What should I do about someone who refuses to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist?

By March 30, 2015 35 Comments

Full Question

My dad, a Catholic convert who stopped going to church years ago, is interested now in attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist. But he refuses to go back to church if he has to go confession first. I feel my father has a better chance of growing in his faith if he starts attending Mass, but I also agree with my mother that his receiving Communion without confession first is wrong. What do we do?


Your father may not receive the Eucharist before receiving absolution from a priest in the sacrament of penance. This doesn’t mean he can’t attend Mass; he can and should attend Mass, even if he isn’t disposed to receive Communion.
The Church sets out specific guidelines regarding how we should prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s body and blood in Communion. To receive Communion worthily, one must be in a state of grace, have made a good confession since one’s last mortal sin, believe in transubstantiation, observe the eucharistic fast, and, finally, not be under an ecclesiastical censure such as excommunication. For someone to receive the Eucharist without sanctifying grace in his soul profanes the Eucharist in a most grievous manner.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law stipulates:

A person who is conscious of a grave sin is not to . . . receive the body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; in this case the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible. (CIC 916)

What should your dad do? Here are the possibilities, starting with the best and most desirable:
1. He should go to confession, attend Mass, and receive the Eucharist worthily. In this case, your father would have returned to full communion with the Church and would be free to participate in the sacraments, having the benefit of sanctifying grace once again in his soul.
2. If he refuses to go to confession, he should still go to Mass, but not receive the Eucharist. While he would not be in the state of grace, he would avoid committing further grave offenses either by ignoring his Sunday obligation or by unworthy reception of Communion. Additionally, he would be opening himself up at least to hearing God’s word and would be fulfilling his Sunday obligation.
3. If he is unwilling to use option one or two, he should not go to Mass. In this case, he would continue not to fulfill his Sunday obligation, but at least he would avoid the graver offense of profaning the body and blood of the Lord, which would be the worst outcome.


  • Johnny Servas says:

    Please give an instruction how to go to confession.

    • jm flores says:

      Five steps for a good confession:
      1. examination of conscience… what are your sins?
      2. be sorry for your sins.
      3. promise not to do it again.
      4. confess your sins to a priest.
      5. do penance.

    • Lu says:

      Here is a list that I use for my religious education children from our parish priest:
      20 tips for making a good confession
      we should…
      1)…examine our consciences regularly and thoroughly (http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/sacraments-and-sacramentals/penance/examinations-of-conscience.cfm);
      2)…wait our turn in line patiently;
      3)…come at the time confessions are scheduled, not a few minutes before they are to end;
      4)…speak distinctly but never so loudly that we might be overheard;
      5)…state our sins clearly and briefly without rambling (we want other people to be able to confess, too)
      6)…confess all mortal sins in number and kind (all of them-what we did and how many times);
      7)…listen carefully to the advice the priest gives;
      8)…confess our own sins and not someone else’s (again, be brief but concise (that person may be waiting in line!));
      9)…carefully listen to and remember the penance and be sure to understand it (ask if you don’t);
      10)…use a regular formula for confession so that it is familiar and comfortable;
      11)…never be afraid to say something “embarrassing”… just say it (the priest has heard it before);
      12)…never worry that the priest thinks we are jerks…he is usually impressed by our courage;
      13)…never fear that the priest will not keep our confession a secret…he is bound by the Seal! (and would rather die than break the seal);
      14)…never confess “tendencies” or “struggles”… just sins (schedule time for spiritual direction);
      15)…never leave the confessional before the priest has finished giving absolution;
      16)…memorize an Act of Contrition (http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=43);
      now, if needed…
      17)…answer the priest’s questions briefly (be brief, there are other souls to save!) if he asks for clarification;
      18)…ask questions if we can’t understand what he means when he tells us something;
      19)…keep in mind, sometimes priests can have bad days just like we do;
      20)…remember, priests must go to confession too…they know what we are going through.

    • Logan Wishart says:

      This website has a great walk through. http://www.catholictv.com/how-to-go-to-confession

  • Ray Manza says:

    But of he hasn’t committed a mortal sin or if he makes a good act of contrition, can’t he attend mass and receive communion?

  • Rob L says:

    The question was not “What should my dad do” but “what should I do”… I have been in a situation like this also, where someone I care about is going to mass and receiving without having ever been to confession (Easter Vigil convert) but if I mention to them that they should go to confession, they get mad because I am suddenly condemning them. So what should the average lay-person do if they know someone is more than likely not in a state of grace and still coming to the Eucharist?

  • jim hagan says:

    Things like this are exactly why i do not attend the catholic church anymore. Did the 12 disciples go to confession before the lords supper. No! It is all a bunch of made up rules so they can control you.

  • jim hagan says:

    Now someone gets to moderate my comments. Go figure!

  • Rita says:

    EXcuse me but who are you to tell him he Must go to confession . That is between him and God. Who are you to say that God did not forgive him by him talking to God about it. My bible does not tell me when or how often I have to go to confession.

