There are questions we have as Catholics that simply have never been answered. We’ve looked it up in the Catechism or have read the great writings of the Church Fathers and still haven’t been able to put two and two together.
I serve as a spiritual director to amazing Catholic women. On occasion, I’ll receive a question where I just don’t know the answer, so I’ll do some digging before I respond. The questions often involve living their sexuality the way it’s intended—in light of God’s design for self-gift—and most importantly, in the context of their vocations: single, religious, and married.
A young woman recently asked whether or not she can receive the Eucharist at Mass after having masturbated and consumed pornography, especially if she hadn’t participated in the Sacrament of Confession.
Now, I have a hunch that 99.9% of Catholics have asked or have been asked this question. But how many of us have been able even to answer the question confidently, knowing that what we’re saying is accurate?
Father Thomas Loya, Byzantine Catholic Priest and Theology of the Body Expert, serves selflessly in parish life and through a ministry he co-founded, Tabor Life Institute. Through Tabor Life, he travels the world speaking to questions like the one at hand. What I appreciate the most about Father Loya is his passion and zeal to help form and educate seminarians and priests on Saint Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He also mentors and guides single people like myself and married couples to live every day with a Sacramental Worldview.
Culpability and Taking Ownership of Our Sins
Father Loya said in a recent interview with Covenant Eyes that “While an action can be objectively sinful, the Church takes into consideration the circumstances relative to the action which figures into the degree of culpability for the sin. This is especially the case in sexual sins like consuming pornography and masturbating.”
He continues, “Lustful thoughts or glances occur within a split second. Given these circumstances, a man or woman who slips into these momentary thoughts of lust should ask forgiveness from God but should not refrain from receiving Holy Communion. This Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is essential to our spiritual growth. It also has the property of the forgiveness of sins. By this, we do not mean that the Eucharist is a replacement for Confession, especially in the case of more serious sins. But there is a property of forgiveness of sins in the Eucharist.”
“When sin is habitual, and of a more intended and serious nature, the person should not receive Holy Communion unless they went to Confession,” he told me.
The topic of culpability can be complicated, though. Someone struggling daily with sexual addiction often does not have the energy to focus on a topic that can seem tedious when fighting for their vocation and, depending on the addiction’s intensity, their life. This is why we, as a Church, must be more open to talking about pornography consumption and masturbation.
Through open conversation, we can equip parents to start ongoing conversations at younger and younger ages, catechize and evangelize through our diocesan and parish ministries, and encourage accountable relationships as often as possible. It may be difficult at first, but it creates a culture of honesty, accountability, healing, mercy, and trust.
Masturbation and Porn Are Always Sinful
Father Loya, who has years of experience teaching and forming on the topic, said, “Masturbation and looking at pornography are always a sin. Being addicted to something that is objectively sinful does not negate its sinfulness.”
Father Loya continued to explain, “However, the fact that the person’s will power has been compromised through addiction does lessen the culpability. This perspective should be understood as compassion that helps guard the addict against despair or dejection. Having a lessened culpability should not be interpreted that being addicted gives someone a total pass in culpability, though. Nor should it encourage a certain casual attitude toward the seriousness of the sinful condition. The addict should strive for even greater resolve to overcome their addiction.”
The Church has significant and life-changing ministries to encourage and promote in the daily life of our parishes. These include counseling, therapy, and support groups. These are vital to overcoming long term struggles with masturbation and pornography.
However, Father Loya emphasized that there is something even more readily available and healing for God’s people: “These sins are ultimately overcome by a fundamental act of the person’s will, together with the Graces that come from a committed Sacramental, spiritual and prayer life.”
Greater Clarity for Reception of Holy Communion
“Masturbation is a sin in which influencing circumstances must always be considered,” Father Loya said. “For example, a highly hormonal teenager has a much lesser degree of culpability in masturbation than a mature adult. Also, there are times when the human mind and willpower are more vulnerable and less able to resist temptation. This is during times of fatigue, illness, depression, frustration, during stages of twilight sleep, or when a person has been sexually stimulated but did not intend or choose to be. In such cases, the person can ask forgiveness personally and as part of the Mass and still receive Holy Communion. But, they should go to Confession as soon as possible.”
Examining Our Conscience Before Confession
Now that we have clarity on when or when not to receive Holy Communion after having masturbated or consumed pornography, how do we prepare ourselves to receive the Lord’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession? Father Loya said there are five questions to ask yourself as you prepare:
1. What were the vulnerabilities at the time?
2. What actions are you taking to increase your purity of heart?
3. How strong is your will to move beyond these sins?
4. How can you break some of your basic life patterns to deflect the energy of temptation?
5. What is the next step you will take toward purity of heart?
After participating in the Sacrament of Confession, Father Loya suggests the following steps men and women can take to pursue more profound and deeper healing.
Steps to Move Past Sexual Sin
After participating in the Sacrament of Confession, Father Thomas Loya, Byzantine Catholic Priest and Theology of the Body Expert, suggests eleven steps men and women can take to pursue more profound and deeper healing from pornography consumption and habitual masturbation.
Audience: Men and women
Resource Type: Bulletin insert