I had been asked time and again whether members of the Freemasonry, commonly called Masons, are permitted to receive Holy Communion. The correct answer is they are not but priests and lay ministers of the Holy Communion are usually not aware that a communicant is a Mason. In fact there are Masons that are active in Catholic organizations and activities.
I recall a case a few years back of a leading Catholic in an archdiocese in Luzon. Nobody knew he was a Mason until he died and his fellows in Freemasonry came to bid him farewell. After knowing the facts, the archbishop forbade extending him a Catholic burial. Of course the family was aghast but the Catholic Church has excommunicated members of Freemasonry and must comply with Canon Law.
This is a highly sensitive and emotional issue. I have many close friends among the Freemasons. I learned only of this when I was invited as speaker in one of their gatherings and I was given a list of its members later. I do not make judgments and they remain fast friends and I had refrained from writing about them.
However, recent events raised several questions that must be clarified not just for Catholics but also for the Freemasons because as one friend said, they may not be aware of the Church's position on their organization.We thus need to answer questions, clarify doubts and confusions and clear suspicions because loose talks can be damaging.
One of the reasons for the excommunication is the secrecy of Freemasonry. They claim it is a fraternal organization which they truly are and members live exemplar lives. But the Catholic Church has a different view which is shared by most of the leading religious organizations in the world – Protestants, Muslims, Arabs, Anglican and Orthodox.
The Catholic Church has the longest history of objection to Freemasonry. The objections are based on long standing study that “Masonry teaches a naturalistic deistic religion which is in conflict with Church doctrine ” . There are other reasons but too long for this space.
The first of Papal pronouncements issued against Freemasonry was that of Pope Clement XII 's Ineminentiapostolatus on April 28, 1738. This position persisted for years and was reiterated by Pope Leo XIII in his Abapostolici on October 15, 1890. These were enshrined in the 1917 Code of Canon Law that explicitly declared that “joining Freemasonry entailed automatic excommunication ”. It also banned books favoring Freemasonry.
In 1983, the Church issued a new Code of C anon Law . Unlike its predecessor, the new Code did not explicitly name Masonic orders among the secret societies it condemns. It states: "A person who joins an association which plots against the Church is to be punished with a just penalty; one who promotes or takes office in such an association is to be punished with an interdict ."
In the Church an “interdict” means to exclude from certain church office, sacrament or privilege, in effect, excommunication.
Because the Masonic order was not mentioned, this omission led both Catholics and Freemasons to believe that the ban on Catholics becoming Freemasons may have been lifted, especially after the perceived liberalization of the Vatican II in 1965 . Freemasonry is open to anyone being a member and even recruits Catholics to join their fraternity. Some Catholics joined due to this misunderstanding.
Due to the confusion, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI ), Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarified the subject. He issued a Declaration on Masonic Associations in 1983 which states “... the Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion .” Church teaching did not change.
What does the Catechism of the Catholic Church say of being in a “state of grave sin”? It says (1463): “Certain particularly grave sins incur excommunication, the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according to canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them. In danger of death any priest, even if deprived of faculty for hearing confessions, can absolve from every sin and excommunication.”
That is a caveat.*
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