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Form of censure by which a member of a religious body is excluded from the congregation of believers and from the rites of the church. Excommunication has been used in various religions, notably Christianity, as a punishment for grave offenses such as heresy. In Roman Catholicism an excommunicated person is barred from receiving the sacraments and from burial in consecrated ground. The offender may be absolved by a priest (in some cases, only by a bishop or the pope) and received back into the church after confessing his or her sin and doing penance for it. In Protestant denominations other terms, such as church discipline, may be attached to essentially the same censure. Although now seldom used, the practice of herem in Judaism was a form of excommunication that excluded people from the community for prescribed times or forbade them from hearing the Torah. The term is also applied to the expulsion of Buddhist monks from the sangha.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on excommunication, visit Britannica.com.