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James Harris wrote:

Hi, guys —

In section 103 of the Instrumentum Laboris for the October Extraordinary Synod on the family, we read:

"With patience and understanding, she must explain to these people that their not being able to celebrate the sacraments does not mean that they are excluded from the Christian life and a relationship with God."

This refers to people in irregular situations who are unable to receive the Eucharist or the Sacrament of Penance. It has always been my understanding that without Confession and absolution, one is unable to obtain forgiveness and is therefore damned. The document also says in section 92:

A good number of episcopal conferences recommend assisting people in canonically irregular marriages not to consider themselves as "separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life."

My question is:

  • How can someone unable to obtain absolution, and therefore salvation, consider themselves part of Christian life, in a relationship with God, or sharing in the life of the Church?

Of course God sometimes grants people time for amendment of life, which could lead to reconciliation with the Church, but this isn't likely to happen with relatively young people.

  • Wouldn't the Church be more honest if it excommunicated and banished those in irregular unions until they find themselves in a position to repent?

  • What pastoral care and welcome can the Church give to people it considers to be in an irresolvable state of mortal sin?


James Harris

  { Why does the Church assist people in irregular marriages yet not allow them the sacraments? }

Paul replied:

Dear James,

You bring up a good question.

I interpret you as seeking a reasonable answer to what, at least on the surface, appears to be a contradiction.

Perhaps one thing we should keep in mind is that while the Church's practice is to keep people from receiving Communion while they continue unrepentant in their sexual relationships outside of valid marriage, we must realize that without grace it is impossible for any of us to overcome sin, and especially sin that is habitual that we have come to depend on.

In having access to Church life, while still being unable to receive Communion and Confession, people might gradually find the strength to do what is right — that is to take the proper steps to put a end to their to the lifestyle that alienates them from the fullness of God's life.

In other words, it may be that the Church encourages these people to continue to attend Mass and being present in the life of the Church, without which there is no salvation, in order that they may have access to grace needed to choose God over self.

God is both Justice and Mercy, and so is His Body, the Church.



Eric replied:

Dear James —

There is always the option of abstaining from marital intercourse until an annulment is granted; then it is possible to receive absolution and the Eucharist so it is not unresolvable.


Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi, James —

Both Paul and Eric's answers are fine but someone may want to address your notion of damned.

We are not the judge of who is damned and who is saved.

Fr. Jonathan

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