"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