“Ask a Priest: Is It OK If I’m Cohabitating and Receiving Communion?”

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Q: I am engaged to be married later this year. My fiancé and I have been living together, we are sexually active, and we use contraception. Now it’s my understanding that in order to receive the Eucharist one must not be in the condition of a mortal sin, defined as something of grave matter, done freely, and with full knowledge. I have confessed these sins, but made an imperfect act of contrition, given that I do not intend to change these behaviors since we will be married in a short time. Therefore, even though I have confessed these and done my penance, am I prohibited from receiving the Eucharist, given that each day that I continue in this state? I am still sinning? I do feel genuinely sorry that I did not from the beginning follow God’s commands and abstain from such sins. However, I don’t know how to go about undoing such things and feel it is really too late. Thank you for your valued time. – N.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Part of the goal of marriage is to help the spouses grow in holiness and to get to heaven. Ideally this is something that engaged couples should be doing long before the wedding day: helping each other grow in holiness.

From what you describe, unfortunately, the opposite is happening in your case. You and your fiancé are engaging in fornication, an objectively grave sin that puts your souls at risk. At the very least it is poor preparation for marriage.

Since you asked about receiving Communion, etc., you deserve a straight answer.

First, if you have been going to confession, confessing the sins of fornication, etc., but have no intention of changing your behavior, your contrition has not been “imperfect.” Imperfect contrition is sorrow for sin based on a fear of punishment. As the name implies, it isn’t perfect sorrow, but it would suffice for the sacrament of confession.

In your case, I’m afraid that you really haven’t had proper contrition at all. If you have the intention to sin again, the confession is invalid. The absolution is invalid. And thus it isn’t good to be receiving Communion.

So the bad news is that all those confessions where you had no intention of quitting sin, are probably invalid.

The good news is that you still have time to change. You say it’s “too late” to quit the sin against purity. Think again. Think again for the sake of your soul and the soul of your fiancé.

What you need to consider is moving into separate residences and practicing chastity. You need to have the intention of not returning to fornication (and any other sin). Then you might consider trying to make a good, valid confession. It would be helpful to explain your situation to the confessor.

It would also help for you and your fiancé to do some soul-searching.

You need to ask yourselves if you two are really prepared to sacrifice in order to help each other stay close to God and remain in a state of grace.

At a practical level, ask yourself this: If you are having sex now, what will happen after the wedding day, and those difficult moments arrive when you need to live like celibates? If you haven’t learned self-discipline now, it won’t get any easier later.

Also, you and he need to examine your attitude about contraception. Is that what you plan to do after marriage? Do you understand why contraception can hurt marriage? If not, it might be good to do some research. For materials you might check out Janet E. Smith’s website at http://www.janetesmith.org/.

Now, I don’t intend for this answer to be a downer for you. It is possible that you simply never learned the faith well.

Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit who prompted you to send your questions in the first place. If that is the case, this is an opportunity you want to seize. You and your fiancé have a right to learn what the Church teaches about chastity and marriage and healthy preparation for marriage.

You might want to begin by reading together Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Families, Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love” (especially chapters 4 and 6), and watching our retreat guide on the sacrament of marriage, called “Three Hearts.”

It might be good to speak to a pastor sooner than later. In the meantime try to make time for prayer each day. And ask the Blessed Virgin Mary for help.

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