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The Good Witness of Not Receiving Communion

December 7, AD2016

eucharist, jesus, communion, host

Last year, I found myself in a terrible position. It was a Sunday morning and I was preparing to take my kids to Mass. The problem was that I believed I needed to go to Confession prior to receiving the Eucharist. That was cause enough for anxiety, as no one wants their soul outside a state of grace. Add to that the fact that my kids had never seen me skip Communion before, and I was doubly stressed.

As a dad who wants to provide excellent Catholic witness to his then 12 & 14-year-olds, I was deeply conflicted about what to do. Do I receive the Eucharist and avoid having to tell my kids I have sinned, and of course avoid the relentlessly judging eyes of my fellow parishioners – few of whom I had noticed ever skipping Communion? Or, do I listen to my little voice, albeit one with a zealous scrupulosity meter, and skip Communion until I have been to Confession?

Who Is Worthy of Communion?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states on its website about sin and the need for Confession:

Before one steps forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, one needs to be in a right relationship with the Lord and his Mystical Body, the Church – that is, in a state of grace, free of all mortal sin. While sin damages, and can even destroy, that relationship, the sacrament of Penance can restore it. St. Paul tells us that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor 11:27-28). Anyone who is conscious of having committed a mortal sin should be reconciled through the sacrament of Penance before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, unless a grave reason exists for doing so and there is no opportunity for confession.

Further, it is understood that the graces received from consuming the Eucharist are appropriated according to our reverence and worthiness. Thus, if one does not believe in the real presence, or is knowingly in a state of sin, the graces received will be limited.

Having been a cradle, yet mostly cultural Catholic until about 5 years ago, when I actually started to dig into my faith, I can sadly think of many times I probably received Jesus unworthily. I simply did not understand the importance of being worthy and in a state of grace for Communion. Nine years at “Catholic” schools did not teach me about presenting myself worthily, as I recall;  it breaks my heart to think of the mistakes I made when I was younger. Thankfully I have since confessed those errors and learned from them. And thus on this particular Sunday, I knew better. Honestly, for a moment, I wish I had not known better. But I did. I had become an educated and informed Catholic and had decided to follow my faith, which includes doing the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable things.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church say this about grave matter:

CCC 1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

Did He Present Himself for Communion?

So I fretted during Mass about what to do. Receive or not receive? Receive or not receive? “Dear Lord please tell me what to do,” I prayed. The Church does not require that we receive the Blessed Sacrament at each Mass, so not doing so would not be a sin, which provided some solace. In the end, I had convinced myself, rightly or wrongly, that Jesus would forgive me for what I was still unsure was actual grave matter, my willful participation in it, and for receiving while unsure about being worthy.

Yet, when the time came just a couple minutes later, I did not present myself for Communion; I just could not. Being uncertain, and wanted to err on the side of being worthy of my Lord and Savior. I dreaded explaining it to my kids, but I knew that was a part of my penance. You screw up and sin, you have to make amends and get it right before the Lord, and before receiving the Lord.

When the time came for Communion, I got up and let my kids out as I usually do. They saw me kneeling when they came back to the pew. Both had puzzled looks on their faces, and I told them I would explain later. Not surprisingly, I prayed for a proper way to share with my kids why I did not receive, and I think God delivered on that request. I explained to my kids in the car that because I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as all Catholics should, and believed I had done something for which I had to clear my conscience and soul in Confession, I thought it best to not receive Communion that day. To my kids’ credit, and to the credit of their authentically Catholic grade school, neither asked me what I had done. While both were still a little surprised, both accepted my explanation and dropped the matter.

The Lasting Impact of Good Witness

That Sunday both of my kids and I learned something new. They experienced their father admitting a mistake for which he needed Confession – not something of which one should be proud, of course – but perhaps an important revelation to growing kids about the true fallibility of parents. More importantly, they witnessed that their dad had such reverence for Christ, he simply could not present himself to Him in a state of unworthiness. Essentially, I unwittingly at the time, underscored, bolded, and italicized my belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And as He always does, the Lord took a bad situation and made something good out of it.

In conversations since with my kids, I have explained to them that they too should do the same if they find themselves outside a state of grace. I have promised to take them to Confession, and not ask any questions. I think it is important for parents to both stress the importance of receiving worthily while offering their kids an opportunity to regain their worthiness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And they should do so absent any prying into their children’s sin(s). They need to Confess to Christ, through their priest, not their parents.

