The complexities of receiving Communion for the divorced

By Fr. Kenneth Doyle | Catholic News Service

Q. If a Catholic gets married by a priest, later gets divorced, then gets married by a judge, can that person still receive the holy Eucharist?

A. The short answer is “no,” but there is so much more to it than that. First, to explain the rule: The Church is a communion of persons linked by a shared set of religious beliefs and practices. Reception of the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, is an indication that an individual accepts the beliefs of the Church and the guidelines of its teaching.

One of those guidelines is that a Catholic should marry in a Catholic ceremony or, at least, with the permission of the Church.

Assuming, as seems to be indicated, that you have not obtained an annulment from the first marriage, that marriage is still considered by the Church as valid. As such, the second marriage would not be recognized by the Church.

I don’t think this should be seen as the Church’s presuming to render a judgment on the state of a person’s soul before God (for only God can safely do that). It should be seen simply as an indication that the Church, like any organization of human beings, has rules that govern membership and regulate behavior.

I would suggest that you continue to attend Mass regularly.

Too often, people in a situation like this conclude that Mass attendance is pointless since they have rendered themselves ineligible for full participation through holy Communion.

That is unfortunate because usually the person still shares in the core beliefs of the Church and would derive spiritual satisfaction and helpful guidance by continuing to attend Mass.

I would also urge that you sit down with a priest of your choosing and discuss the circumstances of the first marriage and the reasons for its breakup. It could well be that, even if that marriage lasted several years, there might be grounds for the Church to consider an annulment — serious immaturity, for example, or emotional instability (on the part of one marriage partner or both) going back to the time of the marriage.

It seems obvious that reception of the Eucharist is important to you, so it would certainly be worth the effort to open that possibility.

It should also be noted that too often Catholics who are separated or divorced but who have never remarried refrain from taking Communion because they feel that they have “broken a big rule” and are therefore ineligible to receive.

The truth is this: The Church believes that, in fidelity to the teaching of Jesus, marriage is forever, and that spouses should always enter a marriage with this understanding and do their best to make the marriage last.

However, there are some situations (domestic abuse is a clear-cut one, but there are certainly others) where, for the good of everyone involved, separation is advisable.

When the rift is irreparable, divorce is often a necessary consequence so that legal obligations — such as alimony, child custody or child support — can be clarified and assigned. (Sometimes this sad result happens even though the marriage partners have done everything reasonably possible to make the marriage work.)

Divorce itself, without remarriage, does nothing to disqualify a Catholic from the sacraments.

The best advice in any situation like this is for the people involved to seek the guidance of a sympathetic priest so that they can assess fairly their own personal responsibility for the marital breakup, seek the grace of confession, if necessary, and be assured that they continue to be welcome in the Church and are eligible to participate fully.


Fr. Doyle is a columnist for Catholic News Service. Questions to him may be sent to him at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com or 40 Hopewell St., Albany, NY 12208.