Rhode Islanders have turned their attention recently to the question of the worthy reception of Holy Communion. Every Catholic must attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Yet, a person in the state of mortal sin should not receive Holy Communion until making a good confession. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: “A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:28-29). Mortal sin is a free deliberate choice that kills the life of grace in a person.
The Eucharist strengthens the life of grace, but it does not restore it. As the Catechism explains, “The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins — that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church” (CCC 1395). A person must make another free and deliberate choice to repent and go to Confession in order to receive the benefits of receiving the Eucharist. Confession has the power to restore the life of grace, provided that the person repents. Without this dynamic, the person stands as a house divided.
St. Paul connects the unworthy reception of Holy Communion to a sick spiritual life that eventually leads to a dead spiritual life. The unworthy reception of the Eucharist begins to sicken the person. Eventually, the desire for the Eucharist lessens; the Mass and the entire spiritual life become a chore. The Church denies the Eucharist to people in order to help them realize their serious spiritual state, to avoid profanation of the Sacrament, and to minimize scandal. At this point, forbidding a person to receive Holy Communion simply affirms what is already true about the person’s spiritual state. Further, continuing to come to Mass, but not receiving the Eucharist, develops in the person a hunger for the Eucharist. Such hunger helps to push out any sinful desires that may have gripped the person and increase their desire for Confession. Hopefully the person cries out: “O God, it is you I seek! For you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, like a dry weary land without water.”