Holy Communion for Divorced and Remarried?
Card. Jorge A. Medina Estévez
Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Concerning the Sacrament of Communion
All priests, especially those who devote much time to administering the Sacrament of Penance, are aware of just how painful it is for those who have divorced and contracted another union not to be able to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
This is painful for the people involved, painful for their families and painful for priests. The impression is growing that this prohibition is merely a pragmatic decision on the Church's part, which can be revised and even revoked or at least mitigated in certain cases or circumstances.
The problem, however, is of a doctrinal nature, as is crystal clear from both the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. nn. 1649, 1650, and 1651) and the Compendium of the Catechism (cf. n. 349), which faithfully present the Gospel teaching of Jesus Christ (cf. Mk 10:11ff.).
Any person who has divorced his or her spouse from a valid marriage and cohabits with another person is in a state of grave sin — to be precise, the sin of adultery. To receive sacramental absolution, he or she must repent and have true contrition for this sin, which means, according to the Council of Trent, "sorrow or repudiation of the soul for sins committed, together with a purpose to turn away from sin" (DS 1676).
In the absence of such sorrows for one's grave sins, it is not possible to receive valid sacramental absolution and, consequently, one is not properly disposed to receive Holy Communion worthily. St. Paul's admonitions to those who unworthily receive Holy Communion are well known and very severe: "Whosoever, therefore, eats this bread and drinks the chalice of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the Body and Blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the chalice. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (I Cor 11:27-29).
Eucharistic Communion is a sharing in the sacrificial offering of Christ. Through it, the communicant professes to live for God and to fulfil his will, and opposes nothing to his love. None of these conditions is verified in the case of those living in a state of grave sin, especially when it is a habitual state of sin.
It is not simply that the Church prohibits those in the state of grave sin from receiving Holy Communion. Rather, those who are in a state of grave sin place themselves in a situation at variance with the most profound meaning of making of their own lives a sacrificial offering united to that of Christ.
It would be a false form of mercy to "assuage" the conscience of those who are not truly sorry for their sins, or to give false assurances rather than assisting the faithful to progress along the path of true sorrow for sin.
Sacramental absolution is not some magical sign. Rather, it is an act implying other sincere acts on the part of the penitent which form the necessary conditions to obtain validly God's forgiveness. It must not be forgotten that adultery is an affront to the mystery of Christ's love for his Church. His is a spousal love which is faithful unto his death on the Cross. This mystery is represented in the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Correct pastoral care for the divorced and re-married
For these people, is there nothing left but despair? Certainly not!
These people remain the children of God. Christ shed his blood for them. They are not prohibited from following a path of humble and sorrowful prayer. They are obligated to fulfil their religious and material duties towards their children, ensuring that they are launched on the path of Christian life. They can and should read the Holy Scripture. They are not forbidden to attend Holy Mass, even though with a heavy heart because they are unable totally to offer themselves. They can always approach a priest for advice and they can open their conscience to him in an act of humility, which the Lord will see as the beginning of reconciliation, even if not yet complete.
They may not, however, demand that the Church, or other members of the faithful, regard their unions as lawful and consonant with the Will of God.
There are cases in which the Church can examine the validity of the first marriage and, if such can be declared invalid, it becomes possible to convalidate the second union which, in fact, would be the first true marriage.
There are also cases in which those who find themselves in such painful situations can, with the grace of God, live fraternally in a non-marital union, even under the same roof. In these conditions, they can receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation and subsequently that of sacramental Communion.
This is naturally a heroic, generous and fulfilling decision. It is possible because God can turn even stones into the children of Abraham (cf. Mt 3:9; Lk 3:8). There is always great rejoicing in Heaven when a sinner converts, and more so for two, who are prepared to glorify God through great sacrifice.
The Kingdom of God suffers violence (cf. Mt 11:12), but it is a violence that brings peace. Faith is necessary to understand, as well as a conviction that the things which remain unseen are more important than those that are seen (cf. Heb 11:1-3).
Weekly Edition in English
3 May 2006, page 10
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