Posts filed under: john 20

Hi Fr! I was told that receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist while in a state of grave sin is a grave sin in itself. I'm constantly worried about whether I am allowed to receive communion at mass, and I do make sure I go to confession monthly (or more often). My question is this: How grave must a sin be to have to abstain from the Eucharist?

A group of us have discussed this and we got to the idea that you can receive communion if you are truly sorry for your sins, even if you haven't yet gone to reconciliation for it, and it's up to ourselves to judge if we're worthy of receiving or not. Is that true?

Thank you so much for your blog, by the way! You're such a blessing to many. God bless!
- Anonymous

And thank you! Father John did us the favor of responding:

Well, this is a good question! To keep us from receiving Holy Communion, a sin has to be what we call a “mortal sin.” There are three conditions for a sin to be mortal: It has to have been committed with full knowledge that the action was gravely evil (you can’t commit a mortal sin “by mistake”); it has to be committed with full consent (I didn’t do it just because I was afraid or pressured); and it has to involve what is called “grave matter.” That means the sin itself has to be serious. Stealing a piece of bubble gum would not be a mortal sin (it would be a venial sin), but stealing a diamond necklace worth half a million dollars would be a mortal sin. Sometimes it’s hard to know if all three conditions have been met. In those cases, the best thing is to go to confession and ask the priest to help you discern, or ask someone who you know and trust and who has good wisdom on these kinds of things. Usually, though, if there is doubt in your mind, it is probably not a mortal sin. But we have to be careful here — it is our responsibility as mature Christians to INFORM ourselves about what constitutes “grave matter” and what doesn’t. For instance, a lot of people don’t realize that missing Sunday Mass is grave matter! A lot of people don’t think that getting drunk is grave matter either, but it is!

The reason the Church forbids us from receiving Holy Communion when we are in a state of mortal sin is because mortal sin is like a break in our Friendship with Christ. It’s like a divorce — we rebel against him by choosing to do something that pains him deeply; we walk out on him. But Holy Communion is a sacrament of intimate union and love. And so, before we can come back to Communion, we need to be reconciled with the Lord — we need to repent, confess, and receive his forgiveness. This is the point of the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession. (If there is some good reason why I cannot make a good confession before receiving Holy Communion, I can still receive Holy Communion if I make a perfect act of contrition, and if I have the intention of going to confession as soon as I can.)

When we commit a venial sin, it’s like getting into an argument with a friend — we offend God, but it is not a total break with him. And so, Holy Communion is actually one of the ways that the Church recommends we use in order to have our venial sins forgiven.

In all cases, though, as soon as we realize we have sinned, we should immediately pray to God to forgive us and ask him for help to avoid sinning in the future. God’s mercy is always available — even if we can’t make it to confession for a good reason. But if we CAN make it to confession, then we should (every confession is like a power-wash of grace for the soul, and it gives great glory to God, and it enhances our spiritual maturity immeasurably).

Here’s a great little cheat-sheet for confession. And here’s a great little booklet about Confession that I think every Catholic should have. You can find out about it here.

God bless you!

- Father Shane

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