The good witness of not receiving Communion

To receive or not to receive?
The Last Supper by Juan de Juanes, painted in 1562

The Last Supper by Juan de Juanes, painted in 1562

The following comes from a December 7 Catholic Stand article by David Roney:

Last year, I found myself in a terrible position. It was a Sunday morning and I was preparing to take my kids to Mass. The problem was that I believed I needed to go to Confession prior to receiving the Eucharist. That was cause enough for anxiety, as no one wants their soul outside a state of grace. Add to that the fact that my kids had never seen me skip Communion before, and I was doubly stressed.

As a dad who wants to provide excellent Catholic witness to his then 12 & 14-year-olds, I was deeply conflicted about what to do. Do I receive the Eucharist and avoid having to tell my kids I have sinned, and of course avoid the relentlessly judging eyes of my fellow parishioners – few of whom I had noticed ever skipping Communion? Or, do I listen to my little voice, albeit one with a zealous scrupulosity meter, and skip Communion until I have been to Confession?

Who Is Worthy of Communion?

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states on its website about sin and the need for Confession:

Before one steps forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, one needs to be in a right relationship with the Lord and his Mystical Body, the Church – that is, in a state of grace, free of all mortal sin.

While sin damages, and can even destroy, that relationship, the sacrament of Penance can restore it. St. Paul tells us that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor 11:27-28). Anyone who is conscious of having committed a mortal sin should be reconciled through the sacrament of Penance before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, unless a grave reason exists for doing so and there is no opportunity for confession.

Further, it is understood that the graces received from consuming the Eucharist are appropriated according to our reverence and worthiness. Thus, if one does not believe in the real presence, or is knowingly in a state of sin, the graces received will be limited.

Having been a cradle, yet mostly cultural Catholic until about 5 years ago, when I actually started to dig into my faith, I can sadly think of many times I probably received Jesus unworthily. I simply did not understand the importance of being worthy and in a state of grace for Communion. Nine years at “Catholic” schools did not teach me about presenting myself worthily, as I recall;  it breaks my heart to think of the mistakes I made when I was younger.

Thankfully I have since confessed those errors and learned from them. And thus on this particular Sunday, I knew better. Honestly, for a moment, I wish I had not known better. But I did. I had become an educated and informed Catholic and had decided to follow my faith, which includes doing the difficult and sometimes uncomfortable things.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church say this about grave matter:

CCC 1859 Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.

Did He Present Himself for Communion?

So I fretted during Mass about what to do. Receive or not receive? Receive or not receive? “Dear Lord please tell me what to do,” I prayed. The Church does not require that we receive the Blessed Sacrament at each Mass, so not doing so would not be a sin, which provided some solace. In the end, I had convinced myself, rightly or wrongly, that Jesus would forgive me for what I was still unsure was actual grave matter, my willful participation in it, and for receiving while unsure about being worthy.

Yet, when the time came just a couple minutes later, I did not present myself for Communion; I just could not. Being uncertain, and wanted to err on the side of being worthy of my Lord and Savior. I dreaded explaining it to my kids, but I knew that was a part of my penance. You screw up and sin, you have to make amends and get it right before the Lord, and before receiving the Lord.

When the time came for Communion, I got up and let my kids out as I usually do. They saw me kneeling when they came back to the pew. Both had puzzled looks on their faces, and I told them I would explain later. Not surprisingly, I prayed for a proper way to share with my kids why I did not receive, and I think God delivered on that request. I explained to my kids in the car that because I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as all Catholics should, and believed I had done something for which I had to clear my conscience and soul in Confession, I thought it best to not receive Communion that day. To my kids’ credit, and to the credit of their authentically Catholic grade school, neither asked me what I had done. While both were still a little surprised, both accepted my explanation and dropped the matter.

The Lasting Impact of Good Witness

That Sunday both of my kids and I learned something new. They experienced their father admitting a mistake for which he needed Confession – not something of which one should be proud, of course – but perhaps an important revelation to growing kids about the true fallibility of parents. More importantly, they witnessed that their dad had such reverence for Christ, he simply could not present himself to Him in a state of unworthiness. Essentially, I unwittingly at the time, underscored, bolded, and italicized my belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. And as He always does, the Lord took a bad situation and made something good out of it.

In conversations since with my kids, I have explained to them that they too should do the same if they find themselves outside a state of grace. I have promised to take them to Confession, and not ask any questions. I think it is important for parents to both stress the importance of receiving worthily while offering their kids an opportunity to regain their worthiness through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And they should do so absent any prying into their children’s sin(s). They need to Confess to Christ, through their priest, not their parents.

I have since that one Sunday come to believe that people who do not receive Communion at Mass offer a valuable witness to the rest of their congregations about the importance of receiving while worthy. While I am sorry for their situations and pray they are temporary, I appreciate the respect and reverence they show to our Savior. And, of course, I never judge nor speculate about the reasons for their not presenting themselves before Christ, as the reasons may be personal, and not involve grave matter.

Perhaps if we all offered such witness regarding the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as myriad opportunities arise in our lives, others might learn from us and come to believe as we do, and deepen their faith. That can only please our Lord.


