Abstaining from Holy Communion

Most of us would find it difficult to cultivate a friendship with someone who does not bother to ask for forgiveness when they have hurt us.  The pretense of acting as if nothing happened and yet constantly hurt us at the same time is difficult to bear.  It would seem to us as a double standard.  We tend to shy away from such a hypocrisy.  And yet, this is a danger we can fall into in regards to our friendship with our Lord.

Total disclosure:  Living in a community of priests makes it easy to live in constant state of grace.  We have the sacraments very close and available all the time.  We have daily reception of Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  However, a danger with any routine is to lose the sense of why we do the things we do.

Particularly dangerous is to fall into a deadly routine.  And one of those deadly routines is to receive the Eucharist in the state of mortal sin.  We pretend to cultivate a friendship with our Lord and receive him in the Eucharist and yet, we do not bother to ask for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  This could happen to priests who do not avail themselves of confession when necessary and it happens very often with many lay people.

In that sense, I admire Catholics who abstain from receiving communion when they go to Mass.  It tells me that they take the Eucharist very seriously and that they are aware that receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist requires a preparation.  (Of course, this presupposes the faith of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist).

Pope John Paul II reminded us of the importance of that preparation in his Encyclical Ecclesia De Eucharistia.  He emphasizes how the Eucharist is the summit of our Christian life.  He states:

Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called ‘communion’, not even were we to touch the Lord’s body a thousand times over, but ‘condemnation’, ‘torment’ and ‘increase of punishment’”.

Along these same lines, the Catechism of the Catholic Church rightly stipulates that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion”.  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”.

The two sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance are very closely connected. Because the Eucharist makes present the redeeming sacrifice of the Cross, perpetuating it sacramentally, it naturally gives rise to a continuous need for conversion, for a personal response to the appeal made by Saint Paul to the Christians of Corinth: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). If a Christian’s conscience is burdened by serious sin, then the path of penance through the sacrament of Reconciliation becomes necessary for full participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. 

When I have the Sacrament of Reconciliation available and I do not bother to ask for forgiveness for my sins I am taking my relationship with Christ very lightly.  I just assume that I can treat him in any way I want and that he is going to be OK with it.  We get back to the story we began with.  We would not like to have someone pretend they can have a friendship with us and assume that they can treat us like garbage and that we are not going to care.

If we are in the state of mortal sin, it is better to abstain from receiving Our Lord.  This not only shows great respect towards the relationship, it also increases our hunger and desire to receive him.  It moves us towards the sacrament of Reconciliation and helps us keep at bay from committing these sins.  Of course, Jesus is always ready to forgive us.  However, he expects a contrite heart, he expects that we use the means at our disposal to approach him.

Let us then, take the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation more seriously if we want to grow in our spiritual life.

Questions for pondering:

1. How frequently do I go to confession?

2. Do I receive communion in mortal sin?  Has it become a routine?  Do I simply confess it afterwards but have no intention of discontinuing this practice?

3. If I have fallen into mortal sin, am I willing to abstain from Holy Communion during Mass?  Do I think that this practice can help me grow in my desire to receive him with a pure heart?

Fr Lino Otero, LC:  Originally from Nicaragua, my family moved to Miami, Florida when I was a teenager. Soon afterwards I experienced the call to serve God without reservations. Since then, I have had experience in hospital ministry, working as a middle school teacher, leading a parish school, organizing soccer tournaments for kids, starting a radio station, training priests in leadership formation, organizing a parish community from maintenance to mission, and much more. I love spiritual direction and preaching. Years of philosophy, psychology and theological training have enriched my personal life and have shaped my message of hope. For more go to linootero.me

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