    • Luke says:

      There are situations where fraternal correction is necessary, albeit in this situation it is not so simple. One does not simply “correct” one’s father, since that’s not the usual way authority flows. But Catholics are called to confess their sins at least once a year, and in this case, there is at least the obvious-for-all-to-see sin of not fulfilling the requirement of attending Mass.
      And as far as biblical examples of confessions being necessary, and to be done with a priest, here are some:
      In Leviticus (19:20-22) we have the example of the adulterous man bringing a guilt offering, with the priest making the atonement for him, and the sin being forgiven. The priest cannot make atonement if he’s not aware of the man’s sin. He is the mediator for the repentant sinner. See also Leviticus 5:5-6
      In the New Testament, there is the baptism offered by John, where people were confessing their sins (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:5). John is preparing the way for Christ, and listened to the confessions of sin.
      In Matthew again (9:6-8) Jesus tells us that He was given authority to forgive sins, and then it is noted this same authority was given to men (plural).
      In John (20:21-23) Christ passes his authority and power to the Apostles with these words: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” How could these men forgive sins if they weren’t confessed to them? They couldn’t have… This authority only comes through the gift of the Holy Spirit which precedes it.
      In the letter of James (5:14-17) there is the example of the “elders of the church” being called upon, and the Apostle exhorting us to “confess [our] sins to one another…”
      In the letter of John (1:9) “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The word “confess” has an oral/verbal or proclaimed meaning.
      St. Paul (2 Cor. 5:18) describes his ministry as one of ‘reconciliation of sinners’: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…”
      Scripture clearly shows that while God alone can forgive sins, and Christ is the one Mediator between God and man, God uses man to bring about his reconciliation. Christ clearly conferred His authority upon the Apostles, and they in turn passed it on to other good men (1 Timothy 4:14, 5:22).
      That’s just the Scriptural arguments for this practice. There are many writings of the early, early Fathers of the Church describing the Catholic teaching of priestly confession existing in the 1st century.

    • Javier says:

      Rita, look closely at your bible and you’ll see that indeed says you must confess. Through the Old Testament there are a number of passages(Leviticus 19, Isaiah 43, etc) and in the New Testament is in the gospels, none more clearly than John 20. I don’t read a specific timeframe (daily, weekly, monthly, etc), but it is explicitly we must confess to those people to whom Jwaus himself gave the ability to absolve.

    • basurero says:

      Rita, who are you also to tell that He should not go to Confession? And who are you also to tell that God has forgiven him even without going to confession? Just askin…

    • J.A.C. says:


  • Kerri says:

    The person answering simply referred to the CCC which draws from the scriptures. We are all one body in Christ so it is good to instruct each other. This person did not make a judgement regarding the matter but simply wanted to share truth about receiving the body and blood of Christ and do so worthily. This Church teaching comes directly from St Paul on 1 Cor 11:27 “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”
    Furthermore…we all know that we are not perfect and we sin regularly…so if one hasn’t gone to confession in a really long time (church says one year) then we ought to go so as not to sin against the body and blood of Christ. This is Biblical and has been the teaching of the Chirch since the beginning.
    As for him asking God directly instead of going to confession…please read the Catechism of the Catholic Church here…
    Here a few Bible verses about it…
    “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:21–23).
    And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:22)
    Read here for more information…

  • Haries Sankaradhas says:

    Confession relieves a lot of burden. Just go for it to feel the relief, both physical and mental.

  • You might want to pay more attention to your own spiritual life and less to his. Rigid legalism has nothing to do with grace. God is budget than any doctrine, and grace stronger than any rule. Nothing “bad” will happen to anyone if your father feels called to receive the elements.

  • BS says:

    Ok, I had the same situation with my mother a couple of years ago. She took such offense to my insistence that she go to confession (which I don’t believe she has ever done more than once in her life when she converted to marry my dad) that she stopped going to mass with me 🙁 Yesterday my sister who has not been to mass in years asked to go with me. I was ecstatic. I did not have time to explain or discuss this with her. When the time came for Communion I told her she should go for a blessing with her arms crossed. For a while there it looked as though she was not going to go at all, but at the last minute, decided to go and received Communion. I simply prayed to God to excuse her ignorance and to give her the graces to fully return to the church. My legalistic approach (although I believe correct) has alienated more than one person from coming back. I want to defend Christ, but I also heed his warning, not to stop any of his little one’s from coming to him. I am not his savior he is mine. I have yet to receive any advice which helps me decide which approach is best. This is a good post though.

  • Mark says:

    When Our Lord breathed upon the disciples and told them to go and forgive sins, and whose they retained were retained, and whose they forgave were forgiven– this is when Our Lord told us the fashion in which he wants sins forgiven. Through His Church. Because that’s what Our Lord founded. His Church. Which we are, and which we have been, from the very beginning– we have not deviated, and we can trace ourselves back by the hands of our predecessors, up to Peter and the Apostles, up to the breathing of the Holy Spirit upon them by Our Lord.
    That is why.

