Q I am in my 50s and have now been divorced for three years. I was married in the Catholic Church and have always attended Sunday Mass regularly and received Communion. But I have begun to wonder whether I should still take Communion. 

I asked a priest recently in confession, and he said that it was OK, but I still feel unsure about it. (Also, I have kept my marriage vows so far; but if I were to become involved with someone else, would it still be OK to go to Communion?) (Kentucky) 

A Yes, in your present situation you may continue to receive the Eucharist. Many people are under the misimpression that a divorce by itself separates a person from membership in the Catholic Church and disqualifies that person from receiving holy Communion. That is not so; sometimes the end of a marriage can occur with little or no fault on the part of at least one of the spouses. 

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And since you have been to the sacrament of penance, I am going to assume that you’ve already confessed whatever may have been your own responsibility for the breakup. However, it’s your last sentence that troubles me. 

Your divorce does not prohibit you from friendships with women or female companionship. But if you were to become involved sexually with someone to whom you were not married in the church, you would not, of course, be eligible to receive the Eucharist because, in the church’s eyes, you would be living in the state of serious sin. 

(If you are considering a new romantic relationship, why not see a priest and look into the possibility of an annulment from your first marriage so that the way would be clear if you decided to marry that person with the church’s approval?) 

Q My sister was upset with her adult daughter and her husband (who is a convert to Catholicism) when they took holy Communion recently after having missed Mass. She told her daughter that they had committed a mortal sin by missing Mass and then, again, by receiving Communion without first going to confession. (She had brought up the matter before with her daughter.) 

My question is this: Is my sister being judgmental and wrong, or would this be considered helpful guidance in getting her daughter and her family back on God’s path? Her daughter resents her mother for doing this, and the daughter’s husband is angry. My fear is that they will become alienated from the church and stop bringing their kids up Catholic. Can you help me to help my sister? (Sacramento, California) 

A Your sister is right on her theology but, perhaps, wrong on her strategy. Clearly, the church teaches that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is a serious one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants). … Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (No. 2181). 

Gravity of matter, of course, is just one of three conditions necessary for mortal sin the others being complete consent of the will and full knowledge of the sinful character of the act or omission. Assuming that your niece and her husband fulfilled these conditions, they must have their sins forgiven in the sacrament of penance before receiving the Eucharist. 

But the “strategy question” is how best to encourage that family to fidelity to their faith. Your sister has already brought it to their attention; to continue to berate them about it, I would think, would be counterproductive and, from what you say, that seems to be the case. Better at this point, it seems to me, for your sister to spend her time not in offering “helpful guidance” to her daughter’s family, but praying for them instead. 

Q My sister married in the Catholic Church while very young. After a couple of years, that marriage fell apart and eventually she received an annulment from the Catholic tribunal. After a few years, she met a divorced man who had been married previously in the Catholic Church and she married him in a civil ceremony. 

Over 30 years have now passed, and they stopped having conjugal relations some years ago. Because of multiple social, financial and health issues, they still live under the same roof although in separate rooms. 

My sister wants to come back to the church and receive the sacraments. The family has met with two priests and received two different opinions. The first priest indicated that she cannot receive the sacraments unless she divorces. 

The second one said that, since there is no expectation of further sexual relations (they would continue to maintain a brother-sister relationship), she can receive the sacrament of reconciliation and then holy Communion. Please let me know the church’s position. (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) 

A I would agree with the second priest. In fact, Pope (now St.) John Paul II provided for such a circumstance in his 1981 apostolic exhortation “Familiaris Consortio,” saying that “reconciliation in the sacrament of penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist” can be granted “when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they (quoting from a homily he had given a year earlier) ‘take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence.'”

(Note: I would deem as “serious reasons” what you describe as “multiple social, financial and health issues.”) 

Father Doyle is a retired priest in the Diocese of Albany, New York. Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, NY 12203.