“Ask a Priest: I Can’t Receive Communion, So Why Practice the Faith?”

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Q: I am a male, divorced for 18 years. My ex has remarried some years ago. I am now living with a female partner. I can’t marry my partner in the Catholic faith as my ex was a Catholic. I am told that I cannot receive Communion unless I get rid of my partner or live with my partner as brother and sister. I still go to church 99% of the time, but I am becoming a bit disillusioned that I may never be able to receive Communion again. This last Sunday the priest tells us that we need to go to confession regularly in order to be able to receive Communion. I see no point in going to confession as it will not achieve anything. I still won’t be able to receive Communion. I am absolutely confused as to how I should continue with the Catholic faith and go to church every Sunday and not be able to receive the Eucharist again unless my ex-wife dies. I feel somewhat excommunicated. Am I correct or am I missing something? –S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you have a real desire to receive Communion. That means that the Holy Spirit is working in you. It is good, too, that you go to church 99% of the time; 100% is even better.

To receive Communion, of course, we need to be in a state of grace — that is, with no mortal sin. Now, living with someone who is not your spouse would be objectively a grave (mortal) sin.

So what can you do?

First, you might consider asking about an annulment (technically known as a decree of nullity). If the Church finds that there was a problem with your first union from the start, it could issue a decree of nullity, which might allow you to marry in the Church.

Now, depending on your situation — for instance, if you could live as brother and sister with your partner — there might be some flexibility. This does not, however, negate the need to live chastely nor the need to rectify the situation with your first presumed marriage. Living as brother and sister might not be enough, since your presence under the roof could be still a near occasion of sin and a source of scandal for neighbors. The best thing might be to speak with your pastor directly.

Permit me to clarify a few points.

First, attending Mass is a value in itself, even if one cannot receive Communion. It gives you the chance to give worship to God, to hear the readings and homilies, and to take advantage of at least being in the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. That you have a desire to receive Communion should motivate you to rectify your situation.

Second, we don’t need to go to confession regularly in order to receive Communion if we are otherwise in a state of grace. The Church says that we need to go to confession at least once a year. If we have only venial sins, then we can receive Communion without going to confession beforehand. Though you would need to go to confession before receiving again, it would be on the condition that you ended your cohabitation status.

Third, you are not excommunicated. Excommunication is a formal penalty for a set of very particular offenses. Divorce and cohabitation are not among those offenses. Civil divorce, in fact, can be justified in some cases, even though the marriage still exists in the eyes of the Church. Right now you simply can’t receive Communion because you are objectively in a state of mortal sin. Yet, you don’t have to be perfect to take some advantage of the faith.

Your problems can be remedied. But it will require you to take some steps, the first being some kind of end to the cohabitation. Your pastor could explain things in more depth.

At any rate, it would be good to continue to pray regularly and attend Mass. Mass is a source of grace and spiritual growth, even when someone doesn’t receive Communion. And for a good perspective on confession, consider watching our Retreat Guide on that topic: “From Sorrow to Joy”.

The Holy Spirit is working in your soul, which means he hasn’t given up on you.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.

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