Father Doyle is on vacation this week. This column originally was published in October 2011.
Q. What are the church’s guidelines for someone receiving Communion more than once a day? Some examples are: attending Mass on a Saturday morning, a Saturday evening vigil Mass and Mass again on Sunday morning; also, attending a weekday Mass in the morning and then a healing Mass that same evening.
A. Succinctly put, a Catholic can receive Communion twice a day, within the context of a Mass. Canon No. 917 of the church’s Code of Canon Law states: “A person who has received the most holy Eucharist may receive it again on the same day only during the celebration of the Eucharist in which the person participates.”
The canon goes on to explain that a person who is in danger of death may receive the Eucharist as viaticum no matter how many times he or she has already received it on that same day.
The rationale behind the rule is that the holy Communion is an integral part of the Mass, uniting the recipient to the sacrifice made by Jesus.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 1388) puts it this way, referencing the words of the Second Vatican Council: “That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest’s Communion, receive the Lord’s body from the same sacrifice is warmly recommended.”
In each of the examples your question offers, you may certainly receive Communion at the second Mass. Some other frequent situations that allow the same are: a weekday Mass in the morning, with a funeral Mass or wedding Mass later in that day; or a Saturday morning wedding or funeral with a vigil Mass for Sunday celebrated on Saturday afternoon.
I know of a man who takes a bus to several churches on the same day and adjusts his schedule to arrive in time to “pop in” and take holy Communion at each of those Masses. I believe that this man is doing what he thinks is helpful and admirable, but objectively he is violating the church’s guideline on two counts: first, by receiving Communion more than twice a day; and secondly, by simply “grabbing” the Eucharist on his “fly-by” and not participating in the Mass at which he receives.
Actually, the Vatican had envisioned this fellow some years ago: A number of bishops had written to the Holy See and asked whether the word “again” in canon No. 917 meant that the Eucharist could be received only twice a day (except in danger of death) or whether someone could take Communion even more often, so long as he or she participated in the Mass.
The Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts wrote back in 1984, with the approval of Pope John Paul II, and said essentially that twice is the limit. The council recognized what a special gift the Eucharist is and wanted people to maintain the proper respect for its uniqueness.
(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)