  1. I do not judge people who do not take Communion, it does not necessarily mean that the person is in serious sin. They may or may not be. A disagreement with someone before Mass even when right; a very stressful traffic situation or exposure to the flu are situations that some people might want to get worked out before they receive Communion again. If the mind is still in turmoil, it might not be a good time to receive.

    • Linda Maria says

      Anne T., that is what I was taught. Also, sometimes people at Mass, who refrain from Communion, may be non-Catholic friends of a parishioner, or else may be considering becoming a Catholic. Also, sometimes Catholics have to go to more than one Mass, on one day, for various reasons– they may have to do something for the Church, or accompany their family members, or attend special Masses (Confirmation, weddings, funerals, etc.). And we are taught that a Catholic may only receive Holy Communion, once per day (unless that law was recently changed!). Before Vatican II, perhaps half or three-quarters of the parish church, might go to Communion, sometimes– but every Catholic was required to attend Mass, regardless! Catholics also had…

      • Linda Maria says

        I will finish, with my above post. So– Catholics also had many religious devotions and prayers, in church, regardless of whether or not they received Communion, at Mass. One had to be properly prepared, for reception of Holy Communion, at Mass.

      • Linda Maria says

        Something that millions of Catholics, the world over, always used to love, was to be sure to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday every year, and get your ashes! Whether you practiced your Faith the rest of the year, or not!

      • The current law is that the Eucharist may be received TWICE a day, for ANY reason; but may not be received MORE THAN TWICE a day for ANY reason other than viaticum.

  2. Linda Maria says

    When growing up, before the Second Vatican Council, we all were taught very precisely, the conditions and the rules for proper preparation and reception of Holy Communion. Very serious! Catholics only received Communion when they had fulfilled the proper requirements. Attendance at Mass, however, was always mandatory, for Sundays and Holy Days. And most Catholics were busy with prayer and religious devotions, regardless of whether or not they received Holy Communion. If you were sick, or if the need arose, a Catholic was taught to make Spiritual Communions. Saturday Confession was a regular part of our religion. And the long Eucharistic Fasts, from midnight (until it later was changed by the Vatican, to a three hour fast) were…

    • Linda Maria says

      I will continue… So, the long Eucharistic Fasts, during that time, were dutifully observed, by all. Even by those who chose not to receive Communion, for that day. Catholic families always ate breakfast after Mass. We used to have a very serious religion! With lots of respect for God! And no one judged anyone, for their life’s details or problems; no one cared, who received Communion, and who did not. It was a strictly personal issue. Holy Communion was VERY HOLY, with respect and awe, by all. The Church was highly respected! The man who wrote the above article, was smart to try to prayerfully make the best possible decision, in his dilemma– and to also set a good example, for his kids.

  3. Sadly, we have this madness of row by row Communion. Lots of people should not be receiving Communion, and yet are somewhat forced to follow along with all those in the pew. Really an unnecessary protocol, used to be non existent. It is one more of the “fruits” of Vatical II and the “need” to have more
    ”active participation,” ushers, multiple readers, tons of altar girls, “so called” Eucharistic ministers, and so forth. I will pray for the day all of this madness is seen for what it is, and we can get back to a substantive, meditative, sacred liturgy.

    • I do not really have any problem with row by row Communion lines as it avoids chaos as often happens in places where it is not used — too much bumping and shoving. No one should feel obligated to go up. On the other hand, it might confuse non Catholics who might not know any better and feel as if they must follow everyone else, so your point is well taken. The best thing for a priest to do, at least in the newer rite, is to announce before Mass that only Catholics without serious sin should receive Communion, but others can come with folded arms for a blessing if they desire.

  4. I think God used you to give a wonderful lesson to your children in how you discussed it. The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ! And these days, it is hard to deny ourselves anything, much more the greatest Gift of all! Sometimes I wonder though if I am being too, I don’t know, scrupulous?, when I don’t receive especially after saying “Lord I am not worthy ….. but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”

  5. In Italy they just push up to Communion. Americans would probably get into fights. I don’t mind row by row but I ususally ignore it the people in front of my pew are moving too slowly. None of the strangers at Mass care what anybody else does long as the person who is not going to Communion gets up to let people pass by when they are exiting the pew instead of sitting there like a lump. If anyone is timid about not going to Communion just sit in the back or let people see you pop a candy into your mouth before Mass but don’t get up if you know that you shouldn’t go.

  6. Your Fellow Catholic says

    I went to Mass, almost daily, for several years before I became one, so I have been to literally hundreds of Masses at which i did not receive communion. As some have pointed out, there are a myriad of reasons why a person does not go to communion, and one should never make any judgements or assumptions about people who receive or do not receive. In fact, what gets me is people who say, “I don’t judge people who don’t go to communion”, when the very same people excoriate people who do. The “I don’t judge” people who don’t go up is a little bit like racist people who say “I have many black friends, so I can’t be racist.” If you find yourself remotely tempted to judge who is in the line or not in the line, maybe you need to look…

    • Your Fellow Catholic says

      Gosh, sometimes I wish we could edit our posts on CCD. This is one of them.

      “I went to Mass almost daily for several years before I became one”. Of course I didn’t become Mass. I became a catholic, after years of attending mass. Silly me. Sorry for the confusion.

      Also, what was cut off due to the limit is “If you find yourself remotely tempted to judge who is in the line or not in the line, maybe you need to look inside. It is not that which goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles.

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