Should Holy Communion be Given to Public Sinners?

From the time of St. Paul to the present day, what has the Church consistently taught regarding the distribution of Holy Communion?

Newsroom (12/10/2021 23:30, Gaudium Press) From the earliest times of Christianity, Holy Church has steadfastly remained firm in Her own teachings, as handed down by the Apostles, by the Fathers of the Church and, finally, by the Tradition inherited from those brothers who have gone before us with the sign of faith, who lived most closely with Our Lord Jesus Christ.

In regard to the Eucharist, there are no limits regarding the adoration, respect and care that should be shown for this sublime sacrament. For this reason, the Apostle of the Gentiles, in his first letter to the Corinthians, says: “Whoever eats or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let each one examine himself, and so eat of this bread and drink of this cup. He who eats and drinks it without distinguishing the body of the Lord eats and drinks his own condemnation” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

Among the Fathers of the Church, this admonition is agreed upon. St. Augustine, leaning on the words of St. Paul, affirms: “The Sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the Sacrament is another. How many receive it from the altar and by receiving it die? Whence the Apostle says: You eat and drink your own damnation. St. Justin states: “This Food, which among us is called the Eucharist, of which no one can be a partaker except he who believes that what we teach is true … and lives according to the precepts given by Christ’‘. St. John Chrysostom asserts: “Think how unworthy you are of the traitor and of all those who crucified Christ, and beware lest you yourself be a victim of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Those have torn his sacred body to pieces; thou receivest it with a sordid soul after so many benefits.”[4]

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Woe to those who approach the Lord’s table with a soul soiled by mortal sin, for they place themselves in a situation similar to that of Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper: “As soon as he had swallowed it, Satan entered into him” (Jn 13:27).

Tainting the purity and honour of the Church?

Similarly, in the medieval period, we see St. Thomas Aquinas absolutely reproving Communion for these souls. But his judgment does not differ with regard to public sinners either: “Holy Communion ought not to be given to public sinners, even if they ask for it.”[5] For this reason, Aquinas quotes a letter of St. Cyprian: “You have seen fit, in your goodness, to ask my opinion whether Communion ought to be given, as it is given to other Christians, to comedians and to that sorcerer who has taken up his abode among you and is still continuing his infamous practices. I think that neither the Divine Majesty nor the teaching of the Gospel is respected when the purity and honour of the Church are tarnished by such a torpid and infamous contact.'”[6]

The Council of Trent (1545-1565) was clear in admonishing Christians to approach the heavenly Sacrament of the Eucharist with a clear conscience, great reverence, and holiness, repeating the words of the Apostle in his Letter to the Corinthians.[7] And Canon 11 of the same Council objectively and clearly deliberates: “In order that so great a sacrament may not be received unworthily, and therefore to death and damnation, the Holy Synod determines and declares that, whoever has his conscience aggravated by mortal sin, however contrite he may think himself to be, must necessarily first confess. But if anyone dares to teach, preach or pertinaciously affirm the contrary, or also to defend it in public dispute, let him ipso facto be excommunicated.”[8]

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For those who deservedly expect such bitter repercussions upon receiving Holy Communion unworthily, might their intention be to preach a false “truth” to tarnish the purity and honour of the Church?

By Guilherme Motta

[1] SAN AGUSTÍN. Treatises on the Gospel of St. John, XXVI, 11. Madrid: BAC, 2005, v. XIII, p. 598.

[2] JUSTIN. Apologie pour les chrétiens I, 66, 1. Sources Chrétiennes. Trad. Charles Munier. Paris: Cerf, 2006, v. 507, p. 306-307.

[3] ORIGINE. Commentaire sur l’Évangile selon Matthieu, livre XI, ch. 14. Sources Chrétiennes. Trad. Robert Girod. Paris: Cerf, 1970, v. 162, p. 345.

[4] SAN JUAN CRISOSTOMO. Homilies on San Mateo (46-90), 82, 5. Madrid: BAC, 2007, v. II, p. 625.

[5] S. th., III, q. 80, a. 6, resp. In: THOMAS DE AQUINO. Summa Theologica. Sao Paulo: Loyola Editions, 2005, v. 9, p. 379.

[6] Ibid.

[7] DH 1646. In: DENZINGER, Heinrich; HÜNERMANN, Peter. Compendium of the symbols, definitions, and declarations of faith and morals. São Paulo: Paulines: Loyola Editions, 2007, p. 423.

[8] Ibid., p. 426.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm


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