Sunday Mass and mortal sin
Anonymous asked this question on 10/18/2000:
Although I very much appreciate your previous answer, my question still remains: do you believe that God would send a person to hell for missing Mass? If the answer is yes, what happens to all the people in the world who aren't Catholic? Thanks again. Lisa
Greetings, dear sister in Christ.
Are you twins? I get your questions twice!
The holy parish priest of Ars John Mary Vianney had divine insights. He talked even with the Mother of God. He said she was his good friend.
He knew the sins of his penitents before they confessed. Once he talked to a widow whose husband had committed suicide. She was anguished because she thought that he had gone to hell. He told her not to worry. After jumping from the bridge into the water before drowning her husband had repented and was saved.
You get it?
I can't answer you question because you put a general question. What kind of Church have you known that you look at the relationship God-mankind according to general jurisdictional categories?
Last time I told you: God doesn't send anybody to hell. He merely respects your free decision not to be with him.
Suppose you are married. Suppose you are uniting yourself to someone who is not your husband. Your husband has realized the separation or you? So don't construe cases that aren't real.
I may answer in an aggressive manner. It's not against you. I fight against prejudice. You can't pooh pooh that away. You have to denounce it.
But again: have you answered the real questions? Are you ready to forgive?
You want to prove that I'm petty and a hypocrite. Well, I confess freely that I am. But please don't put the Church where she doesn't belong.
"Forgive us our trespasses...."
God bless you
PS. I'm praying for you. When have you gone to confession last time? You need be reconciled! It's delicious accept guilt and be freely forgiven!
PSS. I answer off the cuff because I sense you suffer!
Anonymous asked this follow-up question on 10/19/2000:
This is Lisa's husband Greg. Naturally, I've been following her conversation with you and I thought I would enjoy responding this time.
I must say I didn't expect that asking a priest about a teaching of the Church would have evoked such a response. I can only guess that some part of the question touched upon an emotionally loaded issue for you. Let me also say that your speculations about the state of my wife's soul, her experience of and involvement in the Church are quite inaccurate.
(It may be helpful for you as a minister to ask yourself where speculations like those are actually coming from. It may be even more helpful to you and others if you truly listen to the people you encounter rather than placing them into pre-constructed categories.)
If I understand you correctly, you said that you can't answer her original question- "Why does the Catholic Church teach that it is a mortal sin to miss Mass?"- because it is too much of a "general question." I wish I could rephrase it for you, but I think anyone would agree that it is reasonably clear and concise as she has stated it.
In your first response to the question, you spent a great deal of effort trying to convince her that it is not God who sends a person to Hell, but the person's free will. I think this is a theologically accurate statement on your part, however, it falls a bit short of addressing the actual question on Mass attendance and mortal sin. In fact, I get the distinct impression that her question is one that you either do not feel comfortable or well equipped enough to answer directly and concisely. I suspect this may be because you feel uncomfortable thinking critically about Church teachings yourself.
Regardless, the original point was not to question whether God or the individual would be ultimately responsible for any damnation resulting from absence at a Liturgy, but to question the Church's teaching that, due to one missed Mass, such a terrible turn of events is even possible in the life of a Christian.
To teach that one's absence at a Sunday Mass constitutes a sin grave enough to separate the individual from God's saving grace, also carries with it a teaching about who God is. I, like many Catholics, personally do not believe that God is in the business of keeping attendance records at Sunday Mass or allowing those who are absent to be eternally condemned. However, this is clearly the image of God that the Church's teaching on Mass attendance promotes.
There is, no doubt, a struggle to be faced if we as Roman Catholics attempt to reconcile this teaching about Mass attendance and mortal sin with the teachings that God's love for his children is steadfast and unconditional. I have sensed that struggle in your response to my wife's question. Please ask yourself what it is about her question that is too "general" or too difficult to answer. After all, you're a priest of 40 years and I would expect you to make short work of a request for an explanation of basic Church teachings like this one.
If we are asked by the Church to believe that missing Mass, even one time, constitutes a mortal sin, then the Church must also ask us to compromise our belief in a God who is merciful, loving and above all our friend. I think it comes down to the issue of how easily the relationship between God and His People can be disrupted.
Do you believe God could be so petty or that missing Mass one time is so serious as to require the restoration of His saving grace? Could you imagine any healthy person being so petty towards anyone they truly love?
Father, in addition to your previous speculations about my wife, I would be interested in hearing what your opinion is on the real issue she brings to you?
Sincerely in Christ,
P.S. In a few of your remarks, you sound as if you have had a tiring and frustrating journey as a priest. We will pray for you as well. May Blessings.
According to your wishes I proceed in an orderly and logic fashion.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
"2181 The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin."
