Canon 915

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Canon 915, one of the canons in the 1983 Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church of the Catholic Church, forbids the administration of Holy Communion to those upon whom the penalty of excommunication or interdict has been imposed or declared or who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin:

Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion. [1]

The corresponding canon in the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, which binds members of the Eastern Catholic Churches, reads, "The publicly unworthy are to be kept from the reception of the Divine Eucharist". [2] [3]

Reception of Holy Communion

In general, Catholics who approach for Holy Communion have the right to receive the Eucharist, unless the law provides to the contrary, and canon 915 is just such an exception to the general norm. [4] Anyone aware of having committed a grave sin is obliged to refrain from receiving Communion without first obtaining absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation. [5] [6] In addition, canon 1331 §1 of the Code of Canon Law forbids an excommunicated person, even one who has incurred a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication, from receiving Holy Communion or any other of the sacraments of the Catholic Church, except for Reconciliation, to be reconciled to the Church. [7] Also forbidden to receive the sacraments is anyone who has been interdicted. [8] These rules concern a person who is considering whether to receive Holy Communion, and in this way differ from the rule of canon 915, which concerns instead a person who administers the sacrament to others.

Canon 915 is immediately followed by canon 916, which concerns the minister of the Eucharist (priest or bishop) in case that it celebrates a Mass and the recipient of Holy Communion: "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible." [9]

Administration of Holy Communion

The general rule of canon law is that "sacred ministers cannot deny the sacraments to those who seek them at appropriate times, are properly disposed, and are not prohibited by law from receiving them"; [10] and "any baptized person not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to holy communion". [11] Canon 915 not only permits the ministers to deny Holy Communion to certain classes of people, but actually obliges them to deny it to those classes of people. [12]

Classes of people to whom Communion is to be denied under canon 915

Those under imposed or declared excommunication or interdict

Any excommunication or interdict obliges the person involved to refrain from receiving Holy Communion, but a minister is obliged to deny Holy Communion only to those on whom an ecclesiastical superior or tribunal has publicly imposed the censure or declared that it has in fact been incurred. Canon 915 thus does not apply in cases of undeclared latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication, such as that incurred, according to canon 1398, [13] by someone who actually procures an abortion. While someone in this situation should not receive Communion until the excommunication is lifted, a priest may not on the grounds of the automatic excommunication refuse to administer the sacrament even if he knows of its existence. [5]

Those who persist in manifest grave sin

It can be more difficult [5] to determine whether in a particular case all four elements referred to are simultaneously present:

  1. a sin,
  2. which is grave,
  3. which is manifest,
  4. and which is obstinately persevered in.

The action must be a sin in the eyes of the Church, not merely something distasteful or irritating; personal guilt on the part of the person concerned is not required. [14] [15] [16] [17]

The sinful action must be "seriously disruptive of ecclesiastical or moral order". [14]

To be manifest, the sin must be known to a large part of the community, a condition more easily met in a rural village than in an anonymous urban parish. Knowledge by the priest alone, in particular through the sacrament of confession, is not a justifying cause for denying Holy Communion. [5] Public withholding of the Eucharist for little-known sins, even grave sins, is not permitted under canon law. [14]

Neither an attitude of defiance nor a prior warning are required to determine the existence of obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin. [18]

Divorced and remarried Catholics

The Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts issued on 24 June 2000 a declaration on the application of canon 915 of the Code of Canon Law to divorced Catholics who have civilly remarried. Even if such people, while being unable for serious reasons, such as the upbringing of children, to separate, live in full continence, their publicly known objective situation as divorced and remarried Catholics excludes them from receiving Eucharistic Communion. Public denial of Communion must be avoided and so the reasons for exclusion must be explained to them, but if such precautionary measures fail to obtain the desired effect or are impossible, Communion is not to be given to them. [19]

However, in September 2016, Pope Francis declared the apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia to be a teaching of the "authentic magisterium", and agreed with the interpretation of Argentine bishops that "in certain circumstances, a person who is divorced and remarried and is living in an active sexual partnership might not be responsible or culpable for the mortal sin of adultery, 'particularly when a person judges that he would fall into a subsequent fault by damaging the children of the new union.' In this sense, 'Amoris Laetitia opens up the possibility of access to the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist'.” [20]

Issues of dispute

Politicians consistently promoting permissive abortion or euthanasia laws

A memorandum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion", signed by its Prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and published in July 2004, declared that, if a Catholic politician's formal cooperation in "the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia" becomes manifest by "consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws", the politician's pastor is obliged to instruct the politician about the Church's teaching and inform him that he should not present himself for Holy Communion as long as the objective situation of sin (regardless of whether subjective guilt exists or is absent) persists, warning him that, if he does present himself in those circumstances, he will be refused. As in the case of divorced and remarried Catholics, if these precautionary measures fail to obtain the desired effect or are impossible, "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'". [21]