I have since that one Sunday come to believe that people who do not receive Communion at Mass offer a valuable witness to the rest of their congregations about the importance of receiving while worthy. While I am sorry for their situations and pray they are temporary, I appreciate the respect and reverence they show to our Savior. And, of course, I never judge nor speculate about the reasons for their not presenting themselves before Christ, as the reasons may be personal, and not involve grave matter.

Perhaps if we all offered such witness regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as myriad opportunities arise in our lives, others might learn from us and come to believe as we do, and deepen their faith. That can only please our Lord.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

David is a cradle Catholic, but finally immersed himself into his faith a few decades later. He takes his vocation as a single dad seriously, despite having what he claims is a sense of humor. When he's not parenting, he is selling Arizona real estate, volunteering at various Catholic charities, studying his faith, writing, or spending time outdoors. He is currently studying at the Kino Catechetical Institute, in Phoenix. David is a member of the Order of Malta Auxiliary, and a 3rd Degree Knight of Columbus. He attends Mass almost daily and Adoration regularly.

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  • Linda

    I was racked with anxiety should I abstain from Holy Communion in regard to whether or not something I did was a grave sin or not. My confessor helped me in that he said “if there is a doubt about a sin then it is not grave and You should receive Communion” He said that Jesus wants you to receive and that you need the grace of Communion, so if there is a doubt you should Trust Jesus and go to Communion.

  • Seamrog

    I simply cannot fathom the number of comments here objecting to NOT receiving the Lord unworthily.

    The lines at Saturday morning confessions from 11:00 – 11:30 are empty, even for that brief period, and the lines for Holy Communion are out the door to the extent that we need an army of “Extraordinary Ministers” to do the priest’s job.

    If the priest, and the parishoners were ‘doing their jobs,’ the lines for confession would be out the door.

    As I am a pretty lousy Catholic who very much wants to be a good Catholic, I frequently do not receive our Lord, as to not receive him unworthily. Confession and repentance is a process – perhaps I’m a greater sinner than the uncounted masses who receive the Lord as a matter of habit, but I suspect not.

    As I’m sure most of you inwardly know, even if you won’t own up to it.

  • DoghouseRiley9

    Any priest who is not in the middle of saying Mass or performing CPR on a heart attack victim is obligated to hear the confession of anyone who asks that of him 24/7. Next time, “go out for cigarettes” before Mass and knock on the door of a rectory.

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  • Eddie

    This was a good essay that encouraged a great debate in the comment section. I see all sides the commentary explore. Are any of us truly worthy to receive Our Lord? I am a daily communicant and go to confession weekly. Confession is the twin of Holy Communion, they go hand in hand, both are the Sacraments of love. While I believe that everyone who believes should approach the Lord in Holy Communion, it is the Church law that we be in a state of grace. We think we know what that means but scrupulosity or the lack thereof plays a role in each of our lives. I suffered many years of being scrupulous, never feeling worthy, finding fault, accusing myself unjustly even when the priest in confession told me I was not guilty of a mortal sin, I insisted I was. Then I realized what I was doing. The Lord spoke to my heart and offered me His justice or His mercy. I chose His mercy. I encourage everyone to do the same and make good use of confession. God bless you all. That being said, this essay has been on my mind for days since I read it and it is a great meditation for how well disposed we are to receive the Lord. When I see people refrain from receiving I feel sorrow for them and want to encourage them to go to confession but I also look at them with awe and great respect for they recognize Who we are receiving. Jesus wants us to receive Him in a state of grace.
    Edward Monti
    Columnist for Catholicstand

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  • MoonRiver

    Lord, I am not worthy to receieve You. But only say the word and I shall be healed.

    It’s not good to teach children to fear the Physician and not worthy of His medicine.

    You clearly have faith. I too think you risk scruples.

    • Caine

      Moon: The words, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed,” changed in 2011AD to, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” It comes from Matthew 8:8 referencing the centurion who could see the greatness of Jesus but felt inadequate himself. As to the rest of your statement, I don’t get it. When a doctor prescribes medicine, it’s a commodity that is sold to you, thereby making it YOUR medicine, not theirs. Lastly, being scrupulous is not wrong. Scrupulousness is characterized as having careful observation of what is morally right and wrong. It means having principles. That’s kind of the direction the Catholic Church is trying to get us to go 🙂

    • Eddie

      I think you make a valid point MoonRiver but the Magesterium has prescribed confession before communion in cases of mortal sin. How much more are the sick in need of the Physician of the soul. That being said confession is invaluable. God bless you.

