VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, has warned that those who approach Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin receive the sacrament unworthily and place their eternal salvation at risk.
In a recent interview with the National Catholic Register’s Edward Pentin, Burke discussed the matter in a conversation about his new book, Respecting the Body and Blood of the Lord: When Holy Communion Should Be Denied.
“I had seen a number of Catholic politicians, who presented themselves and wanted to present themselves as Catholics, promote legislative programs contrary to the Church’s teaching and do this publicly,” the cardinal explained. “And yet they were approaching to receive Holy Communion. This concerned me greatly.”
Commenting on the words of St. Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians, “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord” and “anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself,” Burke observed, “People have developed — and I saw this as a young priest — the idea that, well, if you’re at Mass, you go to Communion, even when sometimes people were in serious sin. And when you would teach that they were in a state of grave serious sin, they were surprised.”
The cardinal went on to explain that the Church’s Canon Law includes two pertinent instructions on the matter. The first is an injunction to the minister of Communion regarding when a person should not be admitted to the sacrament; the second is a reiteration of a teaching of the Council of Trent regarding those who should not approach Holy Communion. He attributed the neglect of these canons to the loss of faith in the Real Presence.
“I think there has been a genuine loss of respect for the Blessed Sacrament because it’s not understood that this is the Body of Christ,” Burke lamented. “For instance, if a person is in the state of mortal sin, say they’ve committed adultery, that’s not a public, obstinate sin, at least normally it wouldn’t be, but it is a mortal sin. So Canon 915 doesn’t apply to them directly, but Canon 916 does.”
Canon 915 states that those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion,” and Canon 916 instructs that “a person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession.”
The cardinal emphasized that persons who commit adultery “should realize that this is a grievous sin and not receive Communion until they’ve confessed it and been absolved, and, of course, that includes a firm purpose of amendment.”
Asked how a Catholic should properly prepare to receive Communion, the cardinal referred to the daily examination of conscience, contrition for sin, and confession. “Basically, the preparation to receive Holy Communion is a daily examination of conscience before going to bed and an act of contrition. That’s the normal Christian practice. But how do we examine our conscience?”
“Fundamentally, it’s a question of the Ten Commandments, so this is how a person is as prepared as he can be to receive Holy Communion. In a certain sense, none of us is worthy to approach Our Lord.”
“If we’ve examined our conscience and any serious sins that we’ve committed, if we’ve confessed them, we’re on the road to conversion of life,” he continued. “But how do we foster that in ourselves? We do that through a daily examination of conscience, active contrition and confession. The general suggestion is monthly confession, but I even like to suggest to people every two weeks because it’s just the way life is.”
Insisting that an honest assessment of life includes the recognition of man’s inclination to sin on account of the fall of Adam, and the acknowledgement of our unworthiness before God due to our sins, Burke clarified that being in the state of grace does make us “sufficiently worthy” to receive the Eucharist.
“We’re unworthy in ourselves because we’re sinful people, but by striving to give our lives over more and more to Our Lord, then we are worthy in that sense; sufficiently worthy is a good way to put it,” Burke said. “Then we can approach Our Lord honestly. And, obviously, we say before Holy Communion, ‘Lord, I’m not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,’ and so we are confident in God’s forgiveness.”
“Because of the fall of our first parents, man has a tendency to sin. Man has a tendency to fall into sin, but in later years, there developed this idea that all of the Church is obsessed with sin, and people are really all good; and in moral theology, they developed this notion of the fundamental option, and then proportionalism and so forth.”
Rejecting these errors, which were condemned by John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, Burke related, “I remember a professor of moral theology telling us that as long as there’s this fundamental option, as long as you’re tending toward the good, you can’t commit a mortal sin. Well, a lot of people are tending toward the good, and then they fall into mortal sins.”
The cardinal also brought up the fact that continuation in sin can lead persons to addictions and mental illness, saying a decline of faith “lessens their resistance to temptations against the Sixth Commandment, but there’s also a problem with drugs, with alcohol abuse, and so forth. Without a healthy sense of sin, one can just go sailing along in that direction until he finds himself in a terrible situation.”
“I’ve had psychiatrists and psychologists tell me that confession, rightly understood and practiced, is one of the best helps to mental health — for spiritual health, obviously, first of all — but also mental health,” the cardinal said.
Insisting on the importance of honesty with ourselves and honesty before God, Burke warned that the unworthy reception of the Eucharist places the souls’ eternal salvation at risk, since Holy Communion is the “pledge of eternal life.”
“I think that if we’re reasonably conscious individuals, we know when we’ve sinned, even if we’re trying to lie to ourselves and say, ‘Well, it’s not a sin.’ We wouldn’t approach Our Lord to receive Holy Communion if we knew we had sinned, and so this does torture people’s souls. And when people finally admit and confess a grave sin, in these kinds of circumstances, they’re also very prompt in confessing with great sorrow all of the sacrilegious Communions that they’ve committed.”
“Communion itself is a pledge of eternal life,” the cardinal declared, echoing Christ’s words in the Gospel of John and the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas, O Holy Banquet. “When we receive Holy Communion, we should have a strong sense that this is a food that prepares us for eternal life. ‘He who eats my bread and drinks my blood will never die,’ and so to receive Communion when one is not sufficiently worthy, one realizes also that one’s denying eternal life.”
Earlier this year, Catholic Action for Faith and Family (CAFF) announced a “nationwide, laity-led campaign” to ensure each cleric in the United States received a copy of Cardinal Burke’s book about distributing the Holy Eucharist.
Speaking on the importance of the campaign, CAFF’s Thomas McKenna explained, “Now, more than ever, it’s time for the laity to rise up and support our bishops, priests, and deacons, in faithfully proclaiming the truths of our faith, particularly with respect to worthy reception of communion. The source and summit of our faith, the Holy Eucharist, must not be mocked by unrepentant public sinners advocating for gravely immoral policies like abortion and same-sex ‘marriage.’”
“The Church’s teaching on this is clear, consistent, and longstanding, going back to the words of St. Paul. We strongly support our bishops, priests, and deacons boldly proclaiming the truth and hope that more join them. Any retreat from this teaching and practice is a surrender to those seeking to divide the Church and water down its teachings.”