Q. With a drug addiction, can I accept the Body of Christ during Mass?
A. First of all, as a general rule please know that our Lord deeply desires to set you free from any addiction you may have. Addictions can cause much pain in one’s life. There are many wonderful programs such as Narcotics Anonymous that have proven to be very effective so, if you haven’t already, please do look into getting help and know that freedom from addiction is possible.
Regarding your question, it’s important to know that we should only refrain from Holy Communion if we are in a state of unrepentant mortal sin. I suggest a full reading of Chapter 1 – Who am I? from the My Catholic Morals! book for a good understanding of sin. Look at the end of that chapter for the explanation of mortal sin. However, the entire chapter should be helpful in understanding this topic.
The real question is this…are you in a state of mortal sin as a result of your drug addiction? This is a hard question to answer here so the best thing to do is to meet with your parish priest and share the particulars of your situation. He will hopefully help you make some good decisions and help you make a plan regarding Holy Communion.
However, there is one particular general principle that is important for you to understand regarding your reception of Holy Communion with a drug addiction. An addiction is something that strips away someone’s freedom to one extent or another. This means that, very often, when someone is addicted to something that seriously violates God’s law, the fact that it is an “addiction” often lessens one’s moral culpability for the action. This must carefully be understood so that it’s not misinterpreted. The “lessening of one’s culpability” certainly does not mean that the action of using drugs is morally OK. It’s not. It must be fought and fought hard. It is possible to overcome a drug addiction or any other addiction. However, when we look at whether or not someone commits a “mortal sin” when using drugs, we must consider the factor of whether or not it’s an addiction to determine if this is done in a completely free way or not.
Let’s look at the contrast of two examples. First, take someone with no addiction to drugs whatsoever. Imagine that this person came across some drugs by chance and instead of throwing them out decided to keep them. Then, one night while he was a bit bored decided to try these drugs just for the fun of it. Say, also, that this person was a catechetical leader at church and was well versed in Catholic morality. He knew full well that drugs were wrong but didn’t care and chose to try them anyway. In this case, the person is most likely committing a mortal sin and should refrain from Holy Communion until he is truly sorry and confesses his free choice.
On the other hand, say there is someone who has struggled with addiction his whole life and is doing everything possible to overcome his addiction. He has been going to Narcotics Anonymous, been going to confession and has been praying daily for grace. One night he is very depressed and down and stumbles across some drugs that he had forgotten about in the house. He tries to fight the urge but gives in. Immediately afterwards he feels sorry and deep remorse. The next morning is Sunday and he tries to go to confession but cannot get to the priest in time. Should he go to Communion? In this case he should. He should make a good act of contrition, recommit himself to sobriety and promise to mention it in confession the next time he goes but, yes, he should go to Communion. Why? Because even though this act of using drugs was seriously contrary to God’s will, the weakened state someone is in from an addiction lessens the moral guilt before God. In other words, though the action is gravely wrong, God sees the whole picture. This person most likely did not commit a mortal sin even though the action was gravely wrong. Again, try reading through Chapter 1 – Who am I? of My Catholic Morals!
Mortal sin requires three things: 1) The action is gravely contrary to God’s will, 2) the person fully knows it is wrong, 3) the person freely consents to the action of his own will. An addiction often times undermines the third requirement of a mortal sin in that it strips away someone’s freedom. That’s the nature of an addiction. The goal is to gain that freedom back so that the person is strong enough to live in the dignity that God made us for.