Today and Yesterday

Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Prefect, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

[Note: The following memorandum was sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick and was made public in the first week of July 2004.]

1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. […] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it'” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. […] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individual’s judgment about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

6. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

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  1. Scandalous how most Bishops ignore the teachings of the Church when following them would upset those who believe differently. The same thing can be said about contraception, sodomy, etc.
    Many Bishops, in their desire to please and their desire for power and money, have become servants of the devil.

  2. This is like reading an ancient Sanskrit text, a statement of indisputable wisdom and moral life, which however the contemporary post-modern world views as obsolete.

    Words of truth from a Church that used to exist until that unlucky date, March 13, 2013.

  3. The election of the Modernist wrecking ball named Bergoglio, which may or may not have been canonical, for what that’s worth to us plebes in the pews, was the most visible single event thus far in a process of destruction begun even before the time of St. Pius X, who called it out in his marvelous encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis back in 1907. As Don has mentioned here often, the Left always plays the long game. Will anything short of a cataclysmic Divine intervention be able to reverse the apparent victory of the Modernist heretics? Only God knows. Stay confessed, fast often and pray the Rosary every day. Deus vult!

  4. Jesus said: “Suffer the little children to come unto me”. Abortionists refuse the little children to come unto Jesus. How can an abortionist receive Jesus?
    A priest who accepts abortion mentality may consecrate the Sacred Species, but he may not receive Jesus. Therefore, the priest receives Jesus to his condemnation. How does this happen?
    Clergy and conscientious objectors do not execute capital punishment. Capital punishment is executed through the power of attorney of the condemned as a member of the state. The citizenship of the condemned, he, who is a member of the state brings himself to Justice. The executioner brings the condemned to Justice.
    Ratzinger is the conscience of the people. Bergoglio is a weathervane.

  5. Knowingly giving Communion to those in grave sin is sacralige and a sin. Condoning a moral sin is also a sin.

  6. When I read the Lifesite interview with Sorondo it was very apparent how little the Vatican knows about the US. Secondly, Sorondo has obviously lost belief in the Church and if he were an honest man would depart his office. The Church is being run by a bunch of “men” with child-like sentimentality, who seek the approval of secularists.

  7. There’s something of a longstanding joke on Instapundit that tweaks climate change alarmists for their blatant hypocrisy: “I don’t want to hear about Glenn Reynolds’ carbon footprint.”

    I’m not sure how the Catholic version should go. Maybe, “I don’t want to hear about Don McClarey’s support for the death penalty?”

    (Honestly, that would be a good test: would the Soldanos of our Church give communion to a Catholic politician who was as rabid in his support of the death penalty as Nancy Pelosi is in her support for prenatal infanticide.)

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