My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
As a priest, I’m often asked questions about our Catholic faith. The questions vary, but recently a commonly asked question goes something like this: “How many times a day may I receive holy Communion?”
The short answer is that one may receive Communion twice a day as long as the second time is in the context of a Mass. Implicit to this teaching is that a person who is dying may always receive the holy Eucharist, even if he or she already received it twice on a given day. It would be an abuse of the sacrament to simply show up at Communion time, receive the sacrament, and then go to another church and do the same thing. (Don’t laugh – this happens more often than you think.) So, a person may generally receive holy Communion twice on a given day.
The issue arises most often on Saturdays. For example, a funeral or wedding Mass takes place during Saturday morning or afternoon, and the anticipated Mass for Sunday takes place on Saturday evening. One may receive Communion twice in this case – once for the wedding or funeral and once more for the anticipated Sunday Mass. Because it is in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist, we should ordinarily receive holy Communion every time we participate at Mass. (This presumes, of course, that we are able to receive Communion and that we are not in a state of serious mortal sin).
Now, we have to look at the spirit behind this law. The purpose behind this precept is for us to receive the Eucharist as often as possible. For example, if a person innocently receives Communion more than twice a day, it is not a sin. Certainly not! However, in the distant past and even today, there are certain superstitious practices that involve running from church to church just to receive Communion. This, of course, would be a sinful abuse of the sacrament and represents a total misunderstanding of the sacrifice of the Mass. So the church wisely has said that Communion may be received twice in a given day.
Another question related to this is often raised. Quite simply, people ask: “Does a wedding or funeral Mass celebrated on a Saturday before 4 p.m. ‘count’ for a Sunday Mass?” It does not. The Sunday Mass of anticipation typically takes place at 4 p.m. or later on a Saturday. A number of years ago, the church allowed Masses of anticipation to take place on Saturday evenings because we are following the ancient Jewish and early Christian practice of a feast day being celebrated beginning with sundown the previous evening.
I hope that these answers clear up some of your questions. We should not be looking for the minimum just to get by, but for the maximum we can give to God. The bottom line is that the Eucharist is the most precious thing we have as Catholics – it is truly Jesus. Let’s not take it for granted.
Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”