Tuesday, April 14, 2020
The "Easter Duty": Receive Holy Communion Once a Year

The fourth precept of the Church requires us to receive our Divine Savior in Holy Communion at least once a year, and unlike the precept on Confession, the reception of Holy Communion must take place during the Easter Season. The precept of confessing your sins at least once a year may take place at any point in the calendar year.

Fr. Jim Achacoso in an online article entitled The Easter Eucharistic Precept and the Law of Annual Confession discusses the importance and history of this precept:
"Due to a widespread neglect of the sacrament of the Eucharist in the Middle Ages, various Church Councils, from the 6th Century onward, enacted laws obliging the faithful to receive the Holy Eucharist, especially on the principal feasts. The IV Lateran Council (1215) established a general law for the Latin Church requiring the reception of Communion at least once a year at Easter by those who had attained the age of discretion. This law, which was confirmed by the Council of Trent, was incorporated in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The actual Code of 1983 retains the annual precept, with some modifications…"
To further explain the history, the Catholic Encyclopedia of New Advent states:
"Paschaltide is the period during which every member of the faithful who has attained the year of discretion is bound by the positive law of the Church to receive Holy Communion (Easter duty). During the early Middle Ages from the time of the Synod of Agde (508), it was customary to receive Holy Communion at least three times a year — Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. A positive precept was issued by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and confirmed by the Council of Trent (Sess. XIII, can. ix). According to these decrees the faithful of either sex, after coming to the age of discretion, must receive at least at Easter the Sacrament of the Eucharist (unless by the advice of the parish priest they abstain for a while). Otherwise during life they are to be prevented from entering the church and when dead are to be denied Christian burial. The paschal precept is to be fulfilled in one's parish church. Although the precept of the Fourth Lateran to confess to the parish priest fell into disuse and permission was given to confess anywhere, the precept of receiving Easter Communion in the parish church is still in force where there are canonically-erected parishes…"
Code of Canon Law:

1983 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 920 §1. After being initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, each of the faithful is obliged to receive holy communion at least once a year. §2. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at another time during the year.

1917 Code of Canon Law:

The precept for annual reception of First Holy Communion is contained in Code 859. Every Catholic, of either sex, who has reached the age of discretion, i. e., attained the use of reason, must receive Holy Eucharist once a year, at least during Easter time, unless his own priest should, for a reasonable cause, advise him to abstain from it for a time.

When May the Easter Duty Be Fulfilled?

The 1962 Rituale Romanum states:
"The time within which the Easter communion must be received commences on Palm Sunday and terminates on Low Sunday. But it is the right of the local Ordinary, if circumstances of persons or place demand, to extend this time for all the faithful, however, not earlier than the fourth Sunday in Lent nor later than Trinity Sunday. The faithful should be persuaded to fulfill this obligation, everyone in his own parish church. Whoever fulfills it in another church must see to it that he inform his own pastor of the fact. The precept of Easter communion still continues to be binding if one has neglected it during the time prescribed, no matter for what reason." 
New Advent clarifies though some important exceptions that will impact most people:
"In the United States upon petition of the Fathers of the First Provincial Council of Baltimore Paschal Tide was extended by Pius VIII to the period from the first Sunday in Lent to Trinity Sunday (II Plen. Coun. Balt., n. 257); in England it lasts from Ash Wednesday until Low Sunday; in Ireland from Ash Wednesday until the octave of SS. Peter and Paul, 6 July (O'Kane "Rubrics of the Roman Ritual," n. 737; Slater, "Moral Theology" 578, 599); in Canada the duration of the Paschal Tide is the same as in the United States. 
For instance, Father Patrick Power's Catechism (III) from 1905 published in Dubin mentions this precept as such: "To receive worthily the Blessed Eucharist at Easter, or within the time appointed; that is, from Ash-Wednesday to the octave day of the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, inclusive."

These are exceptions from the standard time mentioned in the Rituale Romanum. This is affirmed in the Baltimore Catechism #1354: "The Easter time is, in this country [the United States], the time between the first Sunday in Lent and Trinity Sunday."

Pope St. Pius X said, "Holy Communion is the “shortest and safest way to Heaven." While the Church encourages all to receive the Blessed Sacrament regularly — even daily — it must be stated that at no time and for no reason may the Faithful receive Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin. You must attend Sacramental Confession prior to receiving Holy Communion. This precept of the Church does not mandate, require, condone, or support the reception of Holy Communion in the state of sin.

It must also be stated that like the precept of assisting at Mass each Sunday, these can be dispensed by one's local ordinary for a serious reason. We are seeing some dispensations occur this year due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, what most news articles are failing to report is that the Easter Duty does not require receiving Holy Communion on Easter Sunday. As demonstrated, it is fulfilled over a much larger time - including all of Lent in most countries.

To learn more about the precepts of the Church, pick up a copy of "Understanding the Precepts of the Church."

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