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by Paul Turner

"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," we say. Then we go to communion anyway. However, some Catholics stay in the pew. Others slink out of church when the communion procession forms. Some feel genuinely unworthy to receive their Lord.

In the not-too-distant past, people went to confession before every communion, and many received communion only rarely. People still abstain from the Eucharist if they judge their sins grave.

Is confession required before every communion? No. In fact, the only sins which should keep us from communion and which we are obliged to confess are those called "serious." Which ones are those? We don't exactly have a list. It's a judgment call with the penitent and the confessor, so you'll hear many interpretations of serious sin from priests and people alike. In previous centuries serious sin governed so many cases that few people received communion regularly, but that is not the case today. How do we interpret the expression?

The church calls some actions "instrinsically evil" — behaviors so bad that they are always wrong. Vatican II includes among them offenses like homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, suicide; mutilation, physical and mental torture, attempts to coerce the spirit; subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; and degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit and not as free responsible persons. These offenses form a basis for figuring out which sins require confession before communion. Although confession is not required before every communion, it often precedes in church practice. Most parishes offer confessions on Saturday before communion on Sunday. Children preparing for first communion also prepare for first confession. Although the church does not oblige us to confess lesser sins, those who use the sacrament will find their communion more fruitful.

(This bulletin insert originally appeared in MODERN LITURGY, copyright (c) 1997, Resource Publications, Inc. It may not be reproduced without permission. Send permission requests to

(Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University.)

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