Am I Outside of Sanctifying Grace?


I make spiritual communion because I’m trying to be obedient to the church. My husband is a non-Catholic and refuses to get his first marriage annulled. So where does that leave me? I regularly attend mass. I’ve been instructed by my priest that I should not receive the Sacraments (confession and communion). Am I left outside of sanctifying grace?

Thank you for this question. Even from the few sentences it contains, I sense that your difficult situation is a source of suffering for you. By making spiritual communions, by seeking to be obedient to the Church, and by being in conversation with your priest, you show that you are sincerely trying to follow the Lord. I am confident that He is at your side, present and guiding you, moving in your heart and mind to continue drawing you closer to himself.

Taking the Next Step Forward

sanctifying graceIt’s difficult for me to comment specifically on the situation of your marriage, because I don’t know enough of the details and the background. It seems from your question, however, that you were not married in the Church. If that is the case, then I do think your petition to the Lord in prayer, and your hope, should be to move towards having your marriage sanctified by the Church. Right now, so it seems from your question, the main obstacle to that is your husband’s reluctance to look into the annulment process for his previous marriage. In my experience, many times people resist beginning the annulment process because they don’t really understand what an annulment is. For example, many people wrongly think of it as “a Catholic divorce”. Furthermore, the process is different for non-Catholics who have been baptized, and for non-Catholics who have not been baptized. So I would encourage you to continue speaking with your husband about this possibility. Instead of asking him to begin the formal process, for example, perhaps you could ask him if he would be willing to meet with a priest who is an expert in these things just to hear an explanation of what an annulment really is.

For now, if you are not married in the Church, you could receive the sacraments if you and your husband agreed to live together as brother and sister. This would show your willingness as a couple to follow the Lord’s teaching as you continue your journey together. Perhaps having a conversation with him about that possibility would show him how important this is for you. It could open some more doors on your path forward. If you want to read more about how the Church tries to help people in your situation, you may find it useful to read Archbishop Charles Chaput’s guidelines, which you can find here.

State of Grace?

As for your question of whether or not you are in sanctifying grace – it is not quite so easy to answer as you may think. Objectively speaking, for a Catholic to live as husband and wife in a marriage outside of the Church is certainly an irregular situation that would preclude you from receiving the sacraments. That does not, however, mean that God is absent from your life. There are various forms of grace, of God’s action in our lives. Here is a paragraph from the Catechism which helps us see how little we can grasp when it comes to knowing with mathematical certainty the state of our souls:
[CCC 2005] Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words “Thus you will know them by their fruits” – reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty. A pleasing illustration of this attitude is found in the reply of St. Joan of Arc to a question posed as a trap by her ecclesiastical judges: “Asked if she knew that she was in God’s grace, she replied: ‘If I am not, may it please God to put me in it; if I am, may it please God to keep me there.”

Therefore, my recommendation is that you continue to do what you can to move forward on the path towards regularizing your marriage, continue seeking the Lord, and continue to invoke the Lord’s mercy, trusting that if you keep following Him, He will find a way: “Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you” (James 4:8).

Continue to Seek the Lord

In the meantime, know that the Lord loves you and is walking with you, that He understands what you are going through and will never abandon you: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). He wants you and your husband to grow in his love even now, while your irregular situation persists. And you can do so by continuing to cultivate your friendship with Him. Even though you may not be able to receive the sacraments, you can still develop your prayer life, study the faith and dig into the Scriptures, participate in the Church’s liturgy, continue receiving spiritual communions with the hope of some day regularizing your marriage and being able to receive the Eucharist again, go to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, serve your neighbor through the works of mercy, and even receive spiritual direction. You and your husband can even engage in some of these spiritual activities together – like watching a Retreat Guide together, or reading some of the meditations in The Better Part and discussing them together. There is so much you can do to exercise your love for God and neighbor! And God will work if you do what you can do, always trying to identify the next step you can take towards regularizing your marriage, even if that next step is simply praying for the Lord’s guidance about how to move forward.

I, too, will pray for you and your situation. God bless you!
In Him,
Fr John


Art for this post on being outside of sanctifying grace: Das Ehesakrament (The Sacrament of Marriage), Pietro Longhi, circa 1755, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons.

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