Scandal and the Sacraments

I recently went to confession and, though I was absolved of my sins and could partake in the sacraments, the priest asked if it was scandal for me to do so because of my living circumstances. In other words, it would look as if I were sinning while taking sacraments.

This created a real grey area for me. I’m fixing the circumstances, but it will probably take me a year at least to do so. It wasn’t clear to me if I should or should not take communion prior to fixing them.

The other problem is that it seems a matter of opinion… for example, there were perhaps a dozen people at confession, but everyone takes communion at Mass. In my view, that is a scandal, but it isn’t my place to judge. I can’t presume to know.

The only legitimate reason I could think of for not taking communion while in these circumstances is because it would lead others to think that they could sin and take part in the Sacraments.

Any thoughts?

Only you can judge how much others are likely to be influenced by seeing you take communion - how many people know of your living arrangements? Do those people also know that you’re trying to sort things out?

I’d always err on the side of caution in taking communion if scandal is a genuine possibility - at least in your parish. There’s always the option, if possible, of going to Mass and communion at another parish.

You can sin, receive absolution, and accept Communion. That’s not the problem. What is a problem is if you live in a perpetual state of sin, in which case you receive absolution, but as soon as you leave the confessional, you’re back in the state of mortal sin.

So let’s say your sin is that you used the Lord’s name in vain. If you walk into the confessional, and receive absolution, you walk out absolved of that sin and able to accept Communion (unless you used the Lord’s name in vain in the confessional with the priest, in which case you have bigger problems).

Let’s compare that to adultery (you get divorced, and remarried without an annulment). If you walk into the confessional and receive absolution, you’re still an adulterer when you walk out, so you’re absolved of the adultery that occurred before you entered the confessional, but not of the adultery that occurred between when you left the confessional and when Communion is distributed. So you cannot accept Communion as you are in a state of mortal sin (until the situation is rectified and you’ve received absolution).

I don’t presume to know the specific confession that led to the priest’s comment, but if you were not in a perpetual state of sin, and the situation was solely scandal, it means that the priest is concerned that if you accept communion, and therefore present yourself to be free of mortal sin, it could influence others to behave as you do, which would lead them to sin or to the occasion of sin. For example, if you own the local gentleman’s club, and in confession,you tell the priest that the club is closed and will be reopened as a bookstore next week, until you actually change the signs and everyone knows it’s a bookstore, it’s probably not a good idea to accept Communion. Otherwise, you’re sending the message that it’s OK to own a gentleman’s club (and by extension visit or work at a gentleman’s club) and still accept Communion. Once the bookstore opens and everyone knows that you do not own a gentleman’s club, you can accept Communion.

Scandal is a complicated thing, so the best advice is to ask a priest and to do what he says.

Well, first you have to evaluate the sin that’s happening; is it mortal, as in is it a grave matter and are you doing it of your own free will? I’m not sure how living arrangements fit into this, but are you doing anything to stop it if it is a sin?

Considering that you are fixing the circumstances currently, I don’t know if it is truly a mortal sin as you are not doing it out of your own free will. Mortal sin has to have those two things (grave matter, free will), so I’m not sure if there is a grey area between mortal and venial. To be safe, I wouldn’t receive communion.

I would ask a priest and see what he says about it.

I don’t think that’s how it works. Under your scenario, if you lived in sin (married, divorced, then remarried without annulment), the sin would end as soon as you decide to seek an annulment and convalidation. However, I believe that couples in that situation are instructed not to receive communion.

An example of giving scandal would be if you had married outside the church and this was known to many people in the parish. Now you or your spouse may be pursuing an annulment so you could be married in the church. In the meantime, both of you agree to live as brother and sister and you are doing so. However, if people see you going to communion they might assume that the priest has told you that it’s ok not to be validly married. Or they might think if you can receive communion they can too. So they might be led into sin by your example. As you said, The only legitimate reason I could think of for not taking communion while in these circumstances is because it would lead others to think that they could sin and take part in the Sacraments.

It may be that only a very few close friends in the parish know about your marriage situation and you feel comfortable telling them what is going on so you wouldn’t be giving scandal. But if many people know about it, you really would not want to announce the details of your private life to them. The solution would be to receive communion at another parish for a time so that you wouldn’t be giving scandal. You could tell yourself it doesn’t matter what others think but it does if it could cause them to sin. You would be doing this out of love for the people in your parish.

Thank you all for your kind replies.

I think that for now I will not take communion until the situation is cleared up.

As someone else mentioned earlier, you could go somewhere else for Mass and Communion. I would think that since you’re working on resolving whatever your situation is, you could use all the help you can get. If there’s another parish where you live, you’d do well to take advantage of going to Mass there.

If you are objectively in a state of grace and by going to a different parish you would not cause any scandal. I strongly encourage you of the benefits of receiving communion. Do not deprive yourself of the Eucharist, He is our source of salvation.

If it were me, I would abstain from the Eucharist until the living situation was resolved (making sure it was resolved in enough time to receive the Eucharist at least once a year- as is required). When you receive the Eucharist in a state of grace, you are given grace from God which sustains you spiritually. If you receive in a state of mortal sin, or when you are otherwise prevented from receiving communion (if you have broken the fast before communion, or you are in an irregular marriage, for example), you commit another mortal sin and cause serious harm to your self spiritually. So, the Eucharist isn’t something you should abstain from unnecessarily- but it also isn’t something you should receive without the proper disposition.

Work hard to try and fix your living arrangements- be sure to pray for God’s help. Certainly keep going to confession- and let your confessor tell you whether or not you should go to communion. If you feel you should abstain from the Eucharist, remember to make a spiritual communion. Make sure your living situation is resolved within a year so you can fulfill your Easter duty (receiving communion once a year- during the Easter season if possible).

I appreciate that. Even as I wrote the message, I felt a bit disheartened. I prefer the Traditional Latin Mass and I travel to a Church outside of town to attend (I then go to a NO Mass with my family in the evening). Perhaps, for the time being, I’ll take communion at the Church out of town and refrain while in town. It’s a shame though… I was beginning to feel a kinship to the members at that little Church.

If you’re already going to both, you can certainly continue to go to both - not receiving communion won’t ruin your ‘kinship’ with the folks at church. The kinship certainly exists even for those who don’t receive communion - think of children who are under age or those who for reasons other than sin or scandal cannot receive!

You can certainly participate in whatever other ways they have available.

a priest told me one time if i am not living in Grace i cannot come to communion although i am forgiven.

That to me does not sound in alignment wit the teachings of the Church. Again I am saying that it does not sound right and not that it is not right because I do not know the specifics on the conversation.

The Church teaches that we can expect forgiveness if we go to confession in state of contrition and we clear intention/promise of not committing the same sin again. If we do not meet these requirements we cannot expect to receive forgiveness and graces that come from absolution. The clear intent is not a simple wish like “I would not sin again if the conditions were different, but I know that they will not change” but something like “I will do my best not to sin again no matter what”. Success in not repeating a sin is not a requirement for forgiveness.

We also must remember that God bound his forgiveness to the sacrament of confession but He is not limited to it.

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