Life in a small town, The Inner Struggle

FINALLY! Some clarity on the “divorced and civilly remarried” controversy

Why couldn’t we have started here 2 years ago before all the acrimony and misunderstanding … This article is from Fr. Z’s Blog and is SO important (if one is Catholic) that I re-posted it here in it’s entirety. Go visit his site anyway, there is a trainload of really good relevant stuff there.

My point in this post is the fact that the divorced and remarried couples taking communion in a state of sin are just the tiny tip of the iceberg of Catholics taking communion in a state of sin.

I posit that the difference between the number of Catholics taking communion weekly ( very large) and the number of Catholics attending to the confessional weekly (tiny) is exactly equal to the number of Catholics taking communion in a state of sin, and that divorced and remarried couples are a very tiny percentage of this number.

So why is all the attention in the church focused on the divorced and remarried?

Anyway, you can skip to the conclusion if necessary by just scrolling down to the next star bar (********)


Clarity from Vancouver about Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried.  Posted on 21 March 2017  by  Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

It’s great to have some clarity for a change. Of course each dose of clarity makes the general confusion which some are fomenting more exasperating. Nevertheless, it’s great to have some clarity for a change.

At the page of the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary in Vancouver we find some clarity from Fr. Pablo Santa Maria.  Of course this would not have been published without the knowledge and consent of Archbishop Miller, who is very solid.

Communion, Marriage and Divorce Mar 16, 2017

[QUAERITUR: …]Who can receive Holy Communion at Mass? None of us are truly worthy of such a great gift but God’s grace makes us worthy and prepares us to receive this sublime gift through which we are united to Christ and find salvation. We are reminded of this reality at Mass when we prepare for Holy Communion and say “Lord I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

When it comes to the issue of those who are divorced and remarried, some confusion arises. The following paragraphs are an attempt to give some clarity to this delicate matter and to encourage all of us to accompany those who are on the peripheries of the Church.

DIVORCED, AND NOT REMARRIED.The Church has always upheld the dignity and vocation of Marriage as a central component of her life: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament”. (1)

However, there are instances when a couple has to divorce. Reasons may vary but usually it is for the physical and mental wellbeing, of one of the parties. When there are situations of abuse, violence, neglect, etc. separation and even divorce are a necessary step. Those people who are divorced but are not living with another person either in marriage or in cohabitation, can and should receive Holy Communion if they are not is the state of mortal sin.


“I say to you, whoever divorces his wife – unless the
marriage is unlawful – and marries another commits adultery.”
– Mt. 19, 31 – 32

In this passage, our Lord is debating with the Pharisees on the nature of Marriage. Here Christ reiterates what he mentioned in the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel, that divorce and remarriage are a serious sin. [Wait for iiiiit….] When we know we have committed a serious sin, we should not receive Holy Communion. [There it is.]

St. John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter Familiaris Consortio [But wait!  There are some who suggest that because FC is over 30 years old, it is no longer relevant.  These people are trying to repress the magisterium of St. John Paul II.  Once that’s accomplished, just about anything goes.] further reminds the faithful of this truth. Those who are divorced and remarried cannot receive Holy Communion. This is because the previous union still exists. Even though civilly it’s no longer there, in the eyes of Church it still exists for divorce does not end a bond blessed by God.

However, those who are divorced and civilly remarried are not outside the Church. The divorced and remarried should be welcomed as an essential: part of the Catholic community. These members of the Church should share in the life of the Church.They can attend Mass, [not can… must… they must still attend Mass on Sundays and other days of obligation like everyone else] pray, and take part in the activities of the parish. The children born in these situations are central to the life and mission of the Catholic Church and should be brought up in the Faith.

In the recent Papal document Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reiterates the teaching of Christ and of Pope John Paul II: “In no way must the Church desist from proposing the full ideal of marriage, God’s plan in all its grandeur.” (2)

However, what the Holy Father is also encouraging us to do is to have an examination of conscience and to see how we can help those who are on the peripheries, in this case, those who are divorced and civilly remarried. In some cases they feel ostracized and excluded from the life of the Church. The Holy Father is encouraging all of us, but especially priests to “accompany {the divorced and remarried} in helping them to understand their situation according to the teaching of the Church” (3)

In some cases the first marriage bond may have never existed. To this end a canonical investigation of the first marriage by a Church marriage tribunal may be appropriate, which may help to regularize the second civil union. In other cases, when the first marriage was indeed valid, the Church invites the couple in the second civil union to abstain from marital intimacy so that they may receive the sacraments.


In recent days, since the Synod on the Family and the publication of the Papal Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, there has been some added confusion to this matter. There are some who say that the Pope has somehow changed this teaching of Christ, which is not the case. The teachings of Christ cannot be changed or re-interpreted according to the fashions of the time, or ignored because they are difficult. [And yet some highly placed people are doing precisely that.]

In a recent interview, Cardinal Muller, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that “For us marriage is the expression of participation in the unity between Christ, the bridegroom, and the Church, his bride. This is not, as some said during the Synod, a simple vague analogy. No! This is the substance of the sacrament, and no power in heaven or on earth, neither an angel, nor the pope, nor a council, nor a law of the bishops, has the faculty to change it.” (4)

[NB] In other words, neither the Pope nor a bishop can change the teachings of Christ. The Church has always maintained this practice and teaching reminding us of the sanctity of Marriage and the importance of the Holy Eucharist. St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians reminds us all look into our hearts and to see if we are indeed ready to receive Holy Communion as it’s a grave sin to receive Holy Communion when we are in the state of mortal sin. (5)

The ultimate goal of the Church is to accompany those who are hurting and feel excluded and to bring them back into the fold. To encourage them and to lead them to a worthy reception of the sacraments by which they will come to share in the life of our Saviour.  [There are those who are in situations that can’t be “fixed” easily.  They must exclude themselves from receiving “the sacraments” (generally Penance and Eucharist) and be excluded.  To be able to receive these sacraments they must have a firm purpose of amendment.  

