Dear Father,

I am very confused about where to draw the line in regards to receiving communion. I was taught that if I sinned I should go to confession before receiving communion again, but as I get older I feel that God wouldn’t want me to stop receiving communion unless I did something extremely terrible. How do I know when I shouldn’t go? I don’t want to sin even more by receiving communion when I shouldn’t.


The sacred gesture during the christian mass: showing the holy bread

Dear One,

Your question is a really good one. As you say, I was taught as a child…but now that I have grown up….I think somewhat differently. This is actually sign of maturity!

When we were children it was not really possible for us to understand mortal sin. We were told that this or that action was a mortal sin, but we did not have the maturity to understand the terrible consequences of, for example, playing with matches.

But when we become adults we are expected to understand why certain actions ~ and sometimes non-actions ~ are terribly wrong (mortal sin) even when children would not be able to understand why. For example, to shout “Fire” in a crowded theater might seem like a cute joke to a teenage; but an adult would be expected to know that this would surely be a mortal sin because it could result in the death of innocent people who are trampled by others.

I will quote for you the very words of the official Catechism of the Catholic Church to show you that your question/concerns are actually based on the words of Jesus and St. Paul in the Bible:

Para. 1384. The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him the sacrament of the Eucharist: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the San of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) Para. 1385. To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon him¬ self.” (1 Cor. 11:27-29) Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacra¬ment of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

Note that Jesus says it is exceedingly important to receive Communion. Only an adult can understand the seriousness of Jesus’ words. At the same time, Paul reminds us that it would not be appropriate to receive Communion “in an unworthy manner.” Again, only an adult can properly understand what Paul is saying. The teaching of the Church does not try to define mortal sin (grave sin) beyond what Jesus and St. Paul said….it is the responsibility of every adult Catholic to continue the project of understanding what is mortal sin for him/her self. In Catholic tradition, it is assumed that this is a not-always-easy task and why each of us is directed to seek the assistance of a confessor/spiritual director.

Peace and Love,
Fr. Rob