This ruling of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was cited in an article by Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Periodica de re canonica, vol. 96 (2007), which listed precedents for it in the writings of the Church Fathers and theologians, in both older and more recent canon law and in ritual texts. [2]

The ruling spoke of the obligations of the politician's pastor. With regard to the obligations of the diocesan bishop, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared in 2004: "The question has been raised as to whether the denial of Holy Communion to some Catholics in political life is necessary because of their public support for abortion on demand. Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. ... The polarizing tendencies of election-year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and sacramental practice can be misused for political ends. Respect for the Holy Eucharist, in particular, demands that it be received worthily and that it be seen as the source for our common mission in the world."

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington has declared his opposition to such political use, with the Washington Post's Melinda Henneberger describing "Communion wielded as a weapon": in Wuerl's view, which he attributes also to the great majority of bishops in the United States and elsewhere, canon 915 "was never intended to be used this way", that is, to bring politicians to repentance. [22]

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith commented on the United States bishops' 2004 document: "The statement is very much in harmony with the general principles 'Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion, sent as a fraternal service – to clarify the doctrine of the Church on this specific issue – in order to assist the American Bishops in their related discussion and determinations'." [2]

In an article written before publication of the 2004 memorandum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, canonist John P. Beal had argued that canon 915 did not apply to pro-choice Catholic politicians. [23]

Pope Francis reaffirmed the Catholic doctrine that politicians who encourage abortion and euthanasia shouldn't take communion, in the Aparecida Document, in March 2013: "We hope that legislators [and] heads of government... will defend and protect [the dignity of human life] from the abominable crimes of abortion and euthanasia; that is their responsibility... We must adhere to "eucharistic coherence", that is, be conscious that they cannot receive Holy Communion and at the same time act with deeds or words against the commandments, particularly when abortion, euthanasia, and other grave crimes against life and family are encouraged. This responsibility weighs particularly over legislators, heads of governments, and health professionals." [24]

Other cases in which canon law mandates denial of access to Communion

Exclusion by canon law from access to Communion is not limited to the cases mentioned in canon 915. Canon 916 excludes from communion all those conscious of mortal sin who have not received sacramental absolution. [25] Canon 842 §1 declares: "A person who has not received baptism cannot be admitted validly to the other sacraments." [26]

It is also deemed appropriate to consider denying Communion "where someone is trying to use the Eucharist to make a political statement", [27] and Communion has been refused to activists of the Rainbow Sash Movement on the grounds that it has never been acceptable to use the reception of Communion as a manifest act of protest. [5] [28] [29]

Cases where Holy Communion has been denied to recipients

In 2019, Holy Communion was denied to Joe Biden due to his public stance regarding abortion, and to a woman in the Diocese of Grand Rapids who had contracted a same-sex civil marriage. [30] [31] [32] [33] [34] Catholic commentators debated whether the denial of Holy Communion was appropriate in these cases. [30] [35] [32] [36] The Diocese of Grand Rapids issued a statement supporting the decision of its priest. [37]

Parallel Anglican norm

The Book of Common Prayer requires the minister of Holy Communion to forbid access to "an open and notorious evil liver", until he publicly declare his repentance and amend his life. [38]

See also

Related Research Articles

Excommunication Censure used to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community

Excommunication is an institutional act of religious censure used to end or at least regulate the communion of a member of a congregation with other members of the religious institution who are in normal communion with each other. The purpose of the institutional act is to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community or to restrict certain rights within it, in particular, those of being in communion with other members of the congregation, and of receiving the sacraments.

Closed communion

Closed communion is the practice of restricting the serving of the elements of Holy Communion to those who are members in good standing of a particular church, denomination, sect, or congregation. Though the meaning of the term varies slightly in different Christian theological traditions, it generally means that a church or denomination limits participation either to members of their own church, members of their own denomination, or members of some specific class. See also intercommunion.

Mortal sin

A mortal sin, in Catholic theology, is a gravely sinful act, which can lead to damnation if a person does not repent of the sin before death. A sin is considered to be "mortal" when its quality is such that it leads to a separation of that person from God's saving grace. The sin against the Holy Ghost and the sins that cry to Heaven for vengeance are considered especially serious. This type of sin should be distinguished from a venial sin that simply leads to a weakening of a person's relationship with God. Despite its gravity, a person can repent of having committed a mortal sin. Such repentance is the primary requisite for forgiveness and absolution. Teaching on absolution from serious sins has varied somewhat throughout history. The current Catholic teaching was formalized at the 16th century Council of Trent.

