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Am I Outside of Sanctifying Grace?

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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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • Siobhan

    I think it’s worth underlining Archbishop Stanis?aw G?decki’s words that divorced and remarried Catholics cannot make an act of Spiritual Communion if they are living in unrepented mortal sin…as would be the case for anyone aware of unrepented mortal sin.

    • Boo

      The fact that the writer is seeking to be in obedience to the Church a good sign of their repentance and desire to be in full communion with God. That being said, being unable to go to confession or receive Holy Communion makes this very difficult as does the person’s marital status. It is indeed a suffering. How can this be solved? Was the husband baptised? Was his previous spouse baptised? If neither of them were this makes it much easier, for the marriage was never a marriage under God. There are also other conditions that even for baptised Christians/Catholics their marriage may not have been true marriages in God’s eyes.
      Whatever the case, the writer should feel much hope in that ‘God will not spurn a humble and contrite heart’ and to keep seeking God’s mercy and do whatever is in her power to return to grace, and above all, never cease praying! Perhaps spiritual communions as such may not be technically effective, but prayer is NEVER lost. God will always answer genuine desire to be with Him, even though the way be painful. He desires us more than we desire Him! Peace to you

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