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Why the sacrament of Communion is central to Catholic beliefs

Pope Francis gives the Communion during the Easter Vigil at the St Peter's basilica in March.

Pope Francis gives the Communion during the Easter Vigil at the St Peter’s basilica in March.

(ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP/Getty Images)

In his long-awaited exhortation on love and family, Pope Francis opened a door to granting Communion to remarried divorcees, who currently are excluded from the sacrament.

Holy Communion commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples during Passover. Catholics believe that during this final meal, Jesus blessed the bread and wine and said, “This is my body ... This is my blood.”

Roman Catholic Church teachings say Jesus is present in the consecrated Communion wafer and wine, also known as the Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, each time parishioners receive them. The bread and wine become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, according to Catholic doctrine.

To receive Communion, which is a central part of the Mass service, Catholics cannot “be conscious of grave sin,” according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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The church officially excludes remarried divorced Catholics from Communion because it sees their first marriage as still valid, meaning the person is living in sin.

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A Catholic conscious of this kind of sin cannot receive the body and blood of Christ without prior confession, the conference says, except for in dire circumstances where there is no opportunity for confession.

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