Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sin and the Receiving Eucharist

“Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” James 4:17

Don’t read this article!  If you do, you’ll know what is right to do and will have to do it!    There is much confusion among Catholics about what is required in order to receive Holy Communion.  The Baltimore Catechism states, “To receive worthily it is necessary to be free from mortal sin, to have a right intention and to obey the Church’s laws on the fast required out of reverence for the body and blood of Our Divine Lord.”  The question thus arises:  what is mortal sin? 

In order for a sin, an offense against God, to be considered mortal, three conditions need be met.  “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”  (CCC 1857).  For a sin to be of “grave matter” it must violate one of the Ten Commandments (murder, stealing, lying which will destroy a person’s reputation, etc.).  “Full knowledge and deliberate consent” means that you know what you are about to do is wrong, but you intentionally do it anyway.  The remedy for mortal sin, which is spiritual death, is sacramental confession to a priest.  If you know you are in a state of mortal sin, you must receive the Sacrament of Penance before receiving the Eucharist.  To paraphrase the Baltimore Catechism, a dead man cannot eat, and souls in mortal sin cannot receive Eucharist.  Receiving outside of the state of grace heaps sacrilege on top of our other mortal sins. 

To continue the analogy, sick people have a harder time eating than the healthy.  Venial sin does not break our friendship with God, but it does injure it and lessens the amount of grace we receive from the Eucharist.  A venial sin is committed when we do not live charity or observe God’s law in less serious matters.   A sin can also be considered venial when the matter is grave but when we are somehow ignorant of the truth or do not give our full consent to the sin.  Confession brings down grace in our lives to help us to turn away from venial sins, especially those we have constant trouble with.   

An elderly woman once told me, “You don’t hang clean curtains in a dirty kitchen,” which was why she always took her venial sins to confession before receiving our Lord in Holy Communion.  This is a beautiful and pious practice; however the Church does not require it.  Because frequent confession is not possible for everyone, the Church in her wisdom and generosity gives us the Penitential Rite at the beginning of each mass.  According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, number 51:

"Then the priest invites those present to take part in the Act of Penitence, which, after a brief pause for silence, the entire community carries out through a formula of general confession. The rite concludes with the priest's absolution, which, however, lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance."

In this prayer, and indeed in the acts of listening to the Liturgy of the Word and of receiving the Eucharist itself, we are cleansed from all venial sins.  All of this is to ensure that when we say, “Amen” (so be it) before receiving Jesus, we are open to all of the graces and gifts He wants to give us.   Because the Eucharist is a gift and not something we take, let us remember to open and cup our hands or open our mouths and our hearts, to receive our Lord. 

For those of us who are “minimalists”, we can look to the canonical precepts of the church.  The second precept states, “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.”  The Church does not ask this to set an arbitrary rule, but because she knows that God desires that we receive all of the graces He gives.  God won’t take control of our lives; He wants us to give Him control that we may receive His order.  As we accept His order over all aspects of our lives, we will see His plan for us unfold mercifully and beautifully.  The ultimate fruit of His plan is never some sort of dictatorial control, the kind we often try to have over our own lives, but instead, is a loving union with Him. 

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