  • Carla Bright says:

    But what if they don’t listen? I’ve showed people canon law and they do it anyway? What am I supposed to do?

  • basurero says:

    Rita, who are you also to tell that He should not go to Confession? And who are you also to tell that God has forgiven him even without going to confession? Just askin…

    • Kerri says:

      We are ONE body of Christ and it is our duty to each other to keep the body of Christ holy. The Bible strongly warns against receiving communion “unworthily” so she is simply looking after him by being concerned…
      1 Corinthians 11
      27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

  • J.A.C. says:

    it is nobody’s business but the one who is receiving….

    • Rob L says:

      If you knew that there was a cup of poison being served, but you also knew that you were immune to this type of poison because you received the antidote… would you stop others from receiving the poison without receiving the antidote or would you just say “its their own business to receive it or not”?
      This is the situation that we need to have solved! In 1 Corinthians 11:27-31 Paul talks about how people are dying because they are receiving the Lord unworthily! At what point does our own conscience tell us to try to stop someone from eating and drinking judgment upon themselves? Because the Lord is giving us life, but only those who are in a state of Grace, to those who are not, they are hurting themselves. So when do we stand up for the Lord and love our neighbor enough to tell him/her that they need to go to confession before receiving the Eucharist? Or should we just be apathetic to the situation?

  • it is all in the approach….gently instruct…it is in nature of some people to rebel…above all don’t be a pious know it all..that is a quick turn off….

  • Diana says:

    He should “convert” to Christianity. Everyone even the sinner is welcome to church. About Confession that is a heart change and between only God and Man through ONLY Jesus Christ. Taking Communion; the bible says to examine yourself first so again this is between man and God.
    God’s grace isn’t based upon our “works” but already the worked He did on the cross. It’s asae Catholics misrepresent Christ.

    • Kerri says:

      “Convert to Christianity”? Perhaps you should study the “history of Christianity” and there you would find the Catholic Church in the very beginning of “Christiainity”. Please read my post today and learn what Catholics believe before trying to instruct them on Faith and morals. Forgiveness of sin has always included confession to men whom Jesus gave authority to forgive sin. Taking communion with unforgiven sin in your heart is a grave matter. Read my post…you will see the Biblical basis for this. Nobody said receiving Gods grace is based on “works”. Catholics do not “misinterpret Christ”. Why would you be here Ina Catholic site posting these things?

  • Joana Vavasis says:

    I have not confessed to a prest for quite sometime but through God and and God alone and I know deep inside my heart he listens and forgives anyone that asks his mercy. May Our Lord Almighty Father bless us all.Amen

  • Joseph Lillie says:

    Pray for him and wait for the right time to tell him he needs to confess. God will give you the time. Your right to think this. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s between him and God and not to worry about it. Don’t let it steal your peace though. If you feel still feel uncomfortable about t then pray for him in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Spirit will guide you and give you peace. God Bless.

  • Kerri says:

    Obviously some commenting here are either not Catholic or do not know their Catholic Church doctrine. First, the Eucharist IS the body and blood of Christ…truly it IS because Jesus said it and He doesn’t lie. Therefore, we cannot partake of it unworthily because the Bible warns seriously against it…
    1 Corinthians 11
    27 Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.
    Next, we must address how we are to be “worhy” of receiving he body and blood of Christ. We must be holy. We must be without mortal sin. Therefore we must confess and receive absolution for any mortal sins we may have committed. Why do we need to go to a priest for this? Let’s see what he Bible says…
    John 20
    21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
    All that being said…if you don’t believe the Bible…that the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ body and blood and/or you don’t believe that Jesus gave the apostles authority to forgive sins…then You will not obviously think this person should have any problem receiving communion after having been away from the Church. When you willingly don’t go to Mass…you turn your back on the true body and blood of Christ..which is a mortal sin. Reconciliation is required…through a priest…because Jesus set hints up that way. It is not for us to decide on…Jesus made the “rules”. Before any arguments arrive that Jesus gave THOSE Apostles authority but not the current priests…it’s called Apostolic Authority. Research it. Jesus would not set up Church leadership then let it end with that generation! Think about it…what Jesus established still exists today in the Catholic Church. If you reject the teachings of the Catholic Church…that’s a whole other matter. Please don’t be on Catholic posts then…speaking against Catholic doctrine. That is serious.,.turning people from the truth of their Faith. Peace be with you all.

  • David says:

    If I took communion for 20 years since my last confession, will God let me into heaven?

  • james says:

    Why do you want one sacramental, but not the other one? If you want to receive holy communion from a priest, then why not absolutionk ?

  • Mandy Vigna says:

    Pray. It’s so simple it can sound as though it’s not enough, but it is the most powerful thing you can do. You are not your father, but you can and should pray for him. You should not judge him, but seek God’s grace for him.

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