If you do not agree with some of the Church’s teachings, but you receive Communion on Sundays, are you sinning?
First of all, let us be clear that “not agreeing with” and “not living according to” the Church’s teaching are two different matters. It is very possible that a person might not agree with a teaching and yet decide to live in obedience to it, believing that it comes from God. The Church knows well that sometimes we will struggle with a certain teaching, often due to a lack of understanding, and this is okay as long as we do not reject it. If, however, you are asking if it is alright to receive Holy Communion and, at the same time, live a life that rejects some of the teachings of the Church, the answer depends on what teachings you are referring to. Certain “teachings” or doctrines of the Church must be believed and followed, otherwise communion with the Church and with God would be broken.
What are those teachings that must be believed and followed? Canon law states the following: “All that is contained in the written Word of God or in Tradition, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church and also proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, must be believed with divine and catholic faith… therefore, all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatever which are contrary to these truths” (canon 750). This means everything that has been revealed by God to the Church, both written and oral. By “Magisterium,” we mean the teaching office of the Church. It is made up of the pope and bishops. When they together teach in an area pertaining to faith and morals, they are the Magisterium.
We know that essentially any baptized Catholic, unless prohibited by canon law, may be admitted to Holy Communion (canon 912). In other words, one may receive Communion as long as one is not acting contrary to any law of the Church. We must keep in mind of course that when we speak here of the “laws” of the Church, we are speaking of the law of God, and most of it is based on the Ten Commandments, which are to us like sign posts on the road to life. God reveals them to us out of His great love and infinite mercy. Who knows better what we need than He who made us?
Sometimes we may tend to think that by the Ten Commandments God means to bind or limit us, when in fact just the opposite is true. In actuality, they are meant to liberate us, to set us free. The problem with embracing them comes when we do not want to accept no for an answer to what we want. When as children, however, we wanted to play with matches or a knife and our parents said no, we did not understand then what we do now as adults about the danger in having such things. It is that same way too between God and us.
So, when God tells us that those things such as abortion, sex outside of marriage, marriage outside the Church, artificial birth control, practicing homosexuality, “living together,” are wrong, then we know they are not His divine will for us. If we disobey deliberately and willingly, then we have fallen out of communion with Him. This is mortal sin and, therefore, one may not receive the Holy Eucharist while the situation persists. Reconciliation, however, can restore that communion. If only we realized the great mercy of God. He waits lovingly and eagerly for each of us to reach out to Him and be with Him. To be in the will of the Lord and live according to His ways brings a happiness and peace that every human person was made for and longs for. Let us pray for this communion with Him for each other, today and every day.
Grace MacKinnon is a syndicated columnist and public speaker on Catholic doctrine and teaches in the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Her new book Dear Grace: Answers to Questions About the Faith is available in our online store. If you enjoy reading Grace’s column, you will certainly want to have this book, which is a collection of the first two years of “Dear Grace.” Faith questions may be sent to Grace via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also visit her online at www.DearGrace.com.