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Dear Father Angelo,

good evening, I wanted to ask a question: listening to a lesson (catechesis) on the sacrament of forgiveness, reconciliation the speaker said that even being in mortal sin if there is sincere repentance to sin, in the absence of a confessor and in the impossibility of confession before mass, it is still possible to participate in the Eucharist.

Later we confess when possible and there is no need to tell the confessor “I received communion in mortal sin” because if there is sincere repentance, at the moment of communion you are not in sin.

I would like to know your opinion.

Personally, I have always avoided taking communion in sin, always trying to go to confession first. Unfortunately, this is not always possible and many times (unfortunately often) it happens not to have a confessor available. In order not to be mistaken, I avoid receiving communion. Am I wrong?


Response from the priest

Dear Valerio,

1. What you heard in that lesson or lecture is at least inaccurate and may mislead many.

2. The Church is persuaded that with the act of perfect contrition it is enough to bring a person back to grace who was in mortal sin.

Indeed, it believes that it is impossible to emit an act of perfect contrition unless being already reached by the sanctifying grace.

Because of that, the Church itself urges us to issue these acts of perfect contrition because our good works are worth for eternal life only if we are in grace.

Furthermore, only if one is in grace, even if one has not yet confessed, can one have eternal salvation.

3. For there to be a perfect act of contrition, it is required that the sorrow for sin is not motivated simply by the fear of going to hell, but because we offended God, and have caused the death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, it is indispensable that at least implicitly there is the intention to confess.

There could be no true reconciliation between us and the Lord if there was no agreement of will on this last point as well. In fact, the Lord linked his forgiveness to the forgiveness of the Church.

As the consequence of that, what the Church does not remit even He does not remit.

Here is the text: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (Jn 20:23).

4. But to access Holy Communion the Church affirms that perfect contrition is not enough, even with the intention of confessing, but confession is necessary.

The words of John Paul II in the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia also apply to the one who gave the lesson you heard: “The Apostle Paul appeals to this duty (to confess) when he warns: “Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Cor 11:28). Saint John Chrysostom, with his stirring eloquence, exhorted the faithful: “I too raise my voice, I beseech, beg and implore that no one draw near to this sacred table with a sullied and corrupt conscience. Such an act, in fact, can never be called ‘communion’, not even were we to touch the Lord’s body a thousand times over, but ‘condemnation’, ‘torment’ and ‘increase of punishment’.

Along these same lines, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1385) rightly stipulates that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion”. I therefore desire to reaffirm that in the Church there remains in force, now and in the future, the rule by which the Council of Trent gave concrete expression to the Apostle Paul’s stern warning when it affirmed that, in order to receive the Eucharist in a worthy manner, “one must first confess one’s sins, when one is aware of mortal sin” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 36).

As you can see, John Paul II brings with him the doctrine of the Church: the Council of Trent, the Codes of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

5. The Church is attentive to this delicate problem, also because the words of St. Paul are particularly harsh with regard to abuses: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying” (1Cor 11: 27-30).

6. Therefore, you did well to refrain from receiving Holy Communion in cases where you did not recognize yourself as disposed as you should.

Otherwise, you would have committed a sacrilege.

7. Only in one case does the Church grant that Holy Communion can be received with only perfect contrition without confession. And it is the case foreseen by the Codes of Canon Law in canon 916: “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible”.

There are therefore two requirements: there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess.

Now taking Holy Communion on Sunday or because you are attending a Mass does not constitute a grave reason.

A grave reason is the priest’s one who, recognizing himself deprived of grace, having to celebrate a scheduled Mass and, not having the possibility to confess, must necessarily celebrate. Here he will make an act of perfect contrition and then confess as soon as possible, saying that he has committed a grave sin, that he celebrated Mass because it was necessary, but that he has made perfect contrition.

But for a lay faithful when is there a serious reason?

In the past it was said in case you are about to be communicated and at that moment you remember that you have committed a serious sin.

Retreating in front of the priest, who may have already said “the body of Christ”, would be a cause for bewilderment for everyone.

But the mere participation in Mass, even on Sunday, is not sufficient to leave out confession. Saint Augustine said: “Never heard of it being said that you can take Communion without penance. Why then would the Lord have instituted the sacrament? Or can the Lord’s precept be rendered useless?”.

I am glad that you have drawn attention to such a delicate point.

I greet you; I remind you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo 

Translated by Guido T. De Leo