Can Someone in Mortal Sin Receive 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.”1

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.2

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.3

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.4

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 Connubii, issued by Pope Pius XI on December 31, 1930.5

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.6

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.7

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,” says the Pope; “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.”

Cardinal Kasper Applies the “New Morals”

At the Extraordinary Consistory on the Family held on 20th and 22nd February of 2014, 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?”8

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?”

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 the abandonment of 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.9

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

“Contrition, which holds the first place among the aforesaid acts of the penitent, is a sorrow of mind and a detestation for sin committed with the purpose of not sinning in the future. … The holy council declares therefore, that this contrition implies not only an abstention from sin and the resolution and beginning of a new life, but also a hatred of the old, according to the statement: ‘Cast away from you all your transgressions by which you have transgressed, and make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit’ (Ezekiel 18:31).”

Can a Person in the State of Mortal Sin Practice Spiritual Communion?

In the document he read during the Consistory, Cardinal Kasper presented this syllogism:

1.  Major premise: “[H]e who receives spiritual communion becomes one with Jesus Christ;

2.  Minor premise: “how can he then, be in contradiction with the commandment of Christ?

3.  Conclusion: “Why, then, can’t he also receive sacramental communion?”

Although this syllogism is formally correct, its conclusion is erroneous because its major premise is wrong: persons in the state of mortal sin cannot make a true spiritual Communion and thus become spiritually united with Jesus Christ unless they make a sincere act of contrition for their sin with the resolution of amending themselves.

Indeed, the same Council of Trent defines spiritual Communion as follows:

As to its use our Fathers have rightly and wisely distinguished three ways of receiving this Holy Sacrament. For they have taught that some receive it sacramentally only, as sinners; others only spiritually, namely those who eating with desire the heavenly bread set before them, by a living faith, “which worketh by charity” [Gal. 5:6], perceive its fruit and usefulness; while the third receive it both sacramentally and spiritually [can. 8]; and these are they who so prove and prepare themselves previously that “clothed with the wedding garment” [Matt. 22:11, ff.], they approach this divine table.

This is why Fr. Felix Capello, S.J. in his Tractatus Canonico-Moralis says that “he who is in mortal sin” must at least “repent in his heart if he wishes to spiritually communicate profitably.”

As a matter of fact, the state of mortal sin deprives us of the “lively faith which worked by charity,” of which the Council of Trent speaks.

Also Fr. Francis D. Costa, S.S.S., in the well-documented study titled Nature and Effects of Spiritual Communion, says that as a condition to make a spiritual Communion, “the person must be in the state of grace, since this is a necessary condition for Holy Communion, and also because this desire is essentially an act of love of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.”

In other words, the person who communicates spiritually must have a living faith stemming from , which is the love of God; this means he or she must be in the state of grace rather than having the dead faith of a person in sin.

“Returning” to the “Early Church”

In his presentation to the cardinals, Cardinal Kasper mentions historical examples in an attempt to show that the early Church and the Fathers of the Church accepted that “remarried” divorcees be admitted to Holy Communion after a time of repentance and penance.

Such historical arguments were brilliantly refuted by Prof. Roberto de Mattei in his essay, “What God hath joined together… and the Cultural Revolution of Cardinal Kasper.”

“It is Easier for Heaven and Earth to Pass, Than One Title of the Law to Fall”

The Saviour’s words are clear and leave no room for confusion:

“It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter of the law to become invalid. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Lk. 16:17-18)

“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes, nor sodomites, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)

In short, one cannot love Our Lord without following His Commandments:

“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21)

If we wish to go to Heaven, let us be faithful to the Saviour’s words and Commandments. Everything else is “vanity and a chase after wind.” (Eccl. 2:11)

– By Luiz Sérgio Solimeo


  1. Cf. nos. 31-38,, accessed Mar. 12, 2014. (Back to article)
  2. Pius XII, “Speech to the Conference of the World Federation of Female Catholic Youth,” Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di sua Santità Pio XII, Apr. 18, 1952, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, Vol. XIV, 72, 75. (Our translation.) (Back to article)
  3. Iacopo Scaramuzzi, “Synod on the Family: Kasper calls for mercy in concrete situations,” Vatican Insider, Feb. 20, 2014,, accessed Mar. 12, 2014. (Back to article)
  4. Denzinger, n. 897. (Back to article)
  5. Walter Kasper, “Bibbia, Eros e Famiglia,”, Il Foglio Quotidiano, Mar. 1, 2014,, accessed Mar. 12, 2014. (Back to article)
  6. Denzinger n. 881. (Back to article)
  7. Vol. I, De Sacramentis in genere, de Baptismo, Confirmatione et Eucharistia, n. 524. Cf. Aertnys-Damen C.SS.R., Theologia Moralis, Tomus II, n. 135, Scholion. (Back to article)
  8. Cf. Francis D. Costa, S.S.S., “Nature and Effects of Spiritual Communion,” in missing name of journal, 139-148, at, accessed Mar. 12, 2014. (Back to article)
  9., accessed Mar. 12, 2014. (Back to article)

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