  • Lynne O’Luanaigh

    His back and forth over receiving I couldn’t even finish the article. If you are in a state of mortal sin don’t receive communion no matter what. What your kids or fellow parishioners think is of no concern to you. I’m shocked that your kids hit teen years and never stayed back from receiving because they were in a state of sin. I’m shocked that you have never been in a position of not being able to receive the Eucharist since you had kids. The fact that you didn’t discuss not receiving with your kids before their teen years is negligent on your part.

    • David

      Lynne, Had you read the article, it may have made more sense to you. I was unsure of my state. But the underlining theme was that yes, I am an imperfect Catholic and sinner, growing in my faith. Those of us who weren’t born with the full wisdom of Solomon are on a journey. My article was an attempt to help other imperfect Catholics. I have little to offer the sinless. I’m sorry you missed the message, but thank you for the comment.

    • Lynne, Had you read the article, it may have made more sense to you. I was unsure of my state. But the underlining theme was that yes, I am an imperfect Catholic and sinner, growing in my faith. Those of us who weren’t born with the full wisdom of Solomon are on a journey. My article was an attempt to help other imperfect Catholics. I have little to offer the sinless. I’m sorry you missed the message, but thank you for the comment.

    • Larry Bud

      You still don’t get it.

      If that was the “underlining theme” then you did a poor job of making your point. Because as I’ve said, to me the premise of the article was that even though you knew your state and knew that you should not receive, you let excessive worry about “what others would think” interfere.

      If your faith is as zealous as you claim (you’ve been “digging in” for five years, whatever that means), I guess I wonder if the entire story was made up. It doesn’t take five years nor the “faith of Solomon” to know that you shouldn’t receive if you need to go to Confession first. That’s stuff a seven-year-old is taught.

    • Larry, respectfully, like Lynne, you didn’t read the article. I clearly stated, “I was still unsure [if my sin] was actual grave matter, my willful participation in it…”

      And your false conclusion that I “made up the whole story” is really unbecoming. Truly, I wish you the best, and hope you find joy, but I’m no longer going to engage.

    • Larry Bud

      Yeah, that must be it. We both jumped in to comment on an article that we didn’t bother to read. Sheesh.

      Sentence #3 seems quite clear to me: “The problem was that I believed I needed to go to Confession prior to receiving the Eucharist.”

      This discussion has been very tiresome and accomplished nothing. I think we’ve made our points very clearly, and you’ve chosen to reject them. Over and out.

  • Paul

    Good story! Better to be safe than sorry. The truth is that attending weekday Masses (which usually have a smaller group of regulars who know each other) it is only human to think that they may notice a “regular” forgoing Communion – or simply in a parish where one is well known. I guess it “shouldn’t” be a concern, but we are human and it has occurred to me as well when I chose not to receive.. Sin and culpability are sometimes a tricky thing to discern and it is always better to be on the safe side. What you did was brave and was the right thing to do in my eyes and was a good lesson as you say, for your sons.

  • standtall909

    I have gone through similar quandaries several times in the past, and chose rather than receive unworthily, to sit it out until I could go to confession. I’m confident the Lord God honors that decision.

  • Christopher

    Good choice, Communion should be treated with the reverence that it deserves because it is the body of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Going to communion should never be treated as an obligation.

  • ZorroRules

    There are a million good reasons to avoid communion, not the least of which is the row by row nonsense. I cant imagine not not going from time to time. Personally it might be more likely the ones not going are holier than those who do; based on the amount of contraception going on these days, there should be quite a few remaining in the pews anyway, to say nothing of the gum chewers and non-Catholics who trot on up. It’s become almost like a herd thing. I am especially grieved at weddings where I have seen non-Catholics present themselves, it is very troubling indeed to watch and if you inform them nicely and carefully and quietly on the side- you are the villain, better to avoid some weddings, same nonsense at funerals.

  • Giovanni Serafino

    Unfortunately, we have gone from one extreme to another when few people used to received Holy Communion , and now when everyone, regardless of the state of their souls almost mindlessly and out of habit receives Holy Communion all the time, some even twice a day!!