In Catholic canon law, an interdict is an ecclesiastical censure, or ban that prohibits persons, certain active Church individuals or groups from participating in certain rites, or that the rites and services of the church are banished from having validity in certain territories for a limited or extended time.

Open communion

Open communion is the practice of some Protestant Churches of allowing members and non-members to receive the Eucharist. Many but not all churches that practice open communion require that the person receiving communion be a baptized Christian, and other requirements may apply as well. In Methodism, open communion is referred to as the open table.

Polish National Catholic Church Christian church based in the United States

The Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC) is a Christian church based in the United States and founded by Polish-Americans. The PNCC is not in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church; it seeks full communion with the Holy See, although it differs theologically in several respects. A sister church in Poland, the Polish-Catholic Church of Republic of Poland, is a member of the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht and is also not in communion with the Holy See; at the same time, the PNCC is neither in communion with the Union of Utrecht, but rather the Union of Scranton. The Polish National Catholic Church welcomes people of all ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, sometimes referred to as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2018. As the world's oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilization. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration is the Holy See.

Communion and the developmentally disabled

When and how any particular Christian participates in the Christian sacrament of Eucharist, regardless of intellectual disability or cognitive capacity, depends on the way the administering Christian community understands the sacrament. Because there is a plurality of Christian accounts of Eucharist, there is a plurality of practices and traditions concerning the norms for participation in that case of a Christian who has an intellectual disability. Some Christian traditions maintain that a theological understanding of the sacrament is necessary to receive Eucharist and, therefore, do not administer the sacrament to intellectually disabled persons. Other Christian traditions maintain that spiritual devotion to the real presence of Jesus Christ is necessary to receive the Eucharist and, therefore, administer the sacrament to intellectually disabled persons under particular conditions—presuming the benefit of the sacrament can be received even if the Eucharist is not consumed. Still other Christian traditions understand the practice of Eucharist principally as a communal expression of community solidarity or unity and, therefore, administer the sacrament indiscriminately during the liturgy.

Eucharistic discipline regulations and practices associated with the Eucharist

Eucharistic discipline is the term applied to the regulations and practices associated with an individual preparing for the reception of the Eucharist. Different Christian traditions require varying degrees of preparation, which may include a period of fasting, prayer, repentance, and confession.

Valid but illicit and valid but illegal are descriptions applied in Catholic Church to an unauthorized celebration of a sacrament or an improperly placed juridic act that nevertheless has effect. Validity is presumed whenever an act is performed by a qualified person and includes those things which essentially constitute the act itself as well as the formalities and requirements imposed by law for the validity of the act.

Latae sententiae is a Latin phrase, meaning "sentence (already) passed", used in the canon law of the Catholic Church. A latae sententiae penalty is one that follows ipso facto or automatically, by force of the law itself, when a law is contravened.

Eucharist in the Catholic Church

Eucharist here refers to Holy Communion or the Body and Blood of Christ, which is consumed during the Catholic Mass or Eucharistic Celebration. "At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood, ... a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet 'in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'" As such, Eucharist is "an action of thanksgiving to God" derived from "the Jewish blessings that proclaim – especially during a meal – God's works: creation, redemption, and sanctification."

Anointing of the Sick in the Catholic Church One of the sacraments in the Catholic Church

Anointing of the Sick is a sacrament of the Catholic Church that is administered to a Catholic "who, having reached the age of reason, begins to be in danger due to sickness or old age", except in the case of those who "persevere obstinately in manifest grave sin". Proximate danger of death, the occasion for the administration of Viaticum, is not required, but only the onset of a medical condition of serious illness or injury or simply old age: "It is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived."

Canon 1398 is a rule of canon law of the Catholic Church which declares that "a person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication."

Glossary of the Catholic Church Wikipedia glossary

This is a glossary of terms used within the Catholic Church.

In the canon law of the Catholic Church, excommunication, the principal and severest censure, is a medicinal, spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of all participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society. Being a penalty, it presupposes guilt; and being the most serious penalty that the Catholic Church can inflict, it naturally supposes a very grave offense.

Sacraments of the Catholic Church seven visible rituals that Catholics see as signs of Gods presence, consisting of those of initiation (baptism, confirmation, eucharist), of healing (reconciliation, anointing of the sick), and of service (holy orders, matrimony)

There are seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, which according to Catholic theology were instituted by Jesus and entrusted to the Church. Sacraments are visible rites seen as signs and efficacious channels of the grace of God to all those who receive them with the proper disposition. The sevenfold list of sacraments is often organized into three categories: the sacraments of initiation, consisting of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist; the sacraments of healing, consisting of Penance and Anointing of the Sick; and the sacraments of service: Holy Orders and Matrimony.

