National Catholic Register


The Elephant in the Communion Line

There was always an elephant in the room during the Communion debate.

BY the Editors

November 26-December 2, 2006 Issue | Posted 11/22/06 at 11:00 AM


There was always an elephant in the room during the Communion debate.

In debates about politicians receiving Communion, one big fat fact remained unacknowledged.

Catholics asked: Why should the lawmakers who enact draconian pro-abortion laws receive Communion? But they should have asked: Why are so many others receiving Communion when they shouldn’t?

With their new document, “Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper:” On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily in the Eucharist,” the bishops are pointing dramatically at the elephant in the Communion line.

The document reminds us not just that Communion is for Catholics only, but for Catholics who:

— Went to confession in the past year, at least, or more often if they committed a serious sin.

— Fasted for an hour first “refraining from food and drink (except for water and medicines) for at least one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion.”

— Are wearing “modest and tasteful dress” — “clothes that reflect our reverence for God and that manifest our respect for the dignity of the liturgy and for one another.”

— Are in a recollected and prayerful state of mind. The statement even spells out some common serious sins. These are sins that constitute grave matter. When we do them deliberately and with knowledge of their sinfulness, they put us in a state of mortal sin.

Abortion and euthanasia. “Committing murder, including abortion and euthanasia, harboring deliberate hatred of others.”

Any extra-marital sex. “Engaging in sexual activity outside the bonds of a valid marriage.”

Theft, including “serious fraud, or other immoral business practices.”

Slander, Hatred and Envy. “Speaking maliciously or slandering people in a way that seriously undermines their good name. … Harboring deliberate hatred of others. … Engaging in envy that leads one to wish grave harm to someone else.”

Pornography. “Producing, marketing, or indulging in pornography.”

This document is a robust answer to what Pope John Paul II asked for in his 2001 apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium). He asked for bishops to have “courage, confidence and creativity” in re-establishing the sacrament of confession in their dioceses.

In 2002, when the Church was rocked with scandals, John Paul saw what the real crisis was: Catholics were allowing themselves to fall into a state of sin, weren’t going to confession and were, often enough, receiving Communion anyway.

What’s the big deal with that? When priests and their flocks no longer care about sin, it’s only a matter of time before they will begin sinning in ways that shock us.

John Paul wrote a Holy Thursday letter to priests in 2002 in which he said three times that people in a state of sin should not receive Communion without going to confession first. In another passage he pleaded:

“My dear brothers in the priesthood … I feel a pressing need to urge you, as I did last year, to rediscover for yourselves and to help others to rediscover the beauty of the sacrament of reconciliation.

“In recent decades and for a variety of reasons the sacrament has passed through a crisis. More than once I have drawn attention to this fact, even making it the theme of a gathering of the synod of bishops.”

That same year, on the feast of Divine Mercy, he put his plea for more confession, and proper confession, into an apostolic letter all its own, giving it an especially urgent motu proprio status.

Then, in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, he made this almost formal declaration:

“I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin.”

Catholics should bring this new U.S. bishops document (find it at to the attention of their pastors and begin promoting it. It’s the best way to defeat the Church’s biggest scandal: the loss of the sense of sin.