Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion
The Eucharist is the source and summit of all Christian life. It is the sacrament of salvation, the Body and Blood of Christ offered for us on Calvary and received by us, the People of God. Regarding the Holy Eucharist, St. Paul says, “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” (1 Cor. 11:27).
The law of the Church requires each Catholic, before receiving Holy Communion, to make a careful examination of conscience, using the teachings of the Church as the examining criteria. After this private examination, each Catholic is able to determine whether he or she is prepared to receive the sacrament. Canon 916 of the Code of Canon Law states:
A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.
The above mentioned preparation is private, as the state of each Catholic’s soul is known to him or her alone. However, there are instances when a Catholic’s unworthiness to receive Holy Communion will be determined by the Church because of a person’s public conduct. This determination does not depend upon the private examination of conscience but results rather from a Catholic’s public and persistent actions in opposition to the moral law as taught by the Church. In these cases, the Church forbids members to receive the sacrament. Canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law states:
Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.
In recent years, the Holy See has declared that those who are unworthy to receive Holy Communion if they are “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” include persons directly involved in lawmaking bodies. These have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life. Pope John Paul II also addressed this matter when he wrote, “The judgment of one’s state of grace obviously belongs only to the person involved, since it is a question of examining one’s conscience. However, in case of outward conduct which is seriously, clearly and steadfastly contrary to the moral norm, the Church, in her pastoral concern for the good order of the community and out of respect for the sacrament, cannot fail to feel directly involved. The Code of Canon Law refers to this situation of a manifest lack of proper moral disposition when it states that those who ‘obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ are not to be admitted to Eucharistic communion.”
In 2004, the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) instructed the Bishops of the United States as follows:
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.
This denial, the Cardinal noted in the same instruction, “is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy of 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.”
Therefore, His Excellency, the Most Reverend Joseph F. Martino, Bishop of Scranton, reminds all ministers of Holy Communion, ordinary and extraordinary, that:
- To administer the Sacred Body and Blood of the Lord is a serious duty which they have received from the Church, and no one having accepted this responsibility has the right to ignore the Church’s law in this regard;
- Those whose unworthiness to receive Holy Communion is known publicly to the Church must be refused Holy Communion in order to prevent sacrilege and to prevent the Catholic in question from committing further grave sin through unworthy reception.
James B. Earley
 Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, 4, 2002
 On the Eucharist, 37, 2003
 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s memo Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion, 6