Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What does the Catechism really say?


Confession and Communion
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A priest on another blog wrote his views regarding mortal sin, contrition and the reception of Holy Communion in cases where the penitent has not gone to confession.  His comment went something like this:
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A person can can never be sure if he is in the state of mortal sin. A person might understand he committed a grave or serious sin but the sin can only be mortal when combined with full knowledge and consent of the will, - and often, these dispositions can be mitigated.
Now if the person is conscious of grave sin, ordinarily he should not receive Holy Communion until he has confessed and received sacramental absolution. However, in certain circumstances some people may not be able to get to confession, and or, refraining from reception of Communion can sometimes be a cause for speculation and or embarrassment for the person not to receive.
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This is my personal opinion, but I say that if a person is guilty of serious sin, despite the fact through no fault of his own is unable to confess, and if he is sincerely sorry for his sin and he desires to receive Holy Communion, a good Act of Contrition accompanied by a firm and practical plan to make his confession at the next available opportunity, the person can receive Holy Communion worthily. - Priest**
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Now I think I understand what the priest is saying, although I believe his advice may better be left in the confessional, under the heading of 'pastoral care for a particular individual in extraordinary circumstances'. Consider especially that sometimes people just want to avoid confession and look for good excuses to do so - and we can often convince and excuse ourselves of anything.
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That said, I have to disagree with the proposal we can never be sure we are in a state of mortal sin - I think we can be fairly certain at least.  What we can never be sure of is whether or not we are in the state of grace - unless we have the assurance of sacramental absolution.  If a person is aware of grave sin - I think I'd rather err on the side of caution and confess my sin, rather than risk making a sacrilegious Communion.
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Better safe than sorry.
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Fear of embarrassment never should be a reason to receive Communion while aware of unconfessed mortal sin.  The Catechism clearly lays out the conditions for receiving Communion in the ordinary circumstances:
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1457 According to the Church's command, "after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year."56 Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession.57  -
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To be fair, Father may well be considering that the person, though aware of having committed a mortal sin, albeit not totally certain, yet nevertheless possessing and expressing perfect contrition for the sin, accompanied by a firm purpose of amendment and resolute determination to avoid that sin in the future, may indeed approach Holy Communion with the intention of confessing at the next possible opportunity.  That may have been Father's point which accords with the Catechism:
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1452 When it [contrition for sin] arises from a love by which God is loved above all else, contrition is called "perfect" (contrition of charity). Such contrition remits venial sins; it also obtains forgiveness of mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible.51 - CCC 
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However - if one cannot be certain of one's state of soul, how can one be certain one is perfectly contrite?
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You do not have to receive Holy Communion at every Mass.
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Anyway - I think in our age of drama and crisis, some people mistake 'grave reason' for otherwise trivial and vain circumstances.  Catholics are not required to receive Holy Communion at every Mass they attend.  We do not have to communicate daily or at funerals and weddings.  A Catholic shouldn't worry about what other people think if one doesn't receive Communion.  Catholics are obliged to assist at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation - they are not obliged to communicate.  In fact, the only requirement for Catholics to receive Holy Communion is once a year - commonly referred to as the Easter Duty. 
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Of course I may be wrong, but I believe the rules pertaining to the reception of Holy Communion are so lax as it is, I'm not sure taking such a liberal approach to sacramental confession in cases of mortal sin beforehand is the best idea - danger of death and other special situations being separate issues of course.
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Addendum:
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1415 Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.
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1417 The Church warmly recommends that the faithful receive Holy Communion when they participate in the celebration of the Eucharist; she obliges them to do so at least once a year. - CCC  
 
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**Please note:  I changed the wording somewhat because I do not want to identify the priest - I am simply using the thoughts he expressed to paint the background for my post - what does the catechism really say - this isn't an 'attack'.  Thanks. 

15 comments:

  1. "In fact, the only requirement for Catholics to receive Holy Communion is once a year"

    Golly, what a relief. I thought we were meant to receive as often as we could! I have felt so inadequate in this area recently. (As well as almost every other area ).

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  2. It is beneficial to us to receive as often as possible within regulations... Myself, if I have any doubt, I err on the side of not receiving and get to Reconciliation as soon as I can prior to reception. Frequent confession and communion help me to fight the good fight and help to strengthen my efforts to keep sin at bay. And I am a sinner...

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  3. Shadowlands - as Kevin points out, frequent communion is encouraged - so if one goes to daily Mass or frequently assists at Mass apart from Sunday - partaking in Holy Communion is of course encouraged, recommended, and normal. I stressed it is not obligatory however - especially in the case of someone who may not be properly disposed to receive. In such a case a person could make a spiritual communion in order to actively participate in the Eucharistic celebration.

    However, as Kevin points out - frequent confession and communion is most important in the spiritual combat.

    It is praisworthy to receive Holy Communion as often as we can.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding.

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  4. Thanks for the reminder, Terry - I need to go to confession before this Sunday!

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  5. You are so very right here, Terry. And I have thought about this myself, not caring about personal embarassment at all, but for what scandal it might cause to others. People ARE prone to speculate, even to the point of scandal and detraction, when they observe someone sitting out at Communion. (Especially if it is a well known parish member--eegads!) This is all a result of how terribly lax we have become in our faith and devotion. "Gosh, if everyone in here can receive Communion worthily, this guy must have done something really awful to have to sit out like this." We've become so protestant. It is distressing.



