Canon Law: Is it permissible to turn people away at Communion?

These days, I have heard it said multiple times (specifically with regard to Communion for the divorced and remarried) that “people may not be refused Communion at the altar rail”. Most recently, the Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, Germany, said:

"In pastoral care at the parish level, the rule is “people may not be turned away at the altar rail.”

I have never understood this statement, which is chucked about very loosely here, in light of Canons such as 915 and possibly 916. Those saying “no one may be turned away” argue that Jesus says “take and eat”, and gives no requirements. They also say that Saint Paul doesn’t give a principle, but concrete sins that preclude someone from Communion in I Cor 11.

So, really, are these two statements mutually exclusive? Is there a basis in Canon Law for the first one? It does sound like a “right” to Communion in any given instance.

Nobody can be turned away unless the priest is absolutely confident that the person is ineligible to receive.

Such certainty is difficult to achieve. The person might have made a good confession only hours before (to a different priest), with the firm intention to not sin again.

Thus, the Church errs on the side of absolute caution. After all, if a person is in a state of mortal sin, illicit reception cannot place him in a state of “more” mortal sin. If the person is in a state of Grace, denying reception could imperil that state.

It is better to give Eucharist to a sinner than to withhold Eucharist from a Saint.

Seems to be the classic “both-and”. :slight_smile:

I don’t know what that means. It seems that “both” implies “and” (because “both” means “this AND that”). Maybe it is a German expression that does not quite translate to English?

On Catholic Answers Live, that’s a term used occasionally. For example, when Protestants say “It’s either Scripture or Tradition”, the Catholic side is “it is both Scripture and Tradition”.

I have just noticed, however, that it actually doesn’t apply here. The two statements are contradictory, that is, Canon 915 and “no one may be turned away”.

While there are quite a few German peculiarities, this is not one of them. :wink:

Canon 915 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.

This is not exactly the tone of your original question. But I maintain that (almost) ANYONE who has been excommunicated in the manner of Canon 915 has ONLY to attend Sacramental Confession to lift this sentence. In some (very rare) cases, the Confessor must acknowledge this Confession to some higher authority (such as offenses “reserved” to the Ordinary, or to the Holy See).

Few priests have EVER encountered someone subject to Canon 915. My brother, Fr. Eric Filmer (of the Ask an Apologist Forum) has not.

Indeed, they would be rare cases. When I said they were contradictory, or mutually exclusive, I meant that one can’t maintain at the same time first that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin” may not be admitted to Communion, and second that “no one may be turned away from Communion”.

The later is absolute, since it says “no one”. Canon 915 qualifies that statement. So I think my question has been answered. :slight_smile: Thank you.

A Pentecostal wanted to attend my Church service on Good Friday. At communion I told her she could not go to communion. She huffed up and left the Church. Later she asked me if I thought that Jesus died for Catholics only. I told her that she did not know what Catholic communion was. It was not just bread and wine but the actual body and blood of Jesus.

I was taught that if you felt a call to receive communion, you made a personal act of contrition and then went to confession.

I would hope and pray that Fr. Filmer would not discuss what he has or has not heard in the confessional.

I don’t think general statements such as that violate the Seal.


Here is a document from the Pontifical council for legislative texts addressing this issue, especially in numbers 2-4:


The moment I posted, I deleted it, as it was a half formed thought and not fleshed out.

The Eucharist deserves protection. Take the case of Fr. Guarnizo, for example.

Oh, and the instruction of the Didache!

Unfortunately, ushers and greeters don’t give white arm bands to the eligible after checking Confession punch cards. :wink:

Well I can yell you that in the catholic church in Latin America and in Italy not only is permissible to deny communion to people who the priest suspects they are in mortal sin but they do quite frequently and some cases is mandatory. Bishops in central america during the 90’s came out with a letter ordering priests in Latin american countries to deny communion to anyone who was a known Mason. Panama became famous for its priests turning the president and vice president away from communion In a televised mass right at the altar rail. In Italy I have seen multiple priests being turned away from communion and they even have signs quoting st Paul whoever receives my body being unworthy of it eats their own condemnation. The Eucharist is sacred and in all case is better to deny it than to give it to a sinner.

Sincerely I don’t think this bishop in Germany is right. He is trying to lax the rules of the church to make it “politically correct”. If you are in mortal sin you cannot have communion. You need to go to confession first. For some reason I have found that people in the US don’t know that and it seems now that Germany has a similar issue

Is there a source for this quote? St. Paul did say that a man is to examine himself regarding reception of the Eucharist. A person who has gone through that and approaches the altar prepared and is then denied loses faith in the church.

The word “suspect” leaves it to the discretion of, the priest.

It’s not my call, it’s his.

My opinion? No, they’re not mutually exclusive. The canons are talking about a point of law – namely, who must not be admitted to communion. The bishop’s statement, however, is different: it’s talking about a pastoral consideration. That particular pastoral consideration, I would assert, is what should happen when a person has already presented himself for communion, and is “at the altar rail” in order to receive. Pastorally speaking, then, it would seem that it would do more damage if that person were to be turned away publicly. Instead, it would be better either to resolve the situation before the person showed up in the communion line, or to follow up with the person afterward in order to address the situation (and prevent any further issues with reception in the future).

So, since I think that the bishop was talking about the particular situation encountered “at the altar rail,” I don’t think these two conflict, per se. :shrug:

The example I keep thinking of is Nancy Pelosi. I think Cardinal Burke once said that she is a clear candidate for Canon 915. If she were to present herself for Communion at any given parish, she couldn’t be refused Communion “at the altar rail” (if the parish she goes to has one… sorry, I couldn’t resist).

The culpability lies completely on the person who presents himself for reception of communion, not on the priest who is expected to discern who is or who isn’t worthy. If a person knowingly and willingly commits this sacrilege, it just further endangers their eternal salvation, unless this is repented and confessed, restoring the person to communion with the Church.

I know a person who boasts that they do not need to go to Mass because he can worship God in his home (you’ve all heard these excuses). In his mind, he believes he is always worthy to receive. :eek: His mother schedules many masses during the year for certain deceased family members, and her son marches down the aisle for communion every time. True, the priest doesn’t know the heart of the communicant, and cannot be expected to single him out by a refusal, which may cause the person to become even more reprobate.

It breaks my heart to see such sacrilege! However, Jesus foreknew His sacred Body would be abused, but for love of us all, He allows Himself to be a prisoner of love in the tabernacle and in the hearts of unworthy communicants. They will not receive the grace of the sacrament whatsoever.

No, but no source should be needed (with the qualification that I was considering a “sinner” to be in a state of mortal sin).

A person in a state of mortal sin is not harmed by illicit receipt of Eucharist. You cannot be in a “greater” state of mortal sin - there is only one state. Illicit reception of Eucharist will not cause him to have “more” mortal sin.

A saint (a person in a State of Grace) can benefit from Eucharist. Withholding Eucharist from a saint can cause spiritual harm, whereas giving Eucharist to a sinner (not in a State of Grace) makes no difference.

So, it stands to reason, it is better to give Eucharist to a sinner (which does nothing) than to withhold Eucharist from a Saint (which can be harmful).

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