Technical question on excommunication


I understand excommunication, for instance, prevents a living person from receiving the Sacraments (particularly, Holy Communion) and other censures listed under Canon 1331 and 316.

My question regards the consequence of this penalty after passing from this life to the next.

I read, for instance, that in the old Pontificale Romanum excommunication was equivalent to anathema - if unrepentant, one was assured of damnation. Couldn’t find what reformed Pontificale Romanum says, but it does not seem to have any mention of an Ordo Excommunicandi.

The old Code of Canon Law reserved very severe penalties, including prohibition to pray publicly and offer Mass publicly for the repose of the soul of an excommunicated. The new Canon Law only mentions excommunication a handful of times.

We are thus a bit confused…whatever does the “reformed excommunication” actually do to a soul? Is it now a merely external penalty?

I do recall two things:

  • Pope Leo X condemned Luther’s 23rd proposition according to which “excommunications are merely external punishments, nor do they deprive a man of the common spiritual prayers of the Church”.

  • Pius VI condemned in Auctorem Fidei the 46th proposition of the Pseudo-Synod of Pistoia, which maintained that the effect of excommunication is only exterior because of its own nature it excludes only from exterior communion with the Church. The Pope reaffirmed that excommunication was a spiritual penalty binding in heaven and affecting souls.

Clearly, in the past, excommunication - in the words of Catholic Encyclopedia - “is not regarded as a simple external measure; it reaches the soul and the conscience. It is not merely the severing of the outward bond which holds the individual to his place in the Church; it severs also the internal bond, and the sentence pronounced on earth is ratified in heaven. It is the spiritual sword, the heaviest penalty that the Church can inflict”. What about now? Did this change? Are its effects now merely exterior?

Regardless, can we have a public Holy Mass offered for the repose of the soul of someone excommunicated?


The person that has comitted a serious sin does so though a lack of charity which can be restored through perfect contrition. The Church also grants absolution for sins confessed with the proper disposition of imperfect contrition. The excommunition penalties do not prevent absolution in the Latin Church, however, in the eastern Catholic canon law (CCEO) there are sins for which absolution is reserved. In hte Latin canon law of 1983, reserved sins were eliminated.

Canon 727 -
In some cases, in order to provide for the salvation of souls it may be appropriate to restrict the faculty to absolve from sins and reserve it to a determined authority; this, however, cannot be done without the consent of the synod of bishops of the patriarchal Church, or the council of hierarchs, or the Apostolic See.

Canon 728 -
§1. Absolution from the following sins is reserved to the Apostolic See:
1° direct violation of the sacramental seal;
2° absolution of an accomplice in a sin against chastity;
§2. It is reserved to the eparchial bishop to absolve from the sin of procuring a completed abortion.

Canon 729 -
Any reservation of the absolution from sin lacks all force:
1° if a sick person who cannot leave the house makes a confession, or a spouse confesses in order to celebrate marriage;
2° if, in the prudent judgment of the confessor, the faculty cannot be requested from the competent authority without grave inconvenience to the penitent or without danger of violation of the sacramental seal;
3° outside the territorial boundaries in which the authority who makes the reservation exercises power.


Does anyone get excommunicated these days?

Who was the last person and why? Also were they re-communicated?


This is an interesting question, I have been wondering about it as well.

About the anathema bit, though: I think I’ve heard it said that the Church doesn’t have power to consign souls to Hell, which the OP seems to be saying when referring to the Pontificale Romanum and the Ordo Excommunicandi.

I shall listen attentively. :slight_smile:

I think there have been some Bishops in the US who excommunicated people, though I couldn’t say who. And if I’m not mistaken Pope Francis excommunicated an Australian priest who goes by the name of Greg Reynolds. Fr. Z has written about this.

Otherwise, people can excommunicate themselves automatically.



One of the guiding principles in the reform of canon law was to have a clear distinction between the external and internal forums (or, fora). So, yes, I think you are right to conclude that the consequences of excommunication, as you find them delineated in the Code of Canon Law, will all be in regard to the external forum. This does not mean that there are no consequences for the internal forum but you will not find those consequences laid out in canon law. The Church does not want, in her law, to pretend to be able to state with certainty that a particular person will end up in hell. The internal effects, then, are a topic for moral theology. As such, I think the language of the old Catholic encyclopedia is still relevant. Certainly, if one actually commits a crime that results in an excommunication, they have committed a grave sin. That can never change. So, the strictly canonical effects are “merely exterior” but that does not mean there are no interior effects.

Regarding offering Mass–yes, a Mass can be publicly offered for one who is excommunicated (see canon 901). Nevertheless, it might be prudent to keep that intention private if the priest thinks a public offering would cause more trouble.