    You know, there are so many who say this is all the fruit of vatican II, and I'm really thinking they are right. The Mass has been "dumbed down" and "people centered", devotion has all but been killed, as has striving for holiness, and we're told it's OK to give in to all sorts of things people formally avoided. Now look where it has gotten us....

    There is a priest in Costa Rica who recently wrote a book blowing the whistle on all the sex abuse coverups going on in his diocese; he says when he first went to his bishop about all the priests having affairs with boys and women, and robbing the church funds to pay for the extortion from their former gay lovers, and for child support of their illegitimate children, his bishop said, "such acts belong to the priests' private lives."

    Before Vat II, priests HAD no "private lives". Therein lies the trouble.


    /rant mode off,

    Gette

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  6. Austringer12:05 PM

    Maybe it's just me, Terry, but I don't have any degree of certainty if I am or am not in a state of mortal sin -- I'm never sure of what may or may not be considered "grave matter" in specific matters. I am a frequent confessor, so I "play it safe" in that regard, but I really don't know. I never feel as if the priest has time in the confessional to do more than just hear me out, and I don't have a priest I can discuss these things with outside the confessional, so the doubt remains. Since my spiritual life is dry and unpleasant these days, sometimes I wonder if I AM in mortal sin, which would explain the complete absence of God.

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  7. Austringer: Provacative comment. I'm reading the book about Mother Teresa "Come Be My Light". Have you read it? Maybe it will help you.

    Ter: Great post

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  8. Austringer10:39 PM

    Cathy -- no, I haven't, though I'm aware of her long-standing spiritual aridity.

    I should have been a bit more specific: I am unsure about what might or might not be considered "grave matter", precisely because I don't trust myself not to rationalize and downplay the gravity of my favorite sins. I do have perfect certainty of my ability to do that!

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  9. I was just reading a manual on Confession and this priest, very reputable, says that in hearing confessions, if a doubtful mortal sin (a sin that has one or more of the three requirements for moral sin) is absent, he may counsel the penitent accordinginly, if the penitent actually ASKS...in other words, this kind of counsel is not to be given "willy-nilly"; from the pulpit, much less.
    This is confessional counsel; it's not to keep people from a "secret"; it's about applying this to certain circumstances.
    By norm, all those CONSCIOUS of mortal sin (if they are formed properly, they will know if they are, in fact, in mortal sin) should refrain from receiving Holy Communion.
    Austringer: The basic teaching that grave matter; deliberation; consent for mortal sin is the norm;
    you might be helped with some spiritual direction to sort this out; just a thought.
    If refraining from Holy Communion would cause a scandal or draw attention to the individual, a perfect act of contrition may be made with the intention of going to confession A.S.A.P. But this is not NORMATIVE; it is exceptional and must be the exception, rather than the rule.
    I might add that in this day and age when everyone, practically, goes up for Communion, attention might readily be drawn to one who does not; no one should be put in that situation where it looks like they may be in mortal sin (that is a traditional moral teaching); in the "old days" the fasting regulations made it common for many to abstain from Holy Communion, esp. if it was on Sunday later in the morning. I have come across situations where parents were quizzing their children why they did not go to Communion (teenagers) and I told them to MYOB...that attitude, I'm afraid is not present in a common way.
    Even in religious communities, no attention was to be drawn to who received and who didn't (some may have abstained for other reasons than being in "mortal sin")...
    So, it's a complex issue.
    Catechesis and proper formation are needed in this area.
    But the bottom line is: if you are conscious of mortal sin, refrain.
    If, for some grave reason, you cannot without drawing attention to yourself, make an act of perfect contrition, receive Holy Communion and go to Confession as soon as possible.

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  10. Austringer2:36 PM

    Thanks for your comments, Father.

    I'm aware of the requirements of mortal sin (deliberation, grave matter, full consent), but I don't trust myself to assess "grave matter" objectively. I'm really good at rationalizing away sin. Yes, I have no doubt that spiritual direction would be useful, but I've lost the one I had (my own priest) and do not know where else to go. Priests are so busy these days, and though I know there are lay people who do spiritual direction, I'm a little lost there too -- I've asked folks around our parish (who I can trust in these matters -- I mean, I don't want to be sent to someone who is going to balance my Chakras and)if they had any recommendations, but no success so far. Father, do any books come to mind that might be helpful?

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  11. "Frequent Confession" by Benedict Bauer comes to mind...also "Beginnings in the Spiritual Life" by Dominic Hoffman, OP (I don't know if this is in print) are both very excellent and reliable (one by a Benedictine and one by a Dominican!)...
    If you want to contact me via our website (www.isjoseph.com), please do so.
    I would be most happy to communicate with you!

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  12. Austringer7:36 PM

    Thank you, Father!

    I picked up "Frequent Confession" by Fr. Bauer last year after having skimmed through it during Adoration (our Adoration Chapel has a bookcase full of appropriate reading). I haven't had a chance to read it since (mostly because there are other books ahead of it "in line", so to speak).

    I will look into the other book you've mentioned.

    Father, if I contact you at your website, to whom do I address my e-mail to (Nazareth Priest?)?

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  13. Austringer: Yes.
    And I can return you email.

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  14. Austringer11:23 PM

    Thank you, Father!

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  15. Thanks Father for your comments. One on one, in the secret of the confessional, pastoral care can be very personal - which is another reason why I think penitents ought to be discreet in what they reveal to others as regard the direction the priest gives to them. It's never one size fits all, is it.

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