So, what Father wrote is correct.  People in these hard situations must be helped to a) not receive unworthily until they b) make the tough choice and move to amend their lives.]

Fr. Pablo Santa Maria______Notes:Catechism of the Catholic Church N. 1601
FRANCIS, Pope, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, 2016. N. 307.
Ibid, N. 300
I Cor. 11, 27

Father did a good job of laying out the issues in a brief and simple way.


So that was Father Z, The rest is me, Joe.

So let’s think about that one line especially!  Remember, When we know we have committed a serious sin, we should not receive Holy Communion.”  This innocuous little line is just probably the biggest show stopper in the entire Catholic Church these days.  The question immediately comes to mind” “Are any of us free from serious sin?”

Definitively we are not. We are human and as such have a proclivity for sin, a real affinity for sin, yes, even serious sin. Our natural concupiscence knows no bounds. That is why Christ instituted, specifically through his priesthood,  the sacrament and process of Confession or Reconciliation as some call it.
One of the best explanations I have found is at:

The practice of Confession arises from the example and command of Jesus, who showed that human nature could be used by God as an instrument of grace and forgiveness. He said “That you may know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sin…” (Mt. 9:6; Mk 2:7-10; Lk 5:21-24). The Hebrew title He used was “ben Adam” meaning “Son of Adam.” This was the Hebrew way of saying “a human being.” Jesus always gloried in His Humanity, since through It He redeemed us. He communicated this authority to His Apostles on Easter night, “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven, whose sins you shall retain they are retained” (Jn 20:19-23). In this way He gave the Apostles (and their successors) the power to give “Peace” (v.21), which is nothing less than the reconciliation of man with God.

The text even makes clear how Confession is to be conducted. Christ’s representative, the priest, must decide whether to forgive or retain. Therefore, the penitent must confess each and every serious sin, that is anything which separates him from Christ. If the priest judges he is truly sorry, He must absolve since Christ’s Passion merited forgiveness for every repentant sinner. Only if the person shows no willingness to give up sin does the priest retain, that is withhold absolution, as we “do not give what is holy to dogs” (Mt 7:6).

In one form or another the Sacrament of Penance has been in continuous practice in the Church. Its existence in all the Churches of the First Millennium, even those separated from Rome, shows its apostolicity. The present Catholic discipline of secret confession dates to the early middle ages, though there are suggestions of an even earlier practice. Prior to that, confession of sins involved lengthy public penance for great sins such as adultery, murder and apostasy from the faith. Thankfully, it is much easier today.

The point was, however, that serious sin is a horrendous offense against God that ought to be rare among the baptized but frequently is not. In the second and third century theological battles were fought over whether Penance could be received more than once after Baptism. The rigorists, like Tertullian, left the Church and their movements passed into history. Even the practice of the sacrament today is no encouragement to sin, as they thought. On the contrary it requires humility to confess your sins. It also gives great peace to hear the priest say in Jesus’ name “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is Christ’s will that we hear those words.


So knowing myself to be a sinner, and one who takes myself to confession every month or even every two weeks at times and certainly by special appointment when ever I notice a particularly egregious occasion of sin (mostly old habits of thought and judgement), I have a rhetorical question and I offer no answer – perhaps even in asking the question I sin, at least venially in the way of pride and judgement but I ask it anyway …
Weekly mass invariably produces a huge line up for Eucharist as virtually every parishioner takes Eucharist every week. This has been the situation in every parish I have attended for decades, every Sunday huge lineups for Eucharist. I suppose it is a safe bet that most Catholics who attend Mass weekly also receive Communion weekly.
The question arises every time I go to confession. For almost every confession I am either alone, or there are one or two other folks attending. WE routinely hold penitential services in our parish because of the paucity of turnout for regular confession and even then we are amazed if we have more than 20 people show up. Three or sometimes four  priests chew through 20 sinners pretty fast so we often stand around and chat for a bit with the priests who are from other parishes and compare notes. The “2 people at confession” phenomena seems pretty consistent across all parishes.
So, if such a tiny fraction of parishioners are going to confession then logically the vast majority of parishioners are not having their sins (venial and mortal) confessed and forgiven. But, When we know we have committed a serious sin, we should not receive Holy Communion.”  and yet the vast majority of parishioners are receiving communion every week.
I am left with the stunning conclusion that the majority of parishioners do not feel that they have sinned in their lives in any way. An alternate possibility is even more stunning, namely that they know they have sinned and don’t care and are just taking communion for appearances sake – also another mortal sin.
The current controversy regarding divorced and remarried couples taking communion is just the tip of the iceberg. The Catholic Church is legitimately concerned about couples taking Eucharist in a state of sin, but it seems obvious that divorced and remarried couples are only a tiny tiny minority of those actually taking communion in a state of sin.
Is it plausible that most Catholics are continually living in a state of grace and are not sinners, this in a modern progressive culture so steeped in sin that one risks being called out and questioned for not sinning.
Is the answer to do with “culpability”? If one is not aware of sinning then is there a sin? Surely I am not the only one noticing this phenomenon.

Always remember, “Be charitable in your judgements, and never take yourself too seriously”