Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion

General Principles

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Publication Date: July 01, 2004

[Note: The following memorandum was sent by Cardinal Ratzinger to Cardinal McCarrick and was made public in the first week of July 2004.]

1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgment regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: "Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty (e.g. excommunication, interdict) that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?" The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction "Redemptionis Sacramentum," nos. 81, 83). 

2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorize or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a "grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. [...] In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’" (no. 73). Christians have a "grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. [...] This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it" (no. 74).

3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

4. Apart from an individual's judgment about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

6. When "these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible," and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, "the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it" (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration "Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics" [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgment on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

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Mary says:
6/27/2022 3:45:56 PM
Thank you very much our Lord for listening to our pro-life prayers on the Sacred Heart of Jesus feast day.

Thank you to all who keep listening to our beloved babies!
Thank you all pro-life judges for your courage in defending life.
Thank you to all pro-life politicians, including President Trump, for so many pro-life actions.
Thank you all priests, including Cardinal Cordileone, who teach, pray, and keep protecting our lives at any stage.

Indeed, we Catholics are responsible for millions of lives when we vote.

Deacon Dana McCarthy says:
8/12/2021 1:51:57 PM
It seems to me that "proportionate" means exactly what it says. Since abortion kills about 1.5 million American children every year, or about 6 million during a 4-year presidential term, what other policy would be "proportionate" and lead a Catholic voter to support a candidate who promotes such slaughter? I certainly cannot think of one that could be considered even remotely germane in the 2020 presidential election.

Terry says:
6/4/2021 7:51:56 PM
Trump, it was well known, is a want to be dictator who with his minions, tried but failed to overthrow the United States government along with his believers in a fascist coup . Trump and his followers tried but failed to assassinate democratically elected officials and destroy the articles and official proof of the 2020 election proving that democrat Biden won the election. Anyone of normal intelligence, that had heard Trump's voice and words for over four years knew this coup would be the outcome if he didn't win the election. In good conscience, it would have been the same as voting Ja for Hitler instead of nein! Trump and Trumpism is an immoral and decadent fascist resistance to any democracy and freedom for the people of a nation such as the United States! This alone, is enough of a reason to tip the scales against a Trump when voting. And this is just one weight on the scale of proportionate reasons! And this is just one example of Rathzinger's definition of material cooperation that allows one to vote for a candidate who is in favor of abortion if there is no other choice. There also can be a write in vote for the Pope or other trusted person against abortion, if one is in any doubt or fear of mortal sin.

richard muchow says:
1/27/2021 9:49:26 AM
On further reflection to my comment in response to Steve Goodman, it is unfortunate that Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) (whom I greatly admire), did not give a concrete example of what the Church means by "the presence of proportionate reasons." This vague phrase leaves too much to interpretation and therefore a gaping whole in the Church's teachings on the grave sin of abortion. A good illustration is my own example of voting for Biden because of his other policy views. It occurred to me after I wrote this that surely the example I gave is not sufficient to meet the standard of the "presence of proportionate reasons" because if my example were correct it would mean that any Catholic would have license to vote for a pro-abortion candidate in any election merely because of other policy views that candidate has. That cannot be faithful to the Church's teaching on abortion. The only reason I could see that might justify a Catholic to cast a vote for a pro-abortion candidate is if the other candidate is a murderous dictator, or someone who is more pro-abortion than the other candidate. Such egregious situations though do beg the question of why a Catholic should even vote, where the choice amounts to nothing more than a choice between two evils.

Also, Steve, the abbreviation N.B. is Latin for "nota bene" or "note well." It serves to call attention to another aspect of the subject being addressed as opposed to P.S. (postscript) which represents an afterthought that came to you after you already finished the subject matter of your letter or statement.

richard muchow says:
1/26/2021 9:34:29 PM
In response to Steve Goodman's question, as I read Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum, the Church draws a distinction between a Catholic who votes for a pro-abortion, or pro-euthanasia candidate because that Catholic himself or herself is pro-abortion or pro-euthanasia, and the Catholic who is against abortion or euthanasia but nevertheless votes for the candidate for reasons completely separate from the candidate's pro-abortion/pro-euthanasia position. An example might be this past election where a Catholic who is pro-life voted for Biden because he or she believed that Biden would deal more effectively with the COVID pandemic or with the immigration issue than Trump did. In the first situation the Catholic who believes in abortion is guilty of cooperating in the sin of abortion by voting for the pro=abortion candidate. In the second situation, the Catholic who believes abortion is a grave sin but votes for the pro-abortion candidate for wholly separate reasons is not in the Church's view directly sanctioning, fostering, or cooperating in the sin of abortion. His vote for the pro-abortion candidate is seen at best "remotely cooperating" in the sin of abortion and therefore can be permissible depending upon the circumstances.

Steve Goodman says:
10/5/2020 6:25:15 AM
Please clarify this statement that follows Item No. 6: [N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.]

The acronym N.B. represents what? Could someone please provide an example of how this statement applies to voting for a pro-abortioncandidate How could a Catholic find a valid moral reason to vote for a candidate that favors abortion/euthanasia?


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