    Proper preparation, being in the state of sanctifying grace, living the fullness of the Catholic life, obeying the commandments, and making a proper Thanksgiving after Mass, has all become a joke. After all, if 70% of practicing Catholics no longer believe in transubstantiation according to a recent poll, what are we to expect?

    The vast majority of people who receive holy communion today have no concept of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and view it only in symbolic terms. Add communion in the hand, and everyone and their grandmother giving out holy communion the whole think has lost it’s significance.

    That the author of this article actually believes the real presence of Christ and refrained from holy Communion out of respect should be complemented, instead of being castigated by some mindless individuals.

    • Larry Bud

      “70% of practicing Catholics no longer believe in transubstantiation according to a recent poll,”

      That statement has been proven untrue. Over and over again. A poll was concocted where several of the choices were almost equivalent except for various high-falutin’ theological terms that were not explained. Most people chose one of those choices. You can easily find this explanation.

    • Giovanni Serafino

      Well, perhaps the poll taken at a “Catholic” university where 66% of the students have no difficulty with cohabitation, gay marriage and abortion in some cases was similarly flawed.

    • james

      ” Add communion in the hand, and everyone and their grandmother giving out holy communion the whole think has lost its significance”

      I wonder if the 5000 being fed by Jesus felt insignificant ?

    • John Germain

      That wasn’t holy communion the 5000 received, it was a “meal” to sustain their body, communion is for sustaining one’s soul. The person receiving “holy communion” is consuming the Body-Blood-Soul & Divinity of Jesus Christ, not mere bread (and fish), it’s a huge difference, The 5000 fed by Jesus didn’t feel “insignificant”, they felt hungry.

    • james

      The bread was a miracle and therefore not ordinary bread.

  • JustAnOldBear

    Greats witness, David! A similar thing happened to me as well. My circumstances didn’t allow me to make it to confession before Sunday Mass. So I opted not to receive Holy Communion; in spite of my fears of what my friends and family may think; which should have been of no concern for me in the first place. The decision not to receive because of serious sin should be done out of self-humiliation and true love for Jesus; even though the circumstances of the sin did not reflect such love.

    After that particular Mass, my 10 year old asked me why I didn’t receive. I told her that it was because I did something that I felt disqualified me from Holy communion for that week. But I assured her that I would go to confession, do penance and receive the following Sunday. That was a good witness to my daughter.

  • Chris Piotrowski

    Hello David, I am glad you have wrote about this important issue that is rarely addressed. You have a properly formed conscience and God bless you for making the right decision not to receive Our Lord in the most Holy Eucharist in this case, despite a battle within yourself and external pressures to do so. Our Lord said to St Bridget about sacrilege “there does not exist on earth a punishment which is great enough to punish it sufficiently,”

    The link below contains quotes from the Saints about proper disposition and reverence for Our Lord in Holy Communion.

    http://catholic-church.org/grace/eu/sacri-communion.htm

  • Caine

    Larry, when public people like Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, or Tim Kaine receive the Eucharist, even though they shouldn’t because of their public stances on abortion and homosexuality, I think this article speaks directly to them.

  • Caine

    Or, he could have gone to communion behind his children and just crossed his arms when he came to the priest or Eucharistic minister and no one would have likely known except the priest or minister.

    • Hi Caine, Many pastors discourage that. They prefer non-Catholics do that rather than Catholics who may be in a state of sin. I’m uncertain of any theological or canonical reasoning for that; it may be their preference to drive people to Confession.

    • John

      Crossing one’s arms and getting a personal blessing is mainly a ‘feel good’ experience as a result of inclusion in that ‘everyone’ receives a blessing at every mass. I don’t understand why any pastor would discourage it though. Why the objection? Perhaps you could ask your pastor and write about it? Interesting ‘fodder’ fr another article. Btw, your article is very inspiring and much needed enlightenment since the the concept of sin has all but disappered these days! Thank you, and God bless!!!

    • DJR

      Indeed.

      Adults coming up to the priest for a blessing during the distribution of Holy Communion is one of those uncalled for practices that developed in the Roman Church after Vatican II but has no basis.

      Like many other things since VII, nobody seems to know when it began, who started it, and by whose authority.

      In my parish, that is how we receive Holy Communion. You come up with arms crossed.

      Ruthenian Byzantine.

      Crossing one’s arms is a preparation for reception of Holy Communion, not a blessing. That’s the traditional and proper Catholic understanding, which goes back many centuries.

  • Renee A.

