Since the Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ, the Church has always taught that to receive communion while in a state of serious sin is a grave sacrilege. The Bible passage most frequently quoted to make this point is 1 Corinthians 11:27-30. Immediately after summarizing the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, St. Paul says:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
But there’s another passage that also alludes to this sacrilege using even more brutal language. It takes place the night before the Passion, as Jesus had gathered in the Upper Room for the Pascal meal:
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, ‘Lord, who is it?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.’ So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him. Jesus said to him, ‘Do quickly what you are going to do.’ Now no one at the table knew why he said this to him. Some thought that, because Judas had the common purse, Jesus was telling him, ‘Buy what we need for the festival’; or, that he should give something to the poor. So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. (John 13:21-30)
Have you ever wondered about this passage? Isn’t it a bit weird that in verse 27, highlighted in red, John wrote that Satan entered into Judas as he’s receiving a piece of bread? What’s up with that?
A careful examination of the context of this passage suggests that the bread Jesus handed to Judas was not the Eucharist (whether Judas received communion at some other point during the Last Supper has been the subject of debate). Nevertheless, many Fathers of the Church saw in this narrative a direct allusion to unworthy reception of the Eucharist and its devastating consequences. (Tip: whenever you read John’s gospel, always remember that he wrote with rich symbolism and double meanings, otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot of good stuff.)
Earlier in this chapter, in John 13:2, we read that “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him.” So verse 27 is not trying to tell us that Judas made up his mind to betray Jesus at the moment he received the bread from Jesus’ hand. He had already made up his mind earlier. So John is hinting at something else.
We don’t know exactly the state of Judas’ soul, but we have some hints. It’s unclear who he thought Jesus was, but after witnessing everything Jesus did for three years, he had to know that this was a very special and holy man. To plot the betrayal of an innocent and holy man like Jesus is a serious sin. In general, you can see throughout his gospel that John didn’t think too highly of Judas. For example, in John 6:70, he quotes Jesus as calling Judas “a devil”. In John 12:6, he says that Judas didn’t care about the poor, but was a thief who would steal from the common purse. In light of the evidence, we can understand why the Fathers of the Church would see him as illustrative of someone unprepared to receive the Eucharist.
The fact that John wrote “Satan entered him” upon receiving the bread alludes to the fact that even if you’re already in mortal sin, receiving communion in such a state makes you much worse off. John didn’t mince words.
So let this serve as food for thought. If you have the misfortune of falling into mortal sin, don’t despair. Get yourself to confession ASAP to be reconciled with God, but don’t take communion in the meantime. Don’t compound one spiritual problem by adding another offense to Jesus in this most wonderful of sacraments.
And don’t feel embarrassed that you’re not receiving communion. Forget what other people think. As odd as it may sound, you’re actually doing a virtuous and honourable thing by abstaining from communion and acknowledging your guilt. It’s the right thing to do.