Some directly, some automatically (“ipso facto, latae sententiae”, meaning automatically and by the act itself).

Canon 1364 “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication”

Canon 1367 “A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See”

Canon 1370 “A person who uses physical force against the Roman Pontiff incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See”

Canon 1378 "The following incur a latae sententiae penalty of interdict [other penalties, not excluding excommunication, can be added]:

  • a person who attempts the liturgical action of the Eucharistic sacrifice though not promoted to the sacerdotal order
  • a person who, though unable to give sacramental absolution validly, attempts to impart it or who hears sacramental confession

Canon 1382 “A bishop who consecrates some one a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See”

Canon 1388 “A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. An interpreter and the others mentioned in ⇒ can. 983, §2 who violate the secret are to be punished with a just penalty, not excluding excommunication”

Canon 1398 “A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

In addition to these are other excommunications as proclaimed infallibly by the Canons of the Councils (the “anathemas”) and other implicit mentions (including belonging to any form of Freemasonry or anti-Catholic group, which once explicitly included the Communist Party).

From the Pontificale Romanum: <<by the judgment of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost, of the St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and of all the Saints, and by virtue of the power which has been given us of binding and loosing in Heaven and on earth that which was divinely entrusted to us, we deprive him with all his accomplices and all his abettors of the Communion of the Body and Blood of Our Lord; we separate him from the society of all Christians; we exclude him from the bosom of our Holy Mother the Church in Heaven and on earth; and we declare him excommunicated and anathematized, as well as judge him condemned to eternal fire with Satan and his angels and all the reprobates. So long as he will not burst the fetters of the Devil, amend himself and do penance and make reparation to the Church which he has offended, we deliver him to Satan for the perdition of his flesh, so that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment. >>

It is unclear to me what is meant by “judge him condemned to eternal fire” and later “so that his soul may be saved on the day of judgment”. Perhaps it was, as you say, not a judgment of damnation per se.

Thanks! Very comprehensive reply :thumbsup:


List of people excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church

Father Greg Reynolds is the latest entry on this particular list, as a notable person. It’s notable that Pope Francis issued this penalty himself.

Many, many other non-notable people have been excommunicated and continue to be so, mostly latae sententiae, and so will never make any list, if anyone even ever finds out about the penalty being applied.


Interesting. Catholic Answers says, though, that the Church doesn’t have the power to send people to Hell. See here: and here .

It is strange, though, since the image I get when I think of historical excommunications is so much more serious than it seems today, especially with the wording of the Pontificale.


Just to note, Fr. Reynolds’s excommunication was automatic. The Holy See’s letter to him was just a clarification that he was excommunicated latae sententiae.


I have read, in regard to indulgences for the souls in Purgatory, that the Pope’s jurisdiction is limited to this world. While the indulgences are beneficial to the souls, the extent of that benefit is up to God.

I suggest that the same applies to excommunication. What happens after death is strictly between the individual and God.


Correct. :thumbsup: The Church does not have the ability to lift the excommunication on a dead person.


She has done that plenty of times, though.


Would you care to name a few?


I believe St Joan of Arc, Galileo and HRE Henry IV’s second excommunication are some examples.


St. Joan of Arc: Her excommunication was declared null and void, meaning it never occurred in the first place.

Galileo was never excommunicated.

Henry IV: He was excommunicated twice: the second was never lifted.


Those were just those I heard about being “lifted”.

Jimmy Akin did say on CAL (it’s on the website in video form) that Galileo was excommunicated, and I recall Bl. John Paul II (I think it was him) rehabilitating him, which I interpreted as “lifting the excommunication”.

HRE Henry IV, I got that off Wikipedia, which says that it was posthumously lifted in 1111.

After being released from the sentence of excommunication, his remains were buried in Speyer cathedral in August 1111.

EDIT: I checked the Catholic Encyclopaedia on this, and it has the following to say:

Of course, strictly speaking, after the demise of a Christian person, it may be officially declared that such person incurred excommunication during his lifetime. Quite in the same sense he may be absolved after his death; indeed, the Roman Ritual contains the rite for absolving an excommunicated person already dead …]. However, these sentences or absolutions concern only the effects of excommunication, notably ecclesiastical burial.


Gelileo was censured and placed under house arrest, not excommunicated.


  1. Do not ever trust information from Wikipedia.

  2. What you are reading from the Catholic Encyclopedia, like stated, only concerns the EFFECTS of excommunication, not the excommunication ITSELF. An excommunication cannot be reversed after death.

For example, Msgr. Lefebvre’s excommunication was not lifted, but he was still given a Catholic burial. Of course, the Requiem Mass was done by SSPX priests, so…


See my edited post. :slight_smile:


I posted a Number 3 on mine.


I guess it’s above me :shrug:

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