Dear Fr. Joe: So, why can’t I go to Communion if I have committed a mortal sin?
A: Right. This one is a follow-up to a recent column where I explained what a mortal sin is and emphasized that we should not go to Communion without confession if we’ve committed a mortal sin.
So, now we hit the why.
One of the many ways we describe Communion is “the source and sign of our unity with God.” We’re going to take that statement apart piece by piece and show how it answers our question.
First, Communion is the source of our unity: St. Augustine (my favorite) wrote a LOT about this. When we receive the body of Christ, it strengthens us to be the body of Christ. It is a spiritual gift, a miracle – if you will, that God provides us with the strength to be in unity with him and his people.
Communion is the sign of our unity with each other: When we make the bread that will be consecrated, we are gathering together all sorts of elements and bringing them into one. Many grains of wheat are brought in and crushed into one reality. Next time you are at Mass, take a moment and look around. Look at all the different people gathered together to celebrate. Would anything but Jesus have brought us together? All our gifts and talents are merged into one community, united by God for the purpose of loving and serving God – wow!
Communion is the source and sign of our unity with God: The Eucharist is a sign of our unity with God. In all things, but particularly in Communion, God shares himself with us, holding nothing back. The Eucharist is a sign of that. God made, and makes, himself small so that we can receive him. That, in itself, is part of the reason it’s the source of our unity with God. Its spiritual, mystical reality changes our souls when we receive it.
An early saint whose name eludes me described being in the presence of the Eucharist as being similar to working in the sun: We generally can’t feel the changes happening inside and outside of our body, but others sure can.
So, when we look at these things, we begin to see why we can’t go to Communion if we have committed mortal sin. When we commit a mortal sin, we quite literally offend God. Not only that, but we attack our own ability to connect with God and receive what we need to be healed of our sin and the damage it does to us. Because of that, we say we aren’t “in communion” with God. The catechism tells us that the damage a mortal sin inflicts is so extensive that it requires a special grace to fix it.
And … our sins affect the body of Christ as well. We wound the community of Christians around the world when we sin. This is the easiest thing to prove, really: How many times has someone else’s sin messed with you? Our sin is a communal event – every time. A mortal sin damages the community in such a way that it requires a special grace to fix it.
So, when we commit a mortal sin, we are not only out of communion with God and each other, but we’ve actually wounded our ability to receive what is needed to restore those relationships. This is where the sacrament of reconciliation comes in. Through this amazing sacrament, God gives us the grace and mercy we need to repair the damage that we have done. The priest is in the confessional for God and as a representative for the whole church.
Enjoy another day in God’s presence!