If a confessor/spiritual director advised a person to abstain from Communion because of his or her struggles concerning a grave matter dealing with faith or morals, and the person's conscience could not satisfactorily resolve the issue (i.e., he or she could not see it the Church's way, yet the person still believed that the Church is the ordinary means of salvation for all humanity) for several years, how would that person be able to perform his or her Easter duty during that time? Go to Confession, see whether he or she is allowed to receive Communion, then attend Mass as usual? And would such a person still be allowed to serve in church ministries (other than EMHC, of course), be active in the Legion of Mary and/or Knights of Columbus, be a lay member of a religious order, etc. during that time, if such a person were previously active in those ministries and groups? And how could a person not allow his or her faith wither and/or falsify one's conscience in Confession when one is not permitted to receive Communion for a protracted, indefinite period of time?I have to admit that I had never thought about the Easter duty in regard to a person's struggle with persistent and serious dissent from Church teachings. For those already separated from the Eucharist by their actions, e.g., those who have formally or informally left the Church, or those who are living in an irregular marriage situation and thus can't receive Holy Communion, I suppose the need to confess a failure to make the Easter duty while in this state of persistent separation might exist, should the person attempt to be reconciled with the Church.
This is a hypothetical, but I wonder whether some practicing Catholics fall under this category. I suspect that most people who struggle with the Church's stance in faith and morals either stop practicing Catholicism altogether or evade the matter when they go to Confession. Some confessors might tell struggling penitents to continue receiving the Eucharist, but I can imagine that other confessors would not.
But what of those who don't actually leave, and who are not in a state of grave sin--but who nonetheless are in a state of honest dissent from some essential Church teaching? I promised to consider this thoughtful question and write a post about it...and then I got busy with other things for too long, for which I apologize.
Some bishops have written that Catholics in a state of dissent from Church teaching have a duty to refrain from receiving Holy Communion. But is that just because they are public figures? Or is there something about dissent itself that needs to be examined, here?
What, exactly, is dissent?
To break this down a little, let's look at some selections from an article by Dr. William May:
As scholars such as the late great Dominican theologian, Yves Cardinal Congar, have noted, the term magisterium has such a long history and during the Middle Ages it referred to the teaching authority proper to theologians, i.e., those who by study and diligence have achieved some understanding of the truths of the faith and their relationship to truths that can be known without the light of faith. So, in other words, the Church has her teaching authority which is entrusted to her by Christ; she teaches some things infallibly and others authoritatively and as true; but everything taught by the magisterium, whether infallibly or authoritatively, is counted among those things to which a Catholic refers when he says, "I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God."
But today this term has a very precise meaning, one given it by the Church herself in her understanding of herself as the pillar and ground of truth (see Tim 3:15) against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (Mt 16:18; Gal 1:8), and as the community to which Christ himself has entrusted his saving word and work. According to her own understanding of the term, the Church teaches that the magisterium is the authority to teach, in the name of Christ, the truths of Christian faith and life (morals) and all that is necessary and/or useful for the proclamation and defense of these truths (see Dei verbum, 8). This teaching authority is vested in the college of bishops under the headship of the chief bishop, the Roman Pontiff, the "concrete center of unity and head of the whole episcopate,"  the successor of the Apostle Peter (see Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 22; Vatican Council I, DS 3065-3074). [...]
At times the magisterium proposes matters of faith and morals infallibly, i.e., with the assurance that what is proposed is absolutely irreformable and a matter to be held definitively by the faithful. At other times the magisterium proposes matters of faith and morals authoritatively and as true, but not in such wise that the matter proposed is to be held definitively and absolutely. But still the matter proposed is to be held by the faithful and to be held as true. Note that the proper way to speak of teachings proposed in this way is to say that they are authoritatively taught; it is not proper to say that they are fallibly taught.
Does this mean that a person has to assimilate fully every single teaching before he or she can be really Catholic or approach communion? Not necessarily; but he or she must be able to give what is called the religious submission of the will and mind (in Latin: obsequium religiosum). This religious submission does not forbid a lack of internal assent, according to Dr. May, when one is engaged in a scholarly pursuit of the truth--so long as one is prepared to accept whatever the Church decides when her proper authorities decide it. But it doesn't apply to magisterial teaching, whether infallible or authoritative:
But it taught one is not giving a true obsequium religiosum if one dissents from magisterial teaching and proposes one's own position as a position that the faithful are at liberty to follow, substituting it for the teaching of the magisterium. But this is precisely what has been occurring. Dissent of this kind is not compatible with the obsequium religiosum. In fact, those who dissent in this way really usurp the teaching office of bishops and popes. Theologians, insofar as they are theologians, are not pastors in the Church. When they instruct the faithful that the teachings of those who are pastors in the Church (the pope and bishops) are false and that the faithful can put those teachings aside and put in their place their own theological opinions, they are harming the Church and arrogantly assuming for themselves the pastoral role of pope and bishops.What does all of this mean?
