Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When Confession is needed before receiving Communion

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
September 12, 2010
Luke 15:1-32, The parable of the prodigal son

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him … Then the celebration began.

There is a very popular saying about love, which goes like this: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
My brothers and sisters, that is a lie. Love is not opposed to apologizing. Anyone who is married knows from concrete experience that love often requires us to say “Sorry”.
In fact, true sorrow can only come from true love; and perfect sorrow comes from perfect love. Sorrow is an expression of love. True sorrow heals and restores true love.

How well this is expressed by the parable of the prodigal son. It is love which leads the wayward son to have the confidence to return to his father and to ask for mercy. The son realizes that he does love his father and that he is heartily sorry for having offended him; what is more, the son also knows that his father truly loves him and will forgive him.
Even before the son has reached the house, the father runs out to meet him and welcomes his son with the embrace of love. The father has loved his son even when he was astray, now his love is complete as he forgives his son and draws him back into the family.

This is a very beautiful and encouraging parable – it teaches us so much about God’s forgiveness and mercy – but I would like to focus on one specific aspect of the story. Notice that the boy, when returning, is first greeted by his father and forgiven, and only then does he enter the house. First he receives forgiveness, then he enters for the feast.
Consider how inappropriate it would have been if the prodigal son would have simply come into the house without having apologized to his father, without first receiving forgiveness. It would have been terrible!
It is very clear: First forgiveness, then the feast. First confession, then communion.

This is why, at Mass, we begin with the penitential rite – conscious of our sinfulness and our need for God’s forgiveness, we say, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” We recognize the need to say “Lord, I am sorry, have mercy on me, forgive me.” We must be reconciled with God; we must first receive his forgiveness, then we come to the feast of heaven.

However, we must also recognize that for serious sins, the Lord has given us a special sacrament which we must make use of before coming to Communion. I am referring to the sacrament of Confession. After committing serious sins, the Church requires that we go to Confession before coming to Communion. It is just like in the parable – first Confession, then Communion.
Now I know that this has not been preached about very much, and perhaps this is the first time some of you have heard this teaching. I don’t know why so few priests are speaking about it… The Catechism is very clear on this point, paragraph 1385 states: “Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion.” Even the music books (Breaking Bread, OCP) in the pews state this in equally strong language on the inside of the front cover, under the “Guidelines for the reception of Communion, for Catholics.”
After committing a serious sin, we cannot receive Communion without having first gone to Confession. Instead, we must either remain in the pew or, if staying in the pew would be too difficult, we may come up and cross our arms to receive a blessing – but we must not take Communion when we have serious sin on our souls.

Now some will say, “But I have asked God for forgiveness in my heart, isn’t that enough?” Perhaps God has forgiven you, in your heart. However, if we have made only a “spiritual confession”, we are able only to make a “spiritual communion”; forgiveness in the heart can only lead to communion in the heart – thus, I would recommend offering special prayers to Jesus and professing your love for him, but one must not receive him in Sacramental Communion without Sacramental Confession.
If we want to receive Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, we must first receive his forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession. If we desire to take Communion from the hands of the priest at Mass, we must first receive forgiveness from the hands of the priest in Confession.
My brothers and sisters, nothing is more effective in leading us to holiness and union with Christ than a good and worthy Communion. Nothing is more valuable before God than receiving the Eucharist in the state of grace and in a worthy manner.
On the other hand, nothing will destroy our union with Christ more than an unworthy Communion. Nothing is more effective in separating us from Christ and plunging us into the depths of hell than taking Communion after having committed serious sin and not having gone to Confession.
Let us make no mistake, a good and worthy Communion is everything! Everything relies upon the Most Blessed Sacrament of the altar!

But let’s get real practical. I would like to list three serious sins, sins which are very common and which must be confessed before we come to Communion. Certainly, there are many other sins, and there are even many other worse sins, but I mention these three because they are so common and so often misunderstood. Everything I say here is from the Catechism; it is not my opinion, it is the clear teaching of Christ and his Church.

First, skipping Sunday Mass. To skip Mass on Sunday, without a grave reason, is a very serious sin.  If we skip Sunday Mass, we must not come to Communion until after first going to Confession.
Second, any sin against the 6th Commandment; that is, any external sexual sin either alone or with another person – I think you all know what sort of sins I am referring to here. Sins against chastity are very serious. We must confess any external sin against chastity before we come to Communion.
Finally, drunkenness and drug abuse. By drunkenness, I do not mean simply being a bit tipsy or loopy; I am talking about real intoxication, a loss of reason. To intentionally get drunk or abuse drugs is a serious sin, it must be confessed before coming to Communion. Moreover, to drive while under the influence is a serious sin – one must first go to Confession before coming to Communion.

I do not say this to be hard or difficult. This is a teaching of love! It is all about forgiveness and communion. But we must come to Christ in the proper order – we must approach God in a worthy and holy manner.
Be sure of this: The good and worthy Communions we make in this life will bring us all to the glory of life everlasting.