“Ask a Priest: Will I ever again be able to receive the Body and Blood of Christ?”

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Q: I have been drawn back to my Catholic faith recently. I had been through a civil divorce, and recently I received paperwork to pursue an annulment. My current husband, who is a practicing Baptist, had also gone through a divorce. He too will have to file for an annulment, if ever we want our union recognized by the Catholic Church. I want desperately to fully participate in the Church family again. My husband will not file for annulment, so this leaves me out of the most important part of Mass. I want to receive the Eucharist, but since I can’t now, and do not foresee this ever happening, I avoid attending Mass. How can I fully participate in the Catholic faith if I can never again receive the body and blood of Christ? I feel like an outcast, kneeling when others are rising to take Communion. What do I do? I have not found answers through the Church, other than that my husband should complete his paperwork out of love. He feels strongly against the need to do this. I completed mine quickly, so anxious to receive Communion again, and then found out I am only half of the equation. We have our last two minor children (ages 12 and 15) at home, and they have been raised Baptist and feel a connection to their faith. I know prior to remarrying in the Church my children will need to be raised in the Catholic faith. I know nothing is impossible through Christ. My question is, how do I participate in a Church where the focus is on the Eucharist that I cannot, and may not ever, receive again? I feel very lost in what to do. -A.L.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Your desire to come back to the Catholic faith and participate fully in the life of the Church is praiseworthy. Receiving Communion at Mass is a high point of the faith, and it expresses that we are substantially living in accord with Church teaching and in a state of grace.

Your question touches on a number of issues. Let’s try to address them one by one.

First, an annulment is “is a discovery that at the time of the wedding some essential feature was not present, the marriage was incomplete and the Church […] declares that a valid marriage did not exist” (see the New York Archdiocesan website). In other words, there was something lacking at the time of the wedding, which means a marriage was never really contracted. This is for a Church tribunal (or court) to decide, after doing an investigation.

The working assumption is always in favor of a marriage. “In a case of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven” (Canon law, 1060). The Church takes this stand because it respects the decision of the two people who decided to exchange vows on their wedding day.

The Church also takes very seriously the indissolubility of marriage. Jesus himself said, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mark 10:6-9).

Your situation is further complicated by the previous marriage of your legal spouse. The Church recognizes marriages between non-Catholic Christians to be valid and, hence, indissoluble. Thus, for a civilly divorced Protestant to marry a Catholic, the Church has to first decide whether there are grounds for annulment for the Protestant union. For this reason, a certain responsibility now rests on your partner’s shoulders.

His unwillingness to pursue an annulment shouldn’t dissuade you, however. As you rightly mention, “Nothing is impossible through Christ.” Our Lord’s grace can work wonders in changing hearts!

Your own efforts can help make a difference. By all means, you should return to attending Mass. Christ loves you and wants you to be able someday to receive him again in the Eucharist. Pope Benedict XVI, in a 2007 document (Sacramentum Caritatis), expressed the wish that the faithful who divorce and remarry without an annulment should “live as fully as possible the Christian life through regular participation at Mass, albeit without receiving communion, listening to the word of God, Eucharistic adoration, prayer, participation in the life of the community, honest dialogue with a priest or spiritual director, dedication to the life of charity, works of penance, and commitment to the education of their children.”

So offer up your Masses for your partner. Offer up sacrifices, too. Pray, too, for that strength for you and your partner to live as brother and sister, until that day when possibly your union can be recognized and blessed by the Church. Specifically, I would encourage you to learn more about the riches of the Mass, and about what it means to participate in Mass even when not receiving Communion.  A good place to start may be the chapter on the Mass from Father Eugene Boylan’s spiritual classic, This Tremendous Lover, and various posts at RCSpiritualDirection.com.

Regarding your children: Although minors, they have already reached the age of reason and are capable of making decisions about religion. It is understandable if they are comfortable with the Baptist faith in which they were raised. That should be respected. This doesn’t prohibit you, however, from sharing your own Catholic faith with them. Your efforts to live your faith fully — including what it teaches about marriage — will make your example to your children more powerful.

In the meantime count on my prayers for you and your loved ones.

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