Can Someone in Mortal Sin Receive Holy Communion?

The question seems absurd as any child preparing for First Communion knows the answer: “No! To receive Holy Communion one must be in the state of grace.”

The Sin of Adulterous Concubinage

The same 7-year old knows that a serious fault against any of the Ten Commandments (for example, adultery or concubinage) will cause a person to lose the state of grace. Now then, adultery can be coupled with concubinage when one or both persons stably living together are legitimately married to third parties.

A person who stably lives in concubinage is in the state of mortal sin. This sin is aggravated when coupled with adultery. Therefore, in order for this person to receive sacramental absolution he or she needs to repent and make a firm resolution to abandon their sinful situation for otherwise the absolution would not be valid.

Therefore, as long as the adulterous couple continues living together they cannot receive Holy Communion.

In very special cases of aged people who for several reasons can no longer separate, they may be absolved and admitted to Holy Communion as long as they live as brother and sister and do not cause scandal.

This traditional Catholic doctrine can be found in any catechism or traditional treatise on morals. It is also found in papal teachings and encyclicals such as Casti Conubii, issued by Pope Pius XI on December 31, 1930.[1]

The Errors of the “New Morals” or “Situation Ethics”

What we see today in the ongoing discussions on whether divorced and “remarried” Catholics should be allowed to receive Holy Communion is nothing but a revival of the “new morals” or “situation ethics” principles already condemned by Pope Pius XII.

With its existentialist underpinnings, “new morals” rejects the application of the general principles of morals to specific cases. It claims that each case is different and needs to be resolved with special criteria. But this erroneous belief is simply the taking of personalist existentialism to its ultimate consequences, turning the human person (rather than the Law of God) into the final and objective rule of morals.

As always happens in such matters, we are not faced with anything new but rather a “rehash” of old errors packaged as new and great “findings.”

Condemning this moral stance, Pius XII stated that “[these new morals] could be called ‘ethic existentialism.’” “[It] is not based on universal moral laws such as the Ten Commandments but on concrete and real conditions or circumstances in which one must act and according to which the individual conscience must judge and choose.”

“[The] new ethics is so contrary to the Catholic faith and principles,” the Pope says that, “even a child who knows the catechism will realise it.” “It is not difficult,” he continues, “to see how the new moral system is derived from existentialism.”

Refuting such “morals” the pontiff explains that the universal law of morals can be applied to every particular case “because by its universality [it]… necessarily and intentionally comprehends all the particular cases that arise.”[2]

Cardinal Kasper Applies the “New Morals”

At the Extraordinary Consistory on the Family held on February 20 and 22 of this year, Walter Cardinal Kasper, a leading exponent of the liberal current in the Church who was the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity for a number of years, was asked to give a talk on marriage.

In a media interview, the prelate summarised his stance in favour of giving Holy Communion to “remarried divorcees,” and his style was reminiscent of the condemned principles of “new morals” or “situation ethics”:

“There are some very varied situations, some general rules but also some concrete situations.” As an example, he presented the case of a divorced and “remarried” woman whose son was about to make his First Communion: “The son was going to take communion but not the mother,” he said. And then, instead of invoking a principle to resolve the case, he raised a question: “So I ask myself: how is this possible?”

Having thus called into question the clear moral principle that this woman could not receive Communion because she was objectively in the state of mortal sin, he concluded, in an even more ambiguous manner: “We have repentance, mercy and God’s forgiveness. Can we really deny the remissione peccatorum?”[3]

If the elements of his answer to the journalist are presented logically, this is what they read like:

“It is not possible to deny Communion to a divorced and remarried mother whose son will make his First Communion because that would be denying God’s forgiveness and mercy.”

Forgiveness and Mercy Require Abandoning Sin

The Cardinal summarised in that short statement the ample study he read to the other cardinals during the Consistory. It showed the substratum of his thinking: moral cases must not be resolved on the basis of universal rules, but according to the “situation” in which the person finds himself.

Moreover, he speaks about “repentance” and “mercy and God’s forgiveness” ignoring the fact that for a sinner to obtain forgiveness he must loath his sin, repent, and abandon it.

Indeed, the teaching of the Council of Trent is crystal clear:

“Contrition, whi