Q. Why are Catholics obligated to receive communion once a year?
A. The obligation to receive the Eucharist during the Easter season is traditionally referred to as one’s “Easter duty.” The Code of Canon Law states, “After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive Holy Communion at least once a year.
This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at another time during the year” (Canon 920).
The dioceses of the U.S. have an indult (a special favor given for a determinate period of time) which allows the fulfillment of the Easter duty from the first Sunday of Lent through Trinity Sunday.
The purpose of this law is to set a minimum requirement for the reception of Holy Communion, motivating Catholics to receive this precious gift of Christ’s Body and Blood. Catholics are, of course, obligated to attend Mass on every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation throughout the entire year. Ideally, the faithful would receive Holy Communion when they actively participate in those celebrations of the Eucharist. Catholics would have very few reasons not to receive Holy Communion while attending Mass, unless they are not in the state of grace, or they did not fast one hour prior to receiving Holy Communion.
For this reason, the Church also requires Catholics to confess all serious sins at least once a year (Canon 989). Our hearts must be properly prepared to receive our Lord anytime we approach him in the reception of the Eucharist. St. Paul speaks of the necessity of being properly disposed: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27).
That being said, confessing mortal sins (serious sins done with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will) should not be confessed out of mere obligation. If a mortal sin is committed, the sin should be confessed as soon as possible. A mortal sin is the free choice to cut off one’s relationship with God—and no one should linger in such a perilous circumstance. If a Catholic commits a mortal sin, they should immediately tell God how sorry they are and desire to go to confession very soon.
The Church requires us to receive the Eucharist frequently because it is for our benefit. St. Pope John Paul II said, “The Eucharist is the sacrament of the presence of Christ, who gives Himself to us because He loves us.” When we receive this love of God in the Eucharist, we are moved to love in return.
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