Dissent, understood in this sense, is thus completely incompatible with the obsequium religiosum required for teachings authoritatively but not infallibly proposed.
I am not in a position of authority, of course, and would be subject to correction on this as on all Catholic matters. But from a common sense perspective, what this means to me is clear: Catholics in good standing are required to give the religious submission of mind and will to all that the Church teaches whether infallibly or authoritatively. While some scholars, theologians, and even ordinary lay people may at times propose hypothetical questions or discuss an infallible teaching as if it were theoretically possible for it to be different than it is, such discussions only happen in good faith if the person raising the question has formed a firm purpose of adhering to Church teaching whether or not his point or objection or hypothetical is answered as he wishes it to be.
If a Catholic reaches the point where he or she simply cannot give the religious submission of the mind and will to Church teachings, it would seem, based on what various pastors and bishops have taught, that they ought to absent themselves from the Eucharist rather than participate in a sacrament which emphasizes the unity of the faithful. But I think there are many steps along the way to actual dissent, and that a person who is merely wrestling with some teaching while giving it the proper religious submission--in other words, a person who says "I don't really understand this teaching and it seems wrong to me, but I'm prepared to accept it and will study the matter as deeply as is necessary while asking the Holy Spirit for enlightenment," would probably (ask one's pastor to be sure, of course!) be fine to continue to receive communion.
But what of the person who is in a case of stubborn and persistent dissent?
Not to pick on any specific issue, but let's take a look at the Church's teaching against artificial contraception.
Suppose person A was hopeful before 1968 that the Church's teaching against artificial contraception was going to be amended to allow the birth control pill. This person, while engaging in theoretical theological discussions about the matter, was not in dissent from the Church. Then Pope Paul VI promulgated Humanae Vitae, and the matter was closed: artificial birth control is gravely morally evil and not permitted for Catholics. Though person A experiences some human feelings of disappointment and is not sure he fully understands this teaching, he resolves to give assent to it while studying the matter and reflecting on it. Person A is not in a state of willful, persistent dissent and can probably receive communion regardless of how long it takes him to embrace this teaching wholeheartedly (provided, of course, he's living according to it the whole time).
Suppose that person B was a friend of person A's on the "discussion committee" that hoped for birth control to be allowed. When Humanae Vitae is released person B declares that the pope was wrong and that he is personally free to reject this teaching; he is open about his use of artificial contraception within his marriage. Person B further declares that it is fine for him, a Catholic, to reject Church teaching whenever his conscience (however ill-formed it is), showing that he fundamentally misunderstands the Church's teaching on the conscience, too. Person B is in a state of willful, persistent dissent and is no longer really united to the Church, and thus probably should not receive the Eucharist.
But what about person C? Person C was born long after this whole controversy. Person C attended schools that told him he should use condoms for his early sex exploits, which they clearly expected him to start having when he was still a very young teen. Person C grew up in a non-Catholic family where artificial contraception was as natural as microwaved dinners and MTV. Person C became a Catholic because it was the easiest way to marry that Catholic girl he fell in love with (and lived with) in college, but now she's taking the faith seriously and has said some things that alarm him. C's wife wants him to let her go off the pill; though he agrees, reluctantly, he doesn't want to use NFP either, and is secretly relieved when they learn her fertility is not what it once was back when they had their two children. Though contraception use is no longer an issue, agreeing with the Church about the wrongness of it is--C's wife thinks he needs to study the issue and come to understand it, while C says so long as he's not using it does it really matter what he thinks of it all?
Should C receive communion?
And what of person D, who disagrees strongly about artificial birth control even though she is a chaste single woman in her late 40s? She's studied, she's read Church documents, she's attended workshops and asked questions--and what it boils down to is that she just doesn't agree with the Church. She still thinks the Church is the Church founded by Christ as the ordinary means of salvation for sinful humanity, but her dissent makes her think twice about approaching the Eucharist. Yet, there's that Easter duty question: should she, or shouldn't she?
Should D receive communion?
Each of these people could be described as dissenting (or, in the case of A, having withheld assent). But each will require a different pastoral approach, which is why I think it gets terribly tricky to start to say who should and who shouldn't receive. And in the case of the Easter duty, specifically, I think it's more important to determine first if one actually is in good standing as a Catholic, which is something one's pastor can certainly help one to recognize, before we begin to worry about obeying the precepts of the Church.
But I can say this: if a person starts from the place of religious submission of the mind and will, it's a lot easier to come to accept a Church teaching even if you don't understand it or accept it at first. Believing that Christ founded His Church and gave Her the teaching authority means that we accept that the Church will be a sure guide in matters of faith and morals. In other words, instead of saying to ourselves "I think the Church is wrong about X!" we could try saying, instead, "I'm not sure why Christ has led His Church to teach this about X. What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to us with this teaching, which seems so difficult for me, personally, to accept right now?"