – does the Church still consider this sound teaching or has she adjusted her thought on this? If so, that might bear strongly on the best advice to those who go to mass daily.

  11. JonathanTX says:

    The mentality of the Post-Concilliar Church: tldf; too long, didn’t fast.

  12. APX says:

    I have noticed a number of women who think nothing about discussing their conjugal lives openly and publicly on Facebook or in their groups at the table after Mass. It’s as if married people have no sense of what’s appropriate conversation in public and what isn’t. For myself it’s not an occasion of sin, but it is a TMI thing. Spare me the details if you don’t mind. Maybe it’s time for sermons on modesty in speech rather than in dress.

  13. Imrahil says:

    That is tacitly assuming that once a month is the utmost for the most devout. Given that we laudably have gotten over that assumption… no longer recommended. Not even recommended.

    Abstaining the previous night might be a different story, though; that still sounds sensible as a recommendation, and something the Church could possibly introduce as a rule if she chose to do so. – What about daily Communicants? Well, this is the general problem of “I am at Mass and could lawfully Communicate, but, well, if I had specifically prepared for Communion on this day, I’d have done more which the Church does not now require”. I personally tend to Communicate in such cases.

    —-

    St. Augustine taught (I believe) that in sexual relations all men sin venially – does the Church still consider this sound teaching or has she adjusted her thought on this?

    St. Augustine was something of a strict person, but St. Thomas quotes him to the contrary, so actually I doubt whether it’s true. In any case, no, this is not sound teaching – the traditional teaching (such as exposed, I think, but cannot now find, by St. Thomas) (leaving open the question whether not even this was one of the rare cases where “modern softening” was actually appropriate) was that consummating the marriage was only a sin, and then a venial one, when the motive (as they said), which means the prevailing motive and not the additional benefit (as I say), was lust. For any other motives, it is quite meritorious; such as (as they expressly mentioned) i) to beget offspring, ii) to “pay the debt”, that is, because the spouse asks for it, iii) to prevent one’s spouse from this venial sin in charity by asking before he does in lust; I might add iv) for any other not lustful primary motive, such as celebrating one’s wedding anniversary or birthday or Carnival or the like.

    In any case, one can Communicate after a venial sin.

  14. Thank you to those who commented on the point I was trying to make. Unfortunately I completely failed to do so. As a married person, I was expressing my concern and compassion for single all folks. whether they desire to live chaste lives or not. Society makes it extra difficult for them to do so. Married people especially should have compassion for them. Most people aren’t going to abstain from reading books, watching TV or movies or choose to isolate themselves from family members or friends who have sexually active lives, legitimately or not. There’s no escape. Just take a fairly harmless TV show like ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ for example (I chose that show because the couple is married). If you’ve never seen it, watch it for awhile and observe how superficially marital sex is treated, but more so how often the topic comes up in the scripts. Maybe there are some single folks who can understand the point I’m trying to make.

  15. The tradition of abstaining from one’s conjugal rights has a long history in the Church. In the East, married priests fast on the night before offering Sacrifice at Sunday Divine Liturgy, just as they fast from everything else. That is why there is no tradition of “daily Mass” among Eastern churches. It is also not uncommon for married couples to abstain on Fridays, Wednesdays, and even throughout penitential seasons. All that being said, the practice of abstinence the night before is reasonable enough, and the rights of those validly married to the rights and privileges of that state in life must surely outweigh a the decree in question, which at its heart can only be taken as a pious opinion.

  16. veritas vincit says:

    Reading Deacon Kandra’s post in context, I understand that he thinks the issue of abstinence from sex prior to receiving Holy Communion, is a minor matter in the Church today. Given the silence from priests and the hierarchy regarding sexual sins of all types, ranging from contraception to fornication to same-sex acts, I have to agree. The only quibble I would have with his post is that he is not careful to distinguish the recommendation to abstain before receiving, with the sin of contraception.

  17. APX says:

    As a married person, I was expressing my concern and compassion for single all folks. whether they desire to live chaste lives or not. Society makes it extra difficult for them to do so.
    As someone who hasn’t “opened Pandora’s Box”, it’s really not that difficult. Maybe as a woman, thus not getting a free pass to make excuses for why it’s too difficult, it’s just easier to say no and to move on.

  18. Charivari Rob says:

    ” I may be wrong, but it seems that Kandra is, with that Humanae vitae reference, suggesting to his married diaconal confreres ignore or disobey the admonition…”

    I wouldn’t think he was doing anything of the sort. He was replying to your last point (the last thing in his excerpt of your original post), which referred to the hypothetical situation of such an admonition to married couples in general, not just deacons and their wives.

    “wonder what would happen if the Church started to admonish married people to abstain from sexual relations for three days before Communion.”

  19. veritas vincit says: Reading Deacon Kandra’s post in context, I understand that he thinks the issue of abstinence from sex prior to receiving Holy Communion, is a minor matter in the Church today.

    Actually, what Deacon Kandra described as a minor matter was not sex before Communion, but the question whether continence is required of married deacons.

    As for the enlightened 21st century, wherein we are entitled to set aside the traditions of our benighted forebears, my response to that is that after two centuries of bloody revolutions, world wars, genocides, and murder on an industrial scale (including abortions), no century in human history has ever been less entitled to claim enlightenment.

  20. TonyO says:

    APX: good point.

