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Divorce, remarriage, and Communion Print
Guest column
Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Veronica Arntz

Part three of a four-part series

Having established a clear understanding of the Church's teaching on marriage and family, let us now turn to the situation of the divorced and remarried.

St. John Paul II recognized the difficult situations that arise from divorce: "Loneliness and other difficulties are often the lot of separated spouses, especially when they are innocent parties" (Familiaris Consortio, 83).

Divorced and remarried

Yet, both St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI (cf. Sacramentum Caritatis, 29) affirm that those who have been divorced and remarried without receiving a declaration of nullity cannot receive Communion.

In Familiaris Consortio, we read, "The Church affirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried" (Familiaris Consortio, 84). This remains the Church's constant teaching in accordance with the truth of the Gospel.

Some may believe that this teaching is unwelcoming and condemning individuals from receiving the Eucharist. Let us clarify common misunderstandings, assuming an audience of baptized Catholics.

Validity of marriage

Canon 1060 explains, "Marriage possesses the favor of the law; therefore, in a cause of doubt, the validity of a marriage must be upheld until the contrary is proven."

When a couple makes its vows to be true to each other no matter what, the Church assumes the couple intends what they are saying. A civil divorce cannot remove the covenant, which was made before God.

Thus, a declaration of nullity, popularly called an "annulment," states that a marriage never happened, for a number of reasons (e.g., the wife was ignorant about the marital act, the husband kidnapped his wife to marry her, etc.).

If, however, the proper consent, proper form, and no impediments are present, the marriage is assumed valid and therefore indissoluble.

As such, it is impossible for a baptized, validly married Catholic to remarry unless the nullity of the first marriage has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt to be invalid.

Unlawful second union

If a Catholic should remarry without doing so, he or she would be entering into an unlawful second union. As Christ explains, "Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9; cf. 1 Corinthians 7:39).

Thus, if a man or woman remarries while his or her spouse is still living without demonstrating that the first marriage is invalid, he or she is committing adultery.

As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), "Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery" (CCC, 2384, emphasis added).

Notice that the problem is not the divorce in itself. While the Church greatly discourages divorce, wisely recognizing the damage caused to the spouses and children, she realizes that it may be necessary in some cases (cf. CCC, 2382-2386).

For example, an individual can divorce and not remarry, and still receive Communion, because he or she is not living in the state of sin. The problem lies in remarrying while one of the spouses is still living: as such, the individual freely choosing to remain in a state of public and permanent adultery.

The problem with adultery is described above in the Catechism: it is both public (everyone knows that this person is living in a second union) and permanent, or ongoing (it is not a sin that occurs once and can receive immediate absolution, such as theft or murder).

Let us be clear: the problem is not necessarily divorce itself, but the intention to continue committing adultery. Furthermore, the subjective culpability of an individual living in a second union is unrelated to the divorce itself.

Even if the divorce was civilly considered a "no-fault divorce," this does not mean that the man or woman is not subjectively culpable for contracting and choosing to remain in a manifestly invalid second union.

Receiving Communion

This is why a divorced and remarried couple cannot receive Communion, because they are living in a public and ongoing state of sin.

A person in such a state cannot receive absolution, for, as St. John Paul II explains, "Reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance, which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage" (Familiaris Consortio, 84).

As soon as a couple changes their intention from adultery to living as brother and sister, they can receive the Sacrament of Confession and then Holy Communion in a place where they are not known, in order to avoid any scandal to the faithful.

Until their intention changes, however, they remain in the state of sin and cannot receive Communion. This teaching about the divorced and remarried remains the constant teaching of the Church, and we must uphold it.


Veronica Arntz graduated from Wyoming Catholic College in May 2016 and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology degree from the Augustine Institute, Denver, Colo.