Yours and your wife's reasoning:
a) The Church teaches: God sends those who miss Sunday Mass to hell.
b) The God I believe in (and I am a Catholic) would not send a person to hell for missing Mass
c) Accordingly the Church is wrong because:
1. She teaches errors in what she teaches;
2. She is guilty of petty, legalistic attitudes;
3. She still has control attitudes that don't sit well with many Catholics
4. Control attitudes such as mandatory attendance at Mass don't make sense.
If the premise is wrong all the consequences of the syllogism are wrong.
Your premise is wrong.
It is not possible derive "a" from the teaching of the Church (see above).
You do not take into account the word "deliberately" (you sidestepped this)
You refuse to make any distinction between objective and subjective responsibility (too general, that's what I said)
You negate the Church the authority regarding control issues (the context obliges me to draw this conclusion)
You suggest that the Church is pharisaic and against Jesus' teaching (ditto)
Your premise is flawed.
Consequently b-c-1-2-3-4 are Wrong.
God bless you
nonymous asked this follow-up question on 10/22/2000:
Thank you for your answer. It was just as I expected. Syllogisms are wonderful when used in their proper venue, but I have to complement you once again on your remarkable dexterity in avoiding the issue originally brought to you by my wife.
You state that our premise is incorrect and therefore all reasoning built upon them is incorrect. This is plausible for the sake of our dialogue, but you stop too soon! You do nothing beyond mere proof-texting to support your claim that our premise is wrong and nothing at all to demonstrate your own premise in a logical fashion. Your answer is tantamount to saying "because the Church says so" and does nothing more than bring us back to square one.
As any good philosopher knows, of all the various forms of argumentation, argument from authority is perhaps the weakest. There was a time in our Church when the syllogistic approach not only served as the basis of the manuals you used in seminary formation but as the primary conceptual machinery for all activities of theological inquiry and apologetics. However, as the Council reminds us, we now find ourselves living in a world which is increasingly complex and modern.
Father, arguments from authority and proof-texting will no longer suffice for dealing with the real and human issues now facing our Church. Faith in Christ and true growth in holiness require more than
intellectual assent to syllogistic reasoning.
My wife and I, as do many Catholics, understand well what is contained in the CCC and other documents. I can see that our communication does not have the makings of a true dialogue. Please devote your energy to other questions.
Thank you and Peace
mscperu gave this response on 10/22/2000:
What have I done in answering your questions? I have tried to present the reasons WHY the Church declares that it is a grave matter toying with Sunday Mass. I have tried to explain why you can’t transpose social concepts into faith. I have tried to make an argument why it could be that the Church not only has the right but the duty to define what is pertaining substantially to eternal life. I have tried to show that if you don’t enjoy the feast the Lord prepares for his children something is wrong because you look at it as a jurisdictional act.
Your wife only retorted that I hadn’t answered the question. She didn’t give even one argument in order to tell me where I have been wrong. So I remained with the impression that her question was emotional, a prejudice.
Enter you, Sir. You say that I declared the question why the Church gives this importance to Sunday Mass was too general. Not so, Sir. Please read the original question. It was about if God sends to hell those who miss Sunday Mass. That was too general.
Then you want to show that I didn’t answer your wife’s question because I felt not comfortable. Sir, it’s a secular old ploy to talk about something different that is not the point. It's called argumentum ad hominem. That’s why I brought up the syllogism going back to the original question. More anon regarding that.
Next you make a confession of faith that Church teaches: one missed Mass or absence from Liturgy results in damnation. Well you are free to elaborate a new creed. But both of you didn’t get the point. It’s not about assisting or not assisting one Liturgy. You can be there in body but you aren't there, for instance.
It is about love, it’s about WHO is God in your life. You don't comment my comparisons. But I have one for your. Perhaps it helps.
You phone your wife and tell her that you love her very much. She has toiled all afternoon and has prepared a dinner with your favorite food and is awaiting you and you know it because she told you so. And you don’t go.
Instead you reason with her (on the phone because you haven't gone) and prefer to discuss with her if your absence is grave, even if anybody could venture to consider your absence a serious offense. It shows at least that at that moment she isn't important because you are telling her your absence isn't important. Certainly it’s not grave if the reason of your absence is a broken leg or the like. She will not only accept that. She will forget the dinner and rush to you. But I would like to hear what she would say to you if you deliberately wouldn’t have gone because you chose so. No other real reason given. She would tell you: ‘You don’t love me because you preferred not to come when I was waiting for you’. What would be your argument? 'This is not an offense'. She asks you 'Why'. You answer 'because you love me. Because you are mad at me you really don't love me and you aren't my friend and you love isn't steadfast'.
How dare you? You would have to go and ask her to forgive you if you had some decency left. Or would you go and tell her that it’s not important? Do you see where it leaves you if you don’t understand the comparison? Now our Lord isn't mad at you. It's true he loves you all the time. But you have preferred whatever instead of being with Him. His Son wants to involve you in His Passover for eternal life. He wants to re-actualize His loving death and resurrection and wants you to participate. But you chose not to be there! You love other things; you love yourself more than Him. Do you know what is idolatry? Other things are more important than Him. Remember: " YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’(Mt 22:37). Not today, dear. I'm tired.
