Who May Receive Holy Communion?

The Church has the authority to decide this question. And since the Pope is the Head of the Church on earth, he can ultimately make the decision. Once he decides, the question is answered. If the Pope binds, no one can release. If the Pope releases, no one can bind.

{16:17} And in response, Jesus said to him: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.
{16:18} And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
{16:19} And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound, even in heaven. And whatever you shall release on earth shall be released, even in heaven.”

The Pope can decide to narrow the scope of who may receive Communion, or he can decide to broaden the scope of who may receive Communion. Contrary to the claims of some modern-day Pharisees, the rules for reception of Communion are discipline, not doctrine.

Current Rules

All apostates, heretics, and schismatics are automatically excommunicated and therefore may not receive Communion. All persons conscious of grave sin may not receive until they have been to Confession. In extraordinary circumstances, a person conscious of grave sin can make an act of perfect contrition, receive Communion, then go to Confession when it is available.

Non-Catholics are permitted to receive Communion in some circumstances. For example, Orthodox Christians may receive if they are living in an area where there is no Orthodox church and would therefore be otherwise unable to receive Communion. This is permitted despite the substantial differences between Catholic and Orthodox teaching, on the basis of the good conscience of the Orthodox Christian.

Divorced and remarried persons (lacking an annulment) are not presently permitted to receive Communion. Persons remarried after an annulment are permitted to receive Communion, despite the fact that annulments are (in many places) too easy to obtain, implying that some of these remarriages are invalid.

Politicians and others who vote in favor of abortion (or other grave sins) are permitted by some Bishops to receive Communion. Other Bishops do not permit reception in this case.

Current Practice

Presently (prior to the Oct 2015 Synod), many Catholics receive Communion, regardless of the rules of the Church, including:
* those who use contraception or abortifacient contraception.
* those who vote for abortion and same-sex marriage
* those who adhere to heretical or schismatic errors
* those who teach heresy and other doctrinal errors
* those who are unrepentant from grave sexual sins (premarital sex, masturbation, unnatural sexual acts within marriage, etc.)
* those who do not believe in transubstantiation and the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist
* those who never go to confession
* those who reject, in principle, the teaching authority of the Pope and the Magisterium

If the current rules for reception of Communion (rules in effect under the past several Popes at least) were actually followed, the vast majority of Mass-going Catholics would not be receiving Communion. If the current rules for reception of Communion were followed, most persons who complain about Pope Francis’ proposal to broaden reception of Communion would themselves not be able to receive, since they have committed the sins of heresy and schism.

Many Catholics complain that Pope Francis lacks the authority to permit reception of Communion by divorced and remarried persons, since those persons are objectively guilty of adultery (for having sex within their invalid marriage). How many of these same Catholic complainers sin gravely within their own valid marriage by committing unnatural sexual acts with their spouse? It is apparently a common sin among Catholic spouses in the present day. So if their own standard were applied to themselves, they too would not be able to receive. Hypocrites.

Many of these opponents of Pope Francis are also guilty of material heresy, for rejecting numerous teachings of the Magisterium on faith and morals. They have badly misunderstood Catholic teaching. Some even teach heresy and doctrinal error to other Catholics, along with the claim that these errors are merely a correct understanding of Church teaching. They should not be permitted to receive Communion, under their own strict standard of who may receive. They are ready to make a false accusation of heresy against the Pope (who in truth can never fall into heresy), and yet they themselves adhere to heretical and schismatic errors.

It is ironic that these Catholics are willing to reject Pope Francis, if he broadens the availability of Communion. For by rejecting the Pope, they thereby commit the sin of schism, and become unworthy to receive Communion.

Who SHOULD receive Communion?

My theological opinion and preference for discipline would be narrow. All recipients of Communion:

* must have been to Confession within the last 120 days
* must not be conscious of any objective mortal sin or actual mortal sin
* must not have committed any grave sexual sin since their last good Confession (including unnatural sexual acts within marriage)
* must be free from both heresy and schism, both material and formal
* must accept magisterial teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances
* must reject abortion, contraception, and abortifacient contraception, even for a medical purpose
* must accept the infallibility of the Bible on all topics (about which the Bible makes an assertion) including science and history
* must believe that same-sex marriage is not a valid marriage and that homosexuality is a disorder
* must vote according to Catholic teaching
* must not teach or adhere to any heretical or schismatic error
* must not reject any Pope or Council
* must not reject the Novus Ordo Mass (the Mass in the vernacular)
* must believe in transubstantiation and the real presence
* must pray regularly, including prayers for the Church and the Pope
* must not be divorced and remarried without an annulment
* must not adhere to any false private revelation or false visionary

The above is my personal opinion and preference for reception of Communion. However, I will support whatever decision any Pope or Council makes on this subject, for it is a matter of discipline, not doctrine. It is the grave error of Pharisaism to equate discipline to doctrine, and then reject the authority of the Pope based on one’s own understanding of that doctrine. It is also a grave error against faith and magisterial authority to assume that one’s own understanding of infallible Church teaching cannot possibly err. An infallible teaching cannot err, but you might misunderstand that teaching.

God’s Plan

In my understanding, Pope Francis will act under the grace and providence of God in regard to Communion. Just before the tribulation begins, God desires to bring as many sinners to repentance as possible. So He permits, through Pope Francis, broad access to Communion, on the basis of each person’s conscience, as a mercy to sinners. For Jesus touched the leper before he was healed.

But after the Warning, Consolation, and Miracle, and after the tribulation begins, God desires to bring sinners into full Communion with the teachings of the Church on faith and morals. So He requires, through the next Pope after Pope Francis (Pius XIII), strict adherence to Church teaching on morality as well as belief in every infallible teaching. For God “wants all men to be saved and to arrive at an acknowledgment of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4).


Anyone — including Cardinals, Bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and popular lay leaders — who rejects the authority of the Pope, whether in fact or in principle, or who accuses any Pope of heresy, thereby separates himself from the Church and becomes unworthy to receive Communion. Already, some Cardinals have publicly rejected the authority of Pope Francis in principle, thereby committing the grave sin of schism. They are unworthy to receive Communion.

Pope Francis has the authority to bind and to release, and his authority is not subject to the approval or agreement of anyone on earth, including Cardinals and Bishops. If Pope Francis decides to permit broader access to Communion, he has the authority. Even if such a decision were unwise or imprudent, it is not tantamount to heresy. For the Church has always permitted the faithful to receive Communion if they are not conscious of grave sin.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Who May Receive Holy Communion?

  1. Mark Boutross says:

    Every Catholic should have the blessing of their Ordinary (Pastor of the Parish where they maintain domicile), who should also be their ordinary confessor, in order to receive Holy Communion.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is too restrictive to say that the pastor of the parish must be the confessor of every parishioner. Many parishes have more than one priest. It is also too restrictive to say that the pastor must approve of each person. The faithful have the right to receive Communion, if they meet the conditions set by the Church. The pastor of the parish cannot take away that right. Also, the term “Ordinary” typically refers to the Bishop in charge of the diocese, not the priest in charge of the parish.

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