    My gosh, Larry, that was so uncalled for. I understand where you’re coming from since I tend to be a glass half empty person myself, but sometimes it’s best to hold one’s tongue. If you’re just having a rough day, God bless you. Been there, too. Saying a little prayer that your day gets better.
    As for the article, thank you for writing this. I’ve had similar struggles and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. I, too, actually appreciate seeing people occasionally refrain from going up for Holy Communion because we all make mistakes and it’s nice to know we take those mistakes seriously and treat Christ with the reverence He deserves. Blessings to you and your yours.

    • Larry Bud

      Renee, I meant what I said. Don’t patronize me.

    • Renee A.

      I apologize if my post came across as patronizing, as that was not my intention. I did think you were too hard on the author, but my thoughts and prayers for you were sincere. I honestly thought you might be having a bad day. I’ve been having a lot of those lately and so I cannot help but sympathize with anyone else who might be in the same position.
      I agree with you – our priests need to address many things in our current day. I’m trying hard to live the message of Fatima (although I fail miserably on an hourly basis). I’m worried about our present age and wish the Church addressed it openly.
      Wishing you blessed Advent season and a very Merry Christmas

  • Larry Bud

    You seem far too scrupulous. If you feel the need to go to confession before receiving communion, then that’s that. I can think of many many times growing up where my parents said that. And we kids didn’t blink an eye about it. I guarantee your kids didn’t care. And they probably rolled their eyes when you launched into a lecture on the nature of the real presence and blah blah blah.

    You “fretted” about it? You worried about “the relentlessly judging eyes of my fellow parishioners” ? And for that matter you keep your own internal tally of who receives and who skips?

    I suggest you refocus on your own attendance at mass and quit worrying about everybody else.

    • FAM22

      I find the author’s seriousness about the Real Presence, his authentic witness to the faith, and his recognition of the consequences of sin to be refreshing, timely, and uplifting- particularly in an age when most “Catholics” do not even consider the weighty issues he addressed in this article. His internal anxiety over how his decision would be perceived by others was entirely human and something anyone who has ever confronted this issue honestly has likely also experienced.

      If your relationship with God is different than his and you do not empathize or see the value in his writing, that’s fine. But, there’s no need to criticize him for sharing what he believed to be a message that could help others lead a more authentic life of faith.

    • Larry Bud

      Ummm… I offered helpful advice. Scrupulosity is a real problem. His worries about “what others are thinking” are totally unnecessary, and deserve correction.

    • Larry, As I hope you understand, the many volunteer writers here at CatholicStand share personal stories in order help others be able to relate to their own challenges practicing their faith. While I too can pick apart the use of literary devices and minor points in articles, I understand the authors are often sharing moments of regrettable weakness, and thus instead try to absorb the bigger message and use it to help grow my own faith. As a rule, I refrain from judging fellows authors and their children, and people in the pews, as only God knows their hearts. Thank you for the comment,

    • Larry Bud

      I wasn’t judging your children or your hearts. Only your words. I thought I was offering helpful suggestions to you. Oh well.

    • Then I misunderstood. Thank you.

    • Fatima Sorrow

      No scrupulosity is not a big problem at all.

      It is laxity especially about impure things.

      do not call a minor issue as something big.

    • H r hayes

      Larry, you are missing the author’s point. Perhaps your relationship to Christ in His Eucharistic presence is too casual. Woe to that man who receives unworthily. It is disturbing to know that most Catholics rarely go to confession but go to Communion at every wedding or funeral they may attend.

    • Larry Bud

      H r, you have also totally missed my point.

      I know the rules. You probably know the rules. The author knew the rules too, since he bragged about “Having been a cradle, yet mostly cultural Catholic until about 5 years ago, when I actually started to dig into my faith”. He knew what was right and what was wrong. But he fretted and fussed over doing wrong anyway: “Do I receive the Eucharist and avoid having to tell my kids I have
      sinned, and of course avoid the relentlessly judging eyes of my fellow
      parishioners?”

      My points are simple:
      1. Do the right thing. Always. Without a second thought.
      2. Your fellow parishioners are not judging you. Heck, they probably don’t even know who you are.
      3. If the author’s kids are 12 and 14, and he’s so proud of his knowledge of the faith, then why don’t they already know about this stuff? I know that if one of my parents stayed in the pew, if we had dared to ask why, we’d have gotten a firm “You know why, and it’s none of your business to ask.”

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