CD 265: Confession and dementia

My wife is suffering from dementia and is unable to go to confession. I worry about whether she is losing out on God’s grace.

Please be assured that your wife is not losing out on God’s grace. The sacraments are channels of grace within the Church but God is not limited to the sacraments. Those who, through no fault of their own, cannot receive the sacraments, will receive God’s grace in ways that are known only to Him.

As a practising Catholic, your wife will have a habitual desire to receive the sacraments. This is important when the time comes that it is appropriate for her to receive the sacrament of anointing. It is often forgotten that one of the effects of this sacrament is to forgive all sins – in the case of someone unable to make a sacramental confession, this would include even mortal sins. The sacrament also has the effect of removing what are called the “remnants of sin”, those effects that are left behind in our soul through the various imperfections of our fallen state.

With regard to Holy Communion, your own close personal knowledge of your wife in her dementia is important. You will know whether she is able to recognise (perhaps in a way not discernible to others) that there is something special about the Eucharist – that there is a difference between the Eucharist and ordinary bread.

If there is a danger of unintentional mistreatment of the Eucharist, think of your wife’s devotion before her illness. We can think what our response might be if we were asked whether we would want to receive Holy Communion if, for example, we might spit out the sacred host. We would all agree that in such a case we would not want to receive Holy Communion. Again, your wife will not “lose out” on God’s grace. Your own prayers said with her, in the form of a spiritual communion, will be effective. Remember too that in your loving care for your wife in sickness and in health, you also draw down the grace of God given “till death do us part” in the sacrament of matrimony.

Catholic Dilemmas column published in the Catholic Herald
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