Q. Can divorced Catholics receive Communion?
A. The Church does not deny the Eucharist to all who are divorced, but rather to those who have attempted to remarry without first obtaining an annulment — that is, the Church’s authoritative judgment and public recognition that the first attempt at marriage was in fact invalid.
Why does remarriage without an annulment present a barrier to receiving Communion? Because the Church must affirm, at Jesus’ instruction, that a true marriage can be ended only by the death of one of the spouses. A civil divorce may provide safety, emotional relief, and other benefits, but if the marriage was valid in the first place, it remains a reality until one of the partners dies. If a person applied for an annulment and the Church refused to grant one, then the authorities competent to judge the matter concluded that the original marriage is in fact valid. Since a person can’t be validly married to two people at once, this means that the present relationship, though recognized as a “marriage” in the eyes of the secular authorities, is not truly a valid marriage.
If a couple are living as husband and wife (that is, having sexual relations), but are not in fact husband and wife, that is a matter of grave sin. And those who are living in grave sin (of this or any other kind) should not receive Communion; it’s a desecration of the Lord’s Body and Blood.
It is possible for a divorced and remarried Catholic without an annulment to begin receiving Communion again, after sacramental confession, if the couple agrees to live (and in fact begin living) as “brother and sister”; that is, without sexual relations. It’s a difficult situation, but the Church cannot simply disobey the clear teaching of her Lord, nor ignore the realities He has shown us about the nature of marriage.