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When I was a child, I attended a Catholic summer camp where the majority of campers were not baptized and did not profess any faith. This camp held weekly celebrations of mass, and distributed the Eucharist to everyone present, despite knowing that many did not have any belief in Christ.

Is this is mortal sin and perhaps a sacrilege?

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    As far as I can see, it is a sacrilege and it might be a mortal sin on the part of the person distributing communion. The reason I wrote "might be" and not "is" is that this action constitutes grave matter, but we don't know whether it satisfies the other requirements for mortal sin -- knowledge and full consent. Commented May 3 at 2:05

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Is it a sacrilege to administer the Eucharist to non-believers?

The short answer would seem to be in the affirmative.

However, one could possibly encounter situations in which a priest is unaware of the personal spiritual dispositions or faith of a communicant.

Exceptions for non-catholics to be permitted to receive communion do exist, but your example does not hold up to this scrutiny.

1401 When, in the Ordinary's judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions.

This provision from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, clearly excludes non-believers as being unbaptized. Catholic sacraments are for the Catholic faithful and a valid Catholic baptism (or a profession of faith in the Catholic Church, in the case of convert from another Christian denomination) are the prerequisites to receive Holy Communion. Non-believers are naturally to be excluded as they are neither baptized nor Christians!

If a priest deliberately administering Holy Communion to a non-believer, he would be committing a mortal sins. Priests know better and lack of understanding or training can be ruled out by their seminary studies!

Many priests are over complacent about such subject matters nowadays.

By the way, this is not an isolated circumstance, I have witnessed this myself. Go to your bishop!

I would imagine that the communicants in your scenario would not have sufficient understanding and or knowledge to understand why they would be barred from receiving Holy Communion, but the priest probably does know better.

If Catholics in some circumstances are not allowed to receive Our Lord in Holy Communion, how can non-believers be permitted to receive this sacrament, when they truly do not believe in it and are not in the proper disposition to do so? Priests generally know who is at mass and should lay down the ground rules at time of distribution of Holy Communion. Failure on his part could indeed be a mortal sin on his part and I would bring this up to the attention of the local ordinary or bishop.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law says that “those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

The word Communion comes from Latin: Con means "with" and unio means "union." Communio means "union with." Catholics believe that Communion allows the believer (not the unbeliever) to be united with Christ by sharing His body and blood.

In some cases, this could in fact be a real sacrilege.

Real sacrilege

Real sacrilege is the irreverent treatment of sacred things as distinguished from places and persons. This can happen first of all by the administration or reception of the sacraments (or in the case of the Holy Eucharist by celebration) in the state of mortal sin, as also by advertently doing any of those things invalidly. Indeed deliberate and notable irreverence towards the Holy Eucharist is reputed the worst of all sacrileges. Likewise conscious maltreatment of sacred pictures or relics or perversion of Holy Scripture or sacred vessels to unhallowed uses, and finally, the usurpation or diverting of property (whether movable or immovable) intended for the maintenance of the clergy or serving for the ornamentation of the church to other uses, constitute real sacrileges. Sometimes the guilt of sacrilege may be incurred by omitting what is required for the proper administration of the sacraments or celebration of the sacrifice, as for example, if one were to say Mass without the sacred vestments.

Remember what the Evangelist said in the Gospel:

Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you. - Matthew 7:6

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  • So you've established that it is a mortal sin (given the criteria), but what about a sacrilege? CCC 2120 says: "Sacrilege consists in profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions, as well as persons, things, or places consecrated to God. Sacrilege is a grave sin especially when committed against the Eucharist, for in this sacrament the true Body of Christ is made substantially present for us." I think the topic fits this description. Thoughts? Commented May 3 at 15:27
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I'd like to give a more general (i.e. not-Catholic-specific) answer. The question of "sacrilege" depends on your definition thereof, and I won't attempt to address that matter. What I do want to point out is that Scripture has some pretty clear words on this matter:

27Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. [...] 29For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11)

Among those sects that believe in the real presence apart from the faith (or lack thereof) of the recipient — which is to say, Catholics, Orthodox, Lutherans, and Anglicans, but not Calvinists — it seems clear that a non-believer receiving communion is bad. (Note too that all of the sects mentioned practice some form of closed communion.) Thus, it is an obvious corollary that someone knowingly enabling such an outcome would bear the guilt of an accessory.

Many sects that practice closed communion will even encourage celebrants to not offer communion to strangers.

As I am not Catholic myself, I am not intimately familiar with the distinction between mortal and venial sin. However, given that knowingly inviting judgment on another seems like a sort of willful spiritual murder, and that spiritual endangerment is worse than physical endangerment, it seems very likely that offering the Eucharist to persons known to be outside the faith would constitute not only a mortal sin, but a particularly grave one. Again, however, I want to emphasize that the severity of this matter is not limited to Catholicism.

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