Because the Catholic Church opposes abortion as a matter of doctrine, some Catholic bishops have refused or threatened to refuse communion, or threatened to declare excommunication upon Catholic politicians who support abortion. In some cases, officials have stated that ministers should refuse communion to such politicians per canon 915 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law; elsewhere, that the politicians should, on their own, refrain from receiving communion ad normam canon 916; and in other cases, excommunication has been suggested.

Canon 844 is a Catholic Church canon law contained within the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which defines the licit administration and reception of certain sacraments of the Catholic Church in normative and in particular exceptional circumstances, known in canonical theory as communicatio in sacris.

<i>Amoris laetitia</i> 2015 apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis

Amoris laetitia is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation by Pope Francis addressing the pastoral care of families. Dated 19 March 2016, it was released on 8 April 2016. It follows the Synods on the Family held in 2014 and 2015.


  1. Canon 915 in the English translation of the Canon Law Society of America
  2. 1 2 3 Raymond Burke, "Canon 915: The discipline regarding the denial of Holy Communion to those obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin" in Periodica de re canonica, vol. 96 (2007), p,. 3-58
  3. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 712
  4. Vere & Trueman, Surprised by Canon Law [Vol. 1], pg. 98
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "Edward McNamara, "Denying Communion to Someone"". Archived from the original on 2013-01-13. Retrieved 2012-04-24.
  6. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385
  7. Code of Canon Law, canon 1331 §1 Archived March 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  8. Code of Canon Law, canon 1332 Archived March 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  9. Code of Canon Law, canon 916
  10. Code of Canon Law, canon 843 §1
  11. Code of Canon Law, canon 912
  12. "Disregarding the divinely-rooted Canon 915 portends serious consequences for the Church and her faithful". In the Light of the Law. 2017-10-09. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
  13. Code of Canon Law, canon 1398
  14. 1 2 3 Edward Peters, "Withholding of Holy Communion by Extraordinary Minister" in 2008 Roman Replies and CLSA Advisory Opinions 80-83
  15. Joseph Ratzinger, "Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles", 6
  16. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful (14 September 1994)
  17. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who Are Divorced and Remarried, 2 a
  18. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration concerning the Admission to Holy Communion of Faithful Who Are Divorced and Remarried, 2 b
  19. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Declaration concerning the admission to Holy Communion of faithful who are divorced and remarried
  20. "Pope Francis's Controversial Step on Communion for the Divorced and Remarried". National Review. 2017-12-12. Retrieved 2019-02-19.
  21. Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion: General Principles
  22. Henneberger, Melinda (11 May 2009). "Wuerl: Why I Won't Deny Pelosi Communion". Politics Daily.
  23. John P. Beal, "Holy Communion and Unholy Politics" in America, 21 June 2004
  24. On Giving Communion to Pro-abortion Politicians, Crisis Magazine, 10 December 2014
  25. CIC 1983, c. 916.
  26. Code of Canon Law, canon 842 §1
  27. A Statement from the Washington Archdiocese
  28. Catholic News Agency, "Rainbow Sash group denied Communion at St. Paul Cathedral", 16 May 2005
  29. Denis Coday, "Pre-emptive strike in Rainbow Sash clash" in National Catholic Reporter, 28 May 2009
  30. 1 2 Hirschauer, John (2019-10-30). "Should Biden Have Been Denied the Eucharist?". National Review. Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  31. Keane, James (2019-10-30). "Explainer: When can someone be denied the Eucharist?". America Magazine. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  32. 1 2 Flowers, Christine M. (2019-12-08). "Catholic priest had every right to deny Joe Biden communion over abortion views | Christine Flowers". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  33. Feuerherd, Peter (2019-10-31). "Pastor's denial of Eucharist to Biden stirs up recurring debate". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  34. Kuruvilla, Carol (2019-12-03). "Michigan Catholic Priest Refuses To Offer Communion To Married Lesbian Judge". HuffPost. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  35. Longenecker, Dwight (2019-12-02). "Answering Fr. James Martin's distortions about the lesbian judge and Communion". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  36. Pope, Charles (2019-12-05). "U.S. Bishops Must Clear Up This Communion Confusion". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  37. Haider, Monica (2019-01-12). "Catholic diocese denies gay Michigan judge communion". CNN. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
  38. The Order for the Administration of the Lord's Supper or Holy Communion

Works cited