By Msgr. Charles Pope - OSV Newsweekly, 8/19/2012
Question: When I learned the second precept of the Church as a child it was “to go to Confession once a year if you have mortal sin.” The current Catechism states on the second precept: “to go to confession at least once a year” (No. 2042). Have the bishops changed the second precept on their authority?
— Ed Smetana
Answer: The Catechism, while less than exact in the quote you supply, does footnote Canon No. 989 for greater precision, which says: “All the faithful who have reached the age of discretion are bound faithfully to confess their grave sins at least once a year.”
The Catechism states elsewhere: According to the Church’s command, “after having attained the age of discretion, each of the faithful is bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year.” Anyone who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive holy Communion, even if he experiences deep contrition, without having first received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession (No. 1457).
Thus, there is no change in the precept, though one may admit the Catechism could have been more precise in the text you cite.
That said, it may be of some pastoral advantage to remember that there is a tendency today to minimize the possibility and frequency of mortal sin. Most adult Faithful should go to confession more than once a year. It is quite likely that most adults, even if not guilty of sins against life and sexual purity, are often guilty of rather serious sins against charity. It is quite possible to cause serious harm and distress by the harsh things we say. Further, lies can cause reputations to be tainted, people to be misled and errors to flourish. Greed, neglect or laziness also cause grave harm. Missing Mass is a mortal sin, and being significantly neglectful in handing on or defending the Faith is also serious.
The Church encourages Faithful to confess frequently, even if they are not aware of mortal sin, since the sacrament of confession not only confers the grace of absolution, but also the grace to avoid sin in the future.
Receiving the Eucharist
Question: If I’m aware of a sin, either mortal or venial, may I receive the Eucharist at Mass? Or would I have to go to confession first?
Answer: As the quote from the Catechism above notes, only mortal sins would exclude one from receiving Communion. If one is aware of mortal sin(s), one should refrain from going forward to receive if they have not first gone to sacramental confession.
As the Catechism notes, there are rare exceptions to this rule. Canonists define “grave reason to receive communion” in different ways, but most all concur that the reason must be more serious than ordinary embarrassment at not going forward. Most restrict it to danger of death. Even in such cases the communicant is required to make an act of contrition that includes the intent to confess the sin later, if a priest can reasonably be found.
There are some who struggle with habitual mortal sin, e.g., masturbation, and in such cases they should work closely with a confessor so as to be able to stay faithful to Communion.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to email@example.com . Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.
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