4 – The Church cannot have closed doors, not even to the Sacraments

The constant changes in a society in which God is increasingly ignored present real pastoral challenges for the Church. Nevertheless, faithful to its mission, She cannot betray certain principles despite having to adapt some aspects of pastoral praxis to the new circumstances.

However, it is no novelty that for quite some time, many voices have been raised, both within and outside the Church, regarding an allegedly ‘excessive frugality’ in administering the Sacraments. On reading Francis’ words on the necessity of not closing doors to the Sacraments for any reason, within the Apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, these same voices grew in passion… It was the dawn of long awaited novelties!

What could have been the intention of the Holy Father in bringing up this problem? It is opportune to recall certain concepts…



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The Church is called to be the house of the Father, with doors always wide open. One concrete sign of such openness is that our church doors should always be open, so that if someone, moved by the Spirit, comes there looking for God, he or she will not find a closed door. There are other doors that should not be closed either. Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church; everyone can be part of the community, nor should the doors of the sacraments be closed for simply any reason. This is especially true of the sacrament which is itself ‘the door’: baptism. The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems. (Apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium, no. 47, November 24, 2013)
God always opens doors, he never closes them. He is the daddy who opens doors for us. The second thing he says is: don’t be afraid of tenderness. When Christians forget about hope and tenderness they become a cold Church, that does not know where to go and is entangled in ideologies and worldly attitudes, whereas God’s simplicity tells you: go forward, I am a Father who caresses you. I start to fear when Christians lose hope and the capacity to embrace and caress […] The Bible clearly shows that God’s main virtue is that He is love. He waits for us; he never tires of waiting for us. He gives us the gift and then waits for us. (La Stampa Interview, December 16, 2013)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter the various parts of our study


Sacred Scripture

Whoever receives the Eucharist unworthily ‘eats and drinks judgment on himself’

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. (1Cor 11:27-29)

Council of Trent (Ecumenical XIX)

It is necessary to be in the state of grace to receive the Eucharist

Now ecclesiastical usage declares that this examination is necessary, that no one conscious of mortal sin, however contrite he may seem to himself, should approach the Holy Eucharist without a previous sacramental confession. This, the holy Synod has decreed, is always to be observed by all Christians, even by those priests on whom by their office it may be incumbent to celebrate, provided the recourses of a confessor be not lacking to them. But if in an urgent necessity a priest should celebrate without previous confession, let him confess as soon as possible [see n. 1138 ff.]. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1647. Council of Trent, Session XIII, October 11, 1551)

Pius X

Frequent Communion, but in the state of grace and with upright intention

Let frequent and daily communion… be available to all Christians of every order or condition, so that no one, who is in the state of grace and approaches the sacred table with a right and pious mind, may be prevented from this. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3379. Pius X, From the Decree of the Congregation of the Holy Council December 16, 1905)

Necessity of a firm resolution to never sin in order to receive Communion

Although it is especially expedient that those who practice frequent and daily communion be free from venial sins, at least those completely deliberate, and of their effect, it is enough, nevertheless, that they be free from mortal sins, with the resolution that they will never sin in the future. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3381. Pius X, From the Decree of the Congregation of the Holy Council December 16, 1905)

Catechism of the Catholic Church

Confirmation also requires the state of grace

To receive Confirmation one must be in a state of grace. One should receive the sacrament of Penance in order to be cleansed for the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1310)

Necessity of confessing mortal sins in order to approach the Eucharistic table

Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1385)

Eucharistic ‘intercommunion’ with communities derived from the ‘Reformation’ is not possible

Ecclesial communities derived from the Reformation and separated from the Catholic Church, ‘have not preserved the proper reality of the Eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Holy Orders’ (UR 22). It is for this reason that Eucharistic intercommunion with these communities is not possible for the Catholic Church. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1400)

Code of Canon Law

Only the baptized may receive the Sacraments

A person who has not received baptism cannot be admitted validly to the other sacraments. (Code of Canon Law, 842 §1)

In order to receive the Sacraments one must be suitably prepared

Pastors of souls and other members of the Christian faithful, according to their respective ecclesiastical function, have the duty to take care that those who seek the sacraments are prepared to receive them by proper evangelization and catechetical instruction, attentive to the norms issued by competent authority. (Code of Canon Law 843 §2)

The Sacraments may only be administered to Catholics

Catholic ministers administer the sacraments licitly to Catholic members of the Christian faithful alone, who likewise receive them licitly from Catholic ministers alone, without prejudice to the prescripts of §§2, 3, and 4 of this canon, and can. 861, §2. (Code of Canon Law 844 §1)

Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts

Necessity of adequate dispositions in order to receive the Sacraments

‘The Christian faithful have the right to receive assistance from the sacred pastors out of the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the word of God and the Sacraments’ (CIC, can. 213; CCEO, can. 16). This fundamental right of all the faithful – clerics and lay persons, which is a public right derived from the same condition of ‘persona in Ecclesia Christi’ (cf. CIC, can. 96) – corresponds to a duty of the Hierarchy — an obligation of justice, and not just of charity —  that can. 843 formulates in the following manner: ‘Sacred ministers cannot deny the Sacrament to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them.’ (Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts, The Eucharist in the juridical system of the Church, November 12, 2005)

