From a reader…
Since Sleepy Joe is likely committing sacrilege when the libs allow him to receive Communion, does his sacrilege count for Easter duty?
Or would he have to go to Confession and receive again for the Easter duty to be fulfilled? (We can pray but unfortunately we shouldn’t hold our breath).
GUEST PRIEST RESPONSE: Fr. Tim Ferguson
While I understand the interest, since the President is a public figure and his actions have broad implications, I am also reminded of Our Lord’s words in the Gospel of Matthew regarding taking the plank out of our own eyes before attending to the mote in another’s.
So lets turn the question around. If you were to receive Holy Communion unworthily, would it fulfill your Easter duty?
Short answer – don’t receive Holy Communion unworthily. Go to confession, straighten out your life, get back into a state of grace, and it’s not a problem.
Longer answer – if you’re in a state of sin and cannot receive Holy Communion, you shouldn’t receive Holy Communion. Let’s say that you’re in a second, civil marriage without having a declaration of the nullity of your first attempt at marriage. You’ve come back to the idea that you should practice the faith, but for various reasons (such as young children whose lives would be unjustly disrupted by the separation of their parents) you can’t regularize your situation. Don’t receive Holy Communion. While the Easter duty is binding upon all Catholics who have once received Holy Communion, there is an old principle in canon law that no one is bound to the impossible. You are in a state where it is not possible for you to receive Holy Communion, therefore you cannot fulfill your Easter Duty, but that is not imputable to you since you can’t do it. Let’s take another scenario and say, for example, that you’re a prominent person – let’s call you the Leader of the Free World. Your party supports broad access to abortion, and you value the support of your party more than you value the lives of innocent children in danger of being cruelly ripped from their mothers’ wombs. You speak out – frequently and enthusiastically about preserving “the rights of women to choose,” by which you mean – and everyone knows you mean – access to abortion and infanticide. You have placed yourself at odds with your Church, and, in virtue of canon 915, you are not able to receive Holy Communion. Then don’t. Unless and until you’re willing to repent of your position and return to the full practice of the faith (which is more than just going to Mass on Sunday and getting Ashed on Ash Wednesday), you can’t – and shouldn’t receive Holy Communion. Since it is then impossible for you, you are not imputed with failure to observe your Easter Duty.
Now let’s say that, tragically – for your soul and his – your pastor opts to ignore canon 915, and gives you Holy Communion. Your pastor has just allowed you to receive Holy Communion unworthily, and, in accord with what St. Paul teaches, you are now guilty of sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord (1: Corinthians, 11:27). What an awful state of affairs! If you are blissfully ignorant of the teachings of the Church, your subjective sin might not be as grave. But if you’re a well-educated person, it would be hard to chalk your actions up to ignorance.
Have you fulfilled your Easter Duty by receiving a sacrilegious Communion? Well, because of your state of sin, we’ve already established that you’re not really bound to the Duty, since you can’t actually fulfill it. God is not an accountant who is going to say to you at the end of your life, “Well, you’ve allowed 10 million children to be slaughtered before they could take a breath, you’ve scandalized untold numbers of people by casually ignoring the reasonable laws of the Church, you had that one BLT on a Friday in Lent in 1986, but you did receive Holy Communion during the Lent and Easter Season each year, even if unworthily, so we’ll put those in the ‘plus’ column…” God is not mocked, and the Last Judgment – which will happen for us all – is not a time for bargaining with God.
All that to say – going back to the original, short answer. Don’t receive Holy Communion unworthily. Go to confession, straighten out your life, avoid sin, and receive that tremendous gift of His Body and Blood in a worthy manner.
Fr. Ferguson’s answer is great, from canonical and pastoral points of view.
Fr. Z ADDS:
Allow me to add a couple of comments.
First, regarding “Easter Duty”.
The Church has several positive laws or “precepts”, sometimes also called the Commandments of the Church. They are enumerated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2041:
- Attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation
- Confession of serious sin at least once a year
- Reception of Holy Communion at least once a year during the Easter season (ordinarily
- Easter Sunday through Pentecost Sunday)
- Observance of the days of fast and abstinence
- Providing for the needs of the Church
The 1983 Code of Canon Law says:
Can. 920 §1. After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year.
§2. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at another time during the year.
This goes hand in hand with the previous canon:
Can. 989 After having reached the age of discretion, each member of the faithful is obliged to confess faithfully his or her grave sins at least once a year.
In general, if a person goes for the reception of Holy Communion the minimum time of once a year, it is nearly certain that, during the course of a year, she has committed at least one mortal sin. Possibly not, but… it would be exceptional. So, yearly confession and Communion are pretty much bound up together.
The point of the law is, I think, gently to force people to amend their lives.
If a person must receive Communion, and she can’t receive unless she first sincerely confesses her sins with a firm purpose to amend her life, then amendment of life is a pre-requisite to receiving Communion. If some situations go on for more than a year, they are that much harder to amend. So, in her wisdom Holy Mother Church impels people toward the confessional and, subsequently the altar rail with that person’s soul always in view: amendment of a sinful life.
Yes, there are times when amendment is hard, as in the case of the cohabiting adulterers who must stay together for the sake of children. If they do NOT intend to live continently, no confession and absolution, and no Communion. They cannot fulfil their Easter Duty. I would say that they therefore violate that Precept of the Church and, someday, that also must be confessed because it is a sin not to fulfill that duty.
BTW… I think the not so subtle message of Amoris laetitia that amendment of life is an ideal that not all can attain is pernicious. That whole thing must be read with caution and always in adherence to traditional Catholic spiritual and moral instruction. It IS possible to live in the state of grace, with the help of grace. BUT… one must be willing to suffer. I digress.
There are cases when it is impossible. For example you are a crewman on a ship heading to the Easter Islands in the late 18th century on His Majesty’s Ship Canon 920. Ports are far between and the voyage and return could last well over a years. It is impossible because there is no Catholic priest onboard (of course). It is impossible, so you are not bound.
In must cases, a person now can fulfill that duty, depending on their country, etc. The time to fulfill one’s duty is the season of Easter. I believe that that could be extended by legitimate authority or commuted. Indeed,
Can. 1245 Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in can. 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor can grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works. A superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life, if they are clerical and of pontifical right, can also do this in regard to his own subjects and others living in the house day and night.
There’s that famous can. 87, what a two-edged sword.
By the way, sometimes you will find in a confessional in an older church a little slot under the grate. That was used to slide through a card that the priest could sign to demonstrate that you had been to confession as part of your Easter Duty.
Lastly, there is great wisdom in can. 920, which looks towards what the last canon of the Code is all about: salvation of souls. The obligation of confession and Communion is for the good of the souls of those in the state of grace and to impel those who are not in the state of grace or who are in bad situations to amend their lives and get to confession before it is too late.
Too late – in that state – might mean Hell, if you have an unprovided death.