When Is a Person Excommunicated?
Excommunication occurs when a person is punished by being officially excluded from a religious community and banned from entering into “communion” with the other members. The later epistles of St. Paul show that this exclusion was carried out as a last resort against those who had “made a shipwreck of their faith”, either by immorality or by denying what were regarded as the fundamentals of Christian teaching.
The Roman Catholic Church distinguishes between two types of excommunication, that which leaves a person toleratus, or tolerated, and that which makes him vitandus, or someone who must be avoided. Both kinds bar the person from the sacraments of the Church, as well as from Church burial. There is a specific list of offences punishable by excommunication. They include heresy, schism, blasphemous treatment of the eucharist, personal violence against the Pope and membership of forbidden societies.
Excommunication is an institutional act of religious censure used to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a religious community or to restrict certain rights within it, in particular receiving of the sacraments. The term is often historically used to refer specifically to Catholic excommunications from the Catholic Church, but it is also used more generally to refer to similar types of institutional religious exclusionary practices and shunning among other religious groups.
For instance, many Protestant denominations have similar practices of excusing congregants from church communities, while Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as the Churches of Christ, use the term “disfellowship” to refer to their form of excommunication. The Amish have also been known to excommunicate members that were either know to or seen breaking rules, or questioning the church.
In some denominations, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group. Excommunication may involve banishment, shunning, and shaming, depending on the group, the offense that caused excommunication, or the rules or norms of the religious community. The grave act is often revoked in response to sincere penance, which may be manifested through public recantation, sometimes through the Sacrament of Confession, pietyor through mortification of the flesh.