Having looked at preparation to receive Holy Communion and the proper way of receiving, we turn our attention to who “ought” to receive – noting that this topic is more specific than who “can” receive.
Recall that the minimum requirement in The Code of Canon Law for receiving Holy Communion is to be baptized and not be prohibited by law (canon 912). The Church desires that all be able receive Jesus Christ’s gift of the Eucharist – as God desires all His children to share in His eternal life. Unfortunately, many people cannot (or will not) receive this gift. Clearly those who are not Catholic (and do not believe) cannot receive - reminding us of the need to evangelize those outside the Church. However, there are also many within the Church who remain unable to partake of the Eucharist. Some individuals cannot receive due to circumstances beyond their own control, such as in not having the ability/opportunity to go to Mass due to health, distance, etc. Others, however, cannot receive due to concerns related to the practice of the Catholic faith and their own personal decisions that prevent them from rightly receiving. It is this group that we do well to consider.
As was covered earlier on preparation to receive Holy Communion, the first question that each Catholic must ask themselves prior to receiving is whether they are in a state of grace (and already in communion with God and the Church) or are in a state of mortal sin (which renders them outside of the communion, separated from God and the Church). To straight up answer “who ought to receive Holy Communion”: only those who profess Catholic faith and are in a state of grace are properly admitted to Holy Communion – as it is only in these individuals that the grace of the Eucharist is effective. While the Eucharist is a remedy for sin and it strengthens us against future temptations to sin, to receive a greater share in “holy communion” is only possible in those who already are within the communion of faith. Sadly, too many willingly (and willfully) choose the way of sin ahead of the way of communion in Christ and then by receiving the Eucharist commit a further sin of presumption, sacrilege, or both. For if one is in a state of mortal sin (and not already in union and communion with God and the Church, even if in venial sin), to partake of the Eucharist is contradictory: for to receive the Eucharist outwardly expresses being in communion. One in a state of sin, however is inwardly not capable of being in communion – and to receive then brings upon one God’s judgment (see 1 Corinthians 11:27-29).
Finally, canon 915 of The Code of Canon Law, formulates that any in a state of manifest grave sin are not to be admitted. To be in a state of “manifest grave sin” means to be living in a sinful lifestyle (such as cohabiting with a partner outside of married life) or in a public way that is contrary to the Catholic Faith (such as elected officials promoting abortion, homosexual lifestyles, etc.). To be very plain: no one has a right to communion on their own terms; it is a gift of Jesus Christ that is only received fittingly by those who fully accept all that Jesus Christ does/teaches in the Catholic Church. Receiving while persisting in serious sin only serves to bring further harm to that individual’s soul as well as to others through scandal.
Accordingly, we must discern our own state of soul – and pray for those who are in a state of sin to repent and return to Jesus Christ, restoring them to Holy Communion.
For further reading: In the 1 Corinthians 11-14 Paul speaks at length about unity and communion. Within these chapters, chapter 11 verses 23-34 are quite particular on the meaning of communion in the Eucharist – and of the sacrilege of unworthy communion.