6 Points on the Worthiness to Receive Communion by Cardinal Ratzinger

“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.”

Image via St. Theresa Catholic Church, http://sugarlandcatholic.com/

Listers, the following is a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith while it was under the watchful eye of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. The document is re-posted in full, and the titles have been added by SPL. Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles by 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.]

Personal Prudence and Objective Standards

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).

Abortion, Euthanasia, and the Law

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).

Legitimate Diversity on War & the Death Penalty

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.

Cardinal Ratzinger via Catholic News Agency

Grounds to Refuse an Individual Holy Communion

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).

Catholic Politicians & the Eucharist

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.

Public Unworthiness

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.

Nota Bene: Voting as a Moral Act

[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.]

  • Maureen Sullivan

    I am happy to hear this. Catholics need to be continually reminded!! One question I have is regarding lesbian and homosexual (couples) presenting themselves for Holy Communion. I believe it is a grave sin and scandal—What does the Holy Father say? What about people who miss Mass weeks and months on end and then go to Communion at funerals and holidays?? Those who only go to Mass at Christmas, Easter?? What about them receiving Holy Communion??

  • milmarm

    Regarding “Voting as a Moral Act”, you need to further explain what is meant by “can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons” or readers may use this instruction to EASILY dismiss their guilt and vote for pro-abortion politicians.

  • Nance

    I wish priests could read this during the homily!!

    • Orji

      In Nigeria, the Catechist usually announce the conditions for receiving Holy Communion just before distribution of Holy communion starts.

  • Teresa

    I agree, that we Catholics need to be continually reminded and shepherd by our priests in order that those who only go to Mass at Christmas, Easter, or Ash Wednesday may be evangelized and hopefully hear the Word of God and not wander elsewhere on other Sundays of the year but instead come home weekly to the church.

  • A person that I know being Catholic all his life refuse to get marry by the Church . He was worry that if by any chance his marry fall apart he will be excommunicated but if he live in sin he will not. A politician HAS to serve everybody not only the ones of the Catholic faith. He will do on his personal life as the Church demand We do not live in a theocracy we still have separation of Church and State. War, the Catholic Church that I was born into thought me the only time that you have to go to war is when ONLY other country invades yours territory and you should defend your home and family Abortion ONLY if the mother’s life is in danger. Death penalty out of the question

  • PS I guess I am out of the Catholic Church. What I did learn in mine is not current any more !!!

  • Katherine

    @ Maria T. You can go to confession if you think you are “out” of the church and be restored to a state of grace. I invite you to find an examine of conscience and do so. Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, Jesus promises to the soul who goes to Holy Eucharist and Confession and comes to the fount of Mercy will receive forgiveness of sins and punishment. Please do this quickly, this is a magnificent gift to all of us.

  • AprilD

    Maria, if he is living with someone whom he did not marry in the Catholic Church, especially because he believes it could end in divorce so it is not a sacramental marriage, he should not receive communion.

  • Chip

    ” …which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.” I challenge anyone (laity, priest or bishop) to clearly cite a single “proportional” reason that may exist on the American political stage at this time.

  • I think that the rules of the Catholic Church are important and they should be expalined in simple terms without complicated terminology. We also need to loo at the reasons for behaviours and support people to make the right decions and particularly support them practically, emptionally and spiritually when life is hard.

  • Patty Jarrett

    I think that we should remember that the rules of the church were manmade rules. Jesus is who we answer to in the end.

  • I believe that a politician who is pro abortion, euthanasia, or for homosexual marriage should not be voted for by catholics, period. Those decisions should use God’s laws as the primary criteria for casting a vote, not secondary. Its well past time to stop voting for our wallets or some other perceived good.

  • Glendon

    God bless all our Cardinals, Bishops, priests and especially our Pope.