Certain affirmations pronounced by Francis regarding the Eucharist have been taken advantage of by some with perverse intentions, sowing discord among the simpler faithful. Due to the high-level discussions that have developed these days, it becomes necessary to clarify certain concepts. The immortal Magisterium of the Church possesses abundant teachings in this respect, reflecting great clarity… and accessible to all: ‘Do not be afraid any longer, little flock’ (Lk 12:32). Catholic doctrine is solidly based on the teachings of Jesus Christ. Can this doctrine possibly be changed or reinterpreted in our times when it was set down by the Son of God himself?
[Francis] When I speak of prudence I do not think of it in terms of an attitude that paralyses but as the virtue of a leader. Prudence is a virtue of government. So is boldness. One must govern with boldness and prudence. I spoke about baptism and communion as spiritual food that helps one to go on; it is to be considered a remedy not a prize. Some immediately thought about the sacraments for remarried divorcees, but I did not refer to any specific cases; I simply wanted to point out a principle. We must try to facilitate people’s faith, rather than control it. Last year in Argentina I condemned the attitude of some priests who did not baptise the children of unmarried mothers. This is a sick mentality.
[Andrea Tornielli] And what about remarried divorcees?
[Francis] The exclusion of divorced people who contract a second marriage from communion is not a sanction. It is important to remember this. But I didn’t talk about this in the Exhortation. (Interview with Andrea Tornielli, December 14, 2013)
Enter the various parts of our study
He said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.’ (Mt 19:8-9)
Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1Cor 6:9-10)
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)
Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God’s fidelity. The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine wisdom. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1640)
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)
If anyone says that faith alone is sufficient preparation for receiving the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist: let him be anathema. And that so great a Sacrament may not be unworthily received, and therefore unto death and condemnation, this holy Council ordains and declares that sacramental confession must necessarily be made beforehand by those whose conscience is burdened by mortal sin, however contrite they may consider themselves. If anyone moreover teaches the contrary or preaches or obstinately asserts, or even publicly by disputation shall presume to defend the contrary, by that fact itself he is excommunicated. (Denzinger-Hünermann 1661. Julius III, Council of Trent, Session XIV, October 11, 1551)
Let frequent and daily communion . . . be available to all of Christ’s faithful of every order or condition, such that no one, who is in the state of grace and approaches the sacred table with a right and pious intention, be excluded from this. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3379. Pius X, Decree of the Congregation of the Holy Council, approved by Pius X, December 20th, 1905 – Spanish)
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.’ (John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et paenitentia, December 2, 1984)
The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. 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 the 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. (John Paul II. Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio, no. 84, November 22, 1981)
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 the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, The Eucharist in the Juridical Order of the Church, November 12, 2005)
In the first place Christ Himself lays stress on the indissolubility and firmness of the marriage bond when He says: ‘What God hath joined together let no man put asunder,’ (Mt 19:6) and: ‘Everyone that putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery, and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery’ (Lk 14:18). And Saint Augustine clearly places what he calls the blessing of matrimony in this indissolubility when he says: ‘In the sacrament it is provided that the marriage bond should not be broken, and that a husband or wife, if separated, should not be joined to another even for the sake of offspring’ (De Gen. ad litt. lib. IX, cap. 7, n. 12). (Pius XI. Encyclical Casti connubii, no. 32-33, December 31, 1930)
The people therefore must be zealously taught that a marriage rightly entered upon cannot be dissolved; for those joined in matrimony God has ordained a perpetual companionship for life and a knot of necessity which cannot be loosed except by death. Recalling that matrimony is a sacrament and therefore subject to the Church, let them consider and observe the laws of the Church concerning it. Let them take care lest for any reason they permit that which is an obstruction to the teachings of the canons and the decrees of the councils. They should be aware that those marriages will have an unhappy end which are entered upon contrary to the discipline of the Church or without God’s favor or because of concupiscence alone, with no thought of the sacrament and of the mysteries signified by it. (Gregory XVI. Encyclical Mirari vos, no. 12, August 15, 1832)
The Synod of Bishops confirmed the Church’s practice, based on Sacred Scripture (cf. Mk 10:2-12), of not admitting the divorced and remarried to the sacraments, since their state and their condition of life objectively contradict the loving union of Christ and the Church signified and made present in the Eucharist. (Benedict XVI. Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, no. 29)
Members of the faithful who live together as husband and wife with persons other than their legitimate spouses may not receive Holy Communion. Should they judge it possible to do so, pastors and confessors, given the gravity of the matter and the spiritual good of these persons (cf. 1Cor 11:27-29) as well as the common good of the Church, have the serious duty to admonish them that such a judgment of conscience openly contradicts the Church’s teaching (cf. Code of Canon Law, 978 §2). (Joseph Ratzinger. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the reception of Holy Communion by the divorced and remarried members of the faithful, September 14, 1994)
We may not silence the increased obligation of conjugal fidelity within the family; now that legal divorce has been granted the possibility of being carried out with impunity. (Paul VI. General Audience, May 24, 1978)
Likewise let the faithful woman, who has left an adulterous husband and attracts another faithful one, be forbidden to marry; if she should marry, let her not receive communion unless he whom she has left has previously departed this world; unless by chance the exigency of illness should compel the giving. (Denzinger-Hünermann 117. Council of Elvira, canon 9)