I recently got a call at Catholic Answers from a woman who had fallen away from the Church many years ago but had come back home after watching EWTN and listening to Catholic Answers Live. Sadly, though, she had been told by a deacon at her parish that she could not receive the Eucharist or even go to confession because she had gotten remarried outside the Church after her first marriage ended in divorce. Before she could be fully reconciled with God and the Church, she would need to get an annulment and then have her second marriage convalidated. She was heartbroken to find out that the annulment process could take years to complete. I was happy to tell her that she had another option.
Tragically, the information the woman was given at her parish is the only information many people in her situation ever hear. She was told that she was living in the state of sin and that only an annulment and convalidation could fix that. What she wasn't told is that she could return to the sacraments right away if she was sorry for her sins and was willing to stop sinning. I explained to her that if she would commit to abstaining from conjugal relations (e.g., live as brother and sister) until her marriage was convalidated—and there is no guarantee that it ever will be—she could go to confession and receive the Eucharist today! I then read to her from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ—"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery"—the Church maintains that a new union cannot be recognized as valid if the first marriage was. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed to living in complete continence (CCC 1650).
She was in tears as I read that last line. She said that making such a commitment would be only a small sacrifice compared to being unable to receive the sacraments. It was such a relief for her to know that she could hear the joyous words of absolution and receive her Lord again at Mass. She planned to do both that very evening.
I would like to see the above Catechism paragraph rearranged, moving the last sentence up near the top. After all, that is the only moral option in such a situation. Maybe then that would be the information people in invalid marriages would be given. Returning Catholics and others coming into the Church as adults are often quite serious about their faith, and it is a disservice to them to assume that they are not willing to do what is right.