An other point:
You implied that I had misjudged your wife. Not so, Sir. I didn't judge her at all. I only offered some questions suggesting possible reasons for her way of phrasing of the question. If I argue according your stile I would ask: "How could you think that I think like that?"
Afterward you insist that I struggle to reconcile this teaching about Mass attendance and mortal sin with the love of God. Then you expect me to make short work explaining. Have you tried to explain to a blind person the significance of colors? It takes multiple efforts.
Then you argue that God would not be so petty that missing Mass, even one time, constitutes a mortal sin and consequently the Church necessarily "compromises" the believing in God's love.
Please, your logic, Sir. Your syllogism is:
Teaching that missing Sunday Mass once is a mortal sin is not acceptable.
Because if it is a mortal sin God doesn't love us and isn't our friend.
The Church is wrong.
There is a double jeopardy.
Man cannot easily disrupt the relationship with God no matter what the Church declares.
And… you didn't answer my question: Who defines when and what is a mortal?
And thank you for declaring me unhealthy.
Later again you suggest that I have been speculating about your wife. I have not, Sir! I don't know her. But the framing of questions denotes some aggressiveness against the teaching of the Church. (What do you think about Cardinal Ratzinger? Do you like him? If I was a betting man I would wager 100:1 against and win hands down, wouldn't?)
So I have tried to make myself understood. To be able to have dialogue at least in a rational way I offered a syllogism. Your answer consists in your telling me that I stop to soon and I do not prove that your premise is wrong. Sorry, Sir, I offered various reasons you did not demean yourself to comment. You only say it ain't so!
(some more to come)
mscperu gave this follow-up answer on 10/22/2000:
(I'm almost done, but on the way there might be some more points to clear up)
Then you declare that the argument ex autoritate is the weakest? Oh, oh! And the Gospels? Ex autoritate!
And then you enter in a quandary. You put reason above faith.
Consequence: your personal magisterium is above the magisterium of the Church.
Then you coin a wonderful phrase:
"Faith in Christ and true growth in holiness require more than intellectual assent to syllogistic reasoning".
What or who? I tell you it's the Church you need to have "Faith in Christ and true growth in holiness".
You see you are a bundle of contradictions. The classical contradictio in adjectis.
To make it abundantly clear that you are a bundle, Sir, let us review the arguments that show that your premise is wrong:
"You do not take into account the word "deliberately" (your both sidestepped this)".
You didn't comment on this.
"You refuse to make any distinction between objective and subjective responsibility (too general, that’s what I said)".
What I tried really is to tell you that subjective responsibility is a question if God is God for you. And if you don't love him – but deliberately manifest indifference or hate – were do you stand?
"You negate the Church the authority regarding control issues (the context obliges me to draw this conclusion)".
Your last post is corroborating that. You haven't commented this either. You only affirm that you know the documents of the Church and you understand them (your way). But do you accept them? If you don't you have to prove that the Church hasn't the right to define what is what in faith! You didn't. You only imply, suggest. If you don't accept the magisterum you will have to found your own Church.
To finish on a lighter note consider the following. There is a difference between speculation and suggesting possible scenarios. Do you accept that? I present the following scenarios in order to understand what happened.
You are earnest seekers. Then I suggest urgently that you resolve the problem with the magisterium
This question of God sending to hell for missing one Sunday Mass has been your "battle horse" that brought you some victory in debate with other Catholics but I'm sorry, it throws the baby with the used water into the gutter. Pardon the mixed metaphor.
You are trying to defend the Church against attacks from outsiders (or insiders). Your defense consists in throwing out something that the Church teaches. This is called 'selective Christianity' accepting only what it likes heaving the rest overboard. Havoc! He cries…
You wife asked you to help out and you were in a skewed position from the beginning. So you tried to rephrase. Congratulation on your loyalty.
This is an exercise in probing experts. Thank you. I have taken you seriously. But there is no money back if you don't like the answers.
This expert is grossly under equipped. He proceeded aggressively when he should have been more understanding.
I stay with the last scenario.
One last citation of yours:
" My wife and I, as do many Catholics, understand well what is contained in the CCC and other documents. I can see that our communication does not have the makings of a true dialogue. Please devote your energy to other questions. "
Because I affirm that the CCC and the other documents of the Church are true, sustainable and guarantee the true faith this is the reason - one phrase follows the other - for you to sustain that there is no true possible dialogue feasible.
You are so right! As long as you don't accept the teaching of the Church there isn't. With all due respect the other opinions you have voiced do not resist logical argument because you don't really answer the answers or even comment on them. Perhaps it is because of the complexity of the situation.
According to your wishes I shall devote my energy to other questions.
God bless you both.