Frequent Communion - only without the awareness of grave sin

Anyone of the faithful, if duly prepared (rite dispositus), has the right – and the duty according to the words of Jesus in his discourse about the Bread of life in the synagogue of Capharnaum (Jn 6:55) – of receiving the Holy Eucharist (cf. can. 213; 912), at least once a year (can. 920). This is the minimal expression of a right-duty, which is linked to the obligation to participate each Sunday or feast of precept in the celebration of the Holy Mass, as well as the recommendation to receive Communion, if the soul is in grace due with no awareness of grave sin. (Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts Legislative Texts, The Eucharist in the juridical order of the Church, November 12, 2005)

Obstinacy in manifest grave sin closes the doors to the Sacraments

‘All baptized persons not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion’ (CIC, can. 912).  Since the Eucharist is the most exalted of all the Sacraments – as in It, not only is divine grace received, but also the very Author of grace – it is understandable that the universal law of the Church establish a series of norms, some even of divine right, not only to protect and regulate the exercising of this right but also to limit it, when so required by the due veneration to the Body and Blood of Christ, the proper formation of consciences and the common good of the ecclesial society. (Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts Legislative Texts, The Eucharist in the juridical order of the Church, November 12, 2005)

Cases of states of sin which close the doors to the Eucharist

The third condition set out in the canon – those who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin’ – is known to have caused the most conflicting and even polemical commentaries, above all by those who, with reductive and merely positivist interpretation of the norm, have sought to contrast it with the doctrine of the Magisterium. Yet, the norm is clear in determining three requirements for the Minister of the Sacrament to deny Communion:  that grave sin be involved, that the sin be manifest in the external forum– not hidden – and that the person persevere obstinately in this state. Among those who are in such an irregular situation are included: a) so-called ‘free unions’; b) those who contract only civil marriage c) the divorced who enter into ‘civil remarriage’. (Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts Legislative Texts, The Eucharist in the juridical order of the Church, November 12, 2005)

Communion should be denied to the publically unworthy

Pastors must strive to explain to the faithful implicated the true ecclesial sense of the norm, so that they can understand it or at least respect it. But when situations in which these precautionary measures have not had their effect or were not possible, the Eucharistic Minister must refuse to give It to whoever is publicly unworthy. This must be done with extreme charity, attempting to explain in a timely manner the reasons which obliged this. (Pontifical Council for Interpretation of Legislative Texts Legislative Texts, The Eucharist in the juridical order of the Church, November 12, 2005)

John Paul II

The Tridentine doctrine regarding the reception of the Sacraments is still in effect

And keep in mind that the teaching of the Tridentine Council regarding integral confession of mortal sins, is, and always will always be, in effect (Sess. XIV, ch. 5 and can. 7: Denz-Sch. 1679-1683; 1707); the norm inculcated by Saint Paul and by the Council of Trent itself, in virtue of which the worthy reception of the Eucharist should be preceded by the confession of sins – when one is conscious of mortal sin – is and will always be in effect in the Church (Sess. XIII, ch. 7,  and can. 11: Denz.-Sch. 1647-1661). (John Paul II, Speech to members of the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary and the Penitentiaries of the Roman Patriarchal Basilicas, January 30, 1981)

One may not receive the Eucharist while conscious of grave sin without previous confession

However, it must be remembered that the church, guided by faith in this great sacrament, teaches that no Christian who is conscious of grave sin can receive the Eucharist before having obtained God’s forgiveness. This we read in the instruction Eucharisticum Mysterium which, duly approved by Paul VI, fully confirms the teaching of the Council of Trent: “The Eucharist is to be offered to the faithful also ‘as a remedy, which frees us from daily faults and preserves us from mortal sin’ and they are to be shown the fitting way of using the penitential parts of the liturgy of the Mass. The person who wishes to receive Holy Communion is to be reminded of the precept: Let a man examine himself” (1Cor 11:28). And the Church’s custom shows that such an examination is necessary, because no one who is conscious of being in mortal sin, however contrite he may believe himself to be, is to approach the holy Eucharist without having first made a sacramental Confession. (John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 27, December 2, 1984)

The danger of seeking paths of mercy other than those established by God

The first principle is that of compassion and mercy, whereby the church, as the continuer in history of Christ’s presence and work, not wishing the death of the sinner but that the sinner should be converted and live, and careful not to break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick, ever seeks to offer, as far as possible, the path of return to God and of reconciliation with him. The other principle is that of truth and consistency, whereby the church does not agree to call good evil and evil good. Basing herself on these two complementary principles, the church can only invite her children who find themselves in these painful situations to approach the Divine Mercy by other ways, not however through the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist until such time as they have attained the required dispositions. (John Paul II. Post-Synodal Apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, no. 34, December 2, 1984)

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Concrete application of the prohibition of Communion for divorced persons in second union

If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1650).This norm is not at all a punishment or a discrimination against the divorced and remarried, but rather expresses an objective situation that of itself renders impossible the reception of Holy Communion: ‘They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and his Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage’ (Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, n. 84: AAS 74 (1982) 185-186).  (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops concerning the reception of the Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried members of the faithful, no. 4, September 14, 1994)


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