I have heard many times from a parishioner that they know someone who is divorced and are not receiving the sacraments. These are individuals who have not remarried, but are civilly divorced. They will ask me if it is alright for them to receive. The short answer is “YES!”
For the divorced person, it is not necessary for them to seek an annulment in order to receive the sacraments. In the eyes of the Church they are still married, but as long as they are not remarried, they are able to receive. You would be surprised how many people do not know this fact. There are many people who even do not come to Mass because of this, or if they do, they refrain from receiving the Eucharist. A divorced Catholic should go to confession if they have a mortal sin, but are not required if they have no mortal sin, and then would be able to lead a normal sacramental life.
Now, what about the Catholic who has gotten a civil divorce and has remarried outside the Catholic Church? Is there a way for them to receive the sacraments? Well, ordinarily before that person could receive the sacraments, they would have to be fully reconciled with God and the Church, which would require them to get an annulment and then have their second marriage convalidated. But, there is another way to receive.
If the Catholic divorced person was sorry for their sins and was willing to stop sinning, then they could return to the sacraments. If that person would commit to abstaining from conjugal relations (e.g., live as brother and sister) until their marriage was convalidated (and there is no guarantee that it ever will be), she or he could go to confession and receive the Eucharist today.
Here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ – “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery,” the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence (CCC#1650).” I only wish that the Catechism would put the last line of this paragraph as the first line.
For those Catholics who are serious about their faith and are willing to make such a commitment of sacrifice, then they would be able to receive the sacraments. If you know someone in this situation, please let them know.
Until next time, God bless.