Why divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive Communion

There appears to be a lot of confusion and angst about why Catholics who divorce and remarry cannot receive Holy Communion. For some, this seems cruel, legalistic and unforgiving. However, a deeper understanding of the true nature of marriage and the Eucharist leads us to only one possible conclusion: it can’t be any other way because remarriage and the Eucharist are exact opposites.

It all starts with the very meaning and purpose of marriage. Contrary to what many people think, the public celebration of marriage is not about wishing a happy life to a couple that love each other. It’s so much more profound than that. Did you know that the most common analogy in Scripture for God’s relationship with humanity is that of a Bridegroom with His Bride? This is true in both the Old and New Testaments. See for example Isaiah 62:5 and Mark 2:19-20.

Why would God speak this way? God isn’t sexual because He’s pure spirit. So what’s He trying to say? There are many layers of meaning, but one important point is that He’s teaching us about the nature of marriage. He’s saying that marriage is meant to be a small-scale replica of His complete, life-giving love for humanity. The love of the spouses is meant to imitate the uncompromising loving relationship between Christ and His Church, where Christ went so far as to freely give His life for us and to remain faithful to us, even when we were unfaithful to Him. The Book of Revelation contains very direct language about Christ marrying the Church, which means marrying each of us.

St. Paul made this point very clear in his letter to the Ephesians 5:31-32:

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

St. Paul isn’t just talking about marriage here. He’s specifically talking about the two becoming “one flesh” in sexual intercourse. Again, God isn’t sexual, so what’s the message here? Where does Christ become one flesh with His Church? Jesus told us in John 6:56:

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Christ chooses to commune with us by offering us His flesh in the Eucharist. It’s where Christ consummates His marriage to us. This is the most intimate union we can have with God this side of heaven, just as sexual intercourse is the most intimate union that a husband and wife can have on earth.

At its essence, sexual union in marriage is meant to prefigure the much deeper non-sexual union that will occur in our marriage to Christ in heaven, of which we already have a foretaste in Holy Communion. Eucharistic Communion is an encounter where Christ renews His wedding vows to each of us and we renew our wedding vows to Him.

The implication for remarried Catholics and Holy Communion becomes very clear. How can an individual who has renounced his or her wedding vows on Earth approach Christ with a straight face at the moment of renewing wedding vows with Him? How can such an individual commit to eternal fidelity in a marriage to Christ when they have chosen against fidelity on Earth? There’s an obvious contradiction, a dissonance, an hypocrisy.

Holy Communion and remarriage are direct opposites. 

That’s why Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), ordered a German diocese to withdraw its proposed guidelines to allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. He wrote:

“They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist.” (Source)

Exactly.

To all the divorced and remarried Catholics out there, I’d like to respectfully ask you a profound question, without any spirit of condemnation on my part: Do you really want the Eucharist? The Eucharist means eternal fidelity in marriage. So I could rephrase my question: Do you really want eternal fidelity in marriage? Doesn’t your choice to remarry signify that you don’t want this? And if you don’t want it, then how can you even enter heaven? Heaven is all about living this eternal fidelity in marriage to Christ. Nobody gets saved against their will. God won’t drag you into heaven kicking and screaming. So if you don’t want eternal fidelity in marriage, then do you really want to be saved? Perhaps you need to do some deep reflection and soul-searching on what exactly you want.

The situation is much different for a Catholic who saw his or her marriage go bust but who chooses to remain single to honour the wedding vows. Such a person can approach the Eucharist without contradiction or hypocrisy. Such a person has chosen eternal fidelity in marriage, even if it means living alone for the rest of their earthly life. Christ is near to such souls in Holy Communion.

7 thoughts on “Why divorced and remarried Catholics cannot receive Communion

    • Ken,

      You raise a good point. If a decree of nullity was issued, then the marriage never occurred and there are no vows to which one is bound. So yes, the man and woman are free to marry and receive Communion. But this is not an exception to the rule of indissolubility of marriage or of receiving Communion. It rather means that one is not bound to a marriage that never existed in the first place.

      Take care.

  1. I am a devoted Catholic and practice my faith as best as I can. I am the lead musician in my church, which I volunteer for every Sunday. I have done my best to raise my 3 children in the faith, despite the fact that their father is non-Catholic. They have attended Catholic schools and have participated over the years, as altar servers, readers and singers. My husband had multiple affairs during our marriage…still, I stayed. He was emotionally abusive…still, I stayed. He insisted that we separate and now lives with another woman and her family. I DO NOT think that I should be denied the Holy Eucharist because my marriage is over. I cannot believe that this is what Jesus intended for us. Your article has saddened me greatly.

    • Hello Patricia,

      I’m very sorry to hear of your situation. This must be very difficult.

      As long as you remain single you can certainly receive Holy Communion. Remember what Holy Communion means: a renewal of your vows to remain eternally faithful to Christ. This only makes sense if you are willing to show yourself true to your word, even the vows you made to your unfaithful husband.

      Do you understand this?

      Take care.

  2. Jesus said ” I am the way, the truth and the life. You will not come to the father but by me”. Forgiveness is only through Christ, and Christ has the last word on that. Not you, or me.

    Forgiveness from Christ is not conditional! “Only say the word and I shall be healed”! Remember that line!

    You talk of St Paul. He, and many of the Saints, confessed every day to “dust off their souls”. That same Saint had already tortured and killed many Christians before his enlightenment. Did he not receive forgiveness for those terrible sins? Did he not spread the word of forgiveness as a piller of the new testament?

    No forgiveness in your heart or your interpretation of the word? No wonder we are losing Catholics everyday!

    In this twist of the “truth”, do you feel any kinship with Muslim extremists who believe purity is through the sword? Or do you feel all Muslims are condemned because they don’t yet know Christ.

    The virgin mother of Christ certainly did not feel that way, when she appeared at Fatima and the three Children asked her who was the most faithful person in the town. She told them it was a local Muslim woman. I wonder of this devote woman who caught the attention of the Virgin mother, was ever forgiven for not knowing Christ, or was she condemned forever.

    Forgiveness is in all of us. Christ put it there. You should use it in your spreading of the word!

  3. Harold, I appreciate your concern.

    Christ is definitely forgiving, nobody questions that. But remember that He also said “Go and sin no more.” If someone doesn’t repent and amend their life to follow Him, he/she is not sincere and doesnt really want reconciliation. If they don’t want it, they won’t receive any.

    To argue the contrary is to make the entire Gospel nul void. The “Good News” is that Christ saved us of our sins. This presupposes that we are willing to be saved from our sins. If some people don’t want to leave their sins behind, there’s no salvation. They’re just looking to appease their conscience by imagining that they can continue sinning while being reconciled with God and neighbour. That’s not reality.

    This is why Christ speaks of “dying to self” because it is a hard sacrifice to choose His will over ours.

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