  21. Hi, Father Z. Thanks for your thoughts. I just wanted to add one footnote. I’d linked to this in my earlier post, but I suspect a lot of people didn’t read it.

    In 2012, when this issue first became a hot potato, the Vatican weighed in, with a judgment from the CDF. Below is my post from then for those who might have missed it — which, to my way of thinking, shows that this was not a “pressing matter” for the Church at that time. It does not appear to have been a “pressing matter” since then, either, since the rest is silence (despite suggestions from our friend Dr. Peters to revise the Code of Canon Law.) Evidently, no one in Rome thinks that’s necessary.

    My post:

    In January [of 2012], the USCCB issued the following letter to bishops, from Bishop Robert Carlson (Chairman of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations) and Archbishop Timothy Broglio (Chairman of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance). Someone just emailed it to me, and I thought it worth posting in its entirety:

    +++

    In recent months, published opinions have appeared in scholarly journals and on Internet blogs that have raised questions about the observance of diaconal continence by married permanent deacons in the Latin Catholic Church. The opinions have suggested that the clerical obligation to observe “perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (c. 277, §1 CIC) remains binding upon married permanent deacons, despite the dispensation provided to them in canon law from the obligation to observe celibacy (c. 1042, 1° CIC).

    In response to repeated requests for an authoritative clarification on this matter, the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance requested the assistance of the USCCB President in seeking a clarification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

    Earlier this week, we were informed that Cardinal-designate Francesco Coccopalmerio, President of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, with Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary, has forwarded to Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan the Pontifical Council’s observations on the matter (Prot. N. 13095/2011). The observations, which were formulated in consultation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clarify that married permanent deacons are not bound to observe perfect and perpetual continence, as long as their marriage lasts.

    Should you have any questions about this response, please contact Reverend W. Shawn McKnight, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations. In addition, please feel free to share this response with those within your diocesan curia who will find it helpful.

    +++

    Blessings and safe travels,
    Deacon Greg Kandra

    [I am always pleased when he chimes in. He didn’t really address my major concern, but… who knows. and, might I observe, that an opinion from Cocco… well…….. I’m still going to stick with Peters’ view. Let there be a change to Canon Law for the sake of clarity in an important issue.]

  22. frbolin says:

    Dear Father Z,
    As one of the married clergy out there, in particular, a married convert priest, this (clerical continence) is a question that I’ve asked and researched over the years. In my formation process, this was a topic that was not covered at all; I discovered the issue about a year after my ordination. Like you, I find Ed Peters’ arguments very compelling. I’ve asked 2 canonists – the judicial vicar for my diocese, and a member of the CUA Canon Law faculty. The former replied that any right already in possess (such as conjugal rights) are not revoked unless they are specifically revoked. Therefore, the conjugal rights of a married cleric, and those of his spouse, are not revoked simply by virtue of his ordination. The latter essentially said that this was not a priority for the hierarchy. I agree that this is something that needs to be addressed. Either change Canon Law or enforce Canon Law, but we are operating in the sphere of lawless chaos, which will not do – it is unbecoming the Holy Catholic Church. As you’ve stated, part of the origin of the scandals in the Church is directly tied to the identity of our priests. The Eucharist and the Priesthood are tied together; we have to have crystal clear understandings of both. By the way, most of us married clergy are in full agreement with the general discipline of clerical celibacy, understanding that we are the exception to the rule. My own wife knows that, were anything to happen to her, I would actually prefer to go to a monastery or become a hermit. I do not “need” her, but I love her and chose her, much as the Lord says in Scripture “I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated.” My wife and I are both fully capable of living functional lives without each other, and have had to during the occasional geographic separation (one time up to 15 months long). So, please do not talk to me about having my cake and eating it too (I’ve heard this far too often), as my wife even sat me down one day a few years ago with tears in her eyes, asking for a re-balance of things, since the ministry I was pouring myself into was pulling me away from the family.

    Pray for the restoration and exaltation of Holy Mother Church!

  23. Deacon Greg Kandra says: In 2012, when this issue first became a hot potato, the Vatican weighed in, with a judgment from the CDF. Below is my post from then for those who might have missed it — which, to my way of thinking, shows that this was not a “pressing matter” for the Church at that time. It does not appear to have been a “pressing matter” since then, either, since the rest is silence (despite suggestions from our friend Dr. Peters to revise the Code of Canon Law.) Evidently, no one in Rome thinks that’s necessary.

    A matter can be pressing even if not perceived as such.

  24. John Grammaticus says:

    My 2 cents

    The catechism of Trent was published BEFORE St Pius X advocated frequent, nay daily communion and as such its prudential paragraphs should be taken with a heavy dose of advisory salt.

    I can see the sense in abstaining from marital relations in penitential seasons as well as on Fridays, but not in the idea that one is unworthy to receive Communion just because one has had martial relations with ones spouse.

    [The Roman Catechism also advocated frequent Communion.]

  25. Hidden One says:

    We must all remember that then-Abp. Coccopalmerio’s letter was a letter from an authoritative person rather than an authoritative letter.

    As to clerical identity: if the clerical identity of permanent deacons is unimportant, why bother ordaining them? Why not just institute lectors and acolytes and leave it at that?

    The functionalist argument that probably just immediately came to your mind is, if anything, also an argument against ordaining permanent deacons.