Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Is it really a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass?

Pope Innocent XI has condemned the following proposition: "The precept of keeping Holy Days is not obligatory under pain of mortal sin, aside from scandal, if contempt is absent." (4 March 1679)

Thus, it is the teaching of the Catholic Church, that it is always a mortal sin intentionally to skip Mass on Sunday or on a Holy Day without a serious reason. Catholics are obligated to attend Mass either on Sunday itself, or on the Saturday evening before.

Let us consider the proof of this precept, and show the falsity of the contrary opinion that it is enough usually to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and that skipping only one Sunday here or there is merely a venial sin.

The authority of St Alphonsus

The doctor of moral theology and patron of confessors, St Alphonsus Liguori, states simply (quoting Pope Innocent XI) that the precept of attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days (as well as abstaining from unnecessary servile work) binds under pain of mortal sin.

The reader can find his treatment of this in Theologia Moralis, Tomus Primus, 263ff.

According to the current law of the Church, this obligation is fulfilled by attending Mass any time from the preceding evening until midnight of the day – thus, a Saturday evening Mass (whether for the Sunday or for the Saturday, or a wedding Mass, etc) will fulfill the Sunday obligation.

This is, however, a positive precept, rather than a negative one. This is significant since there can be no exceptions to negative precepts – there is never a case when a man is permitted to commit adultery or to lie, for example. However, a man may be excused from positive precepts for a serious cause.

Therefore, there are certainly circumstances which would excuse a man from attending Sunday Mass – as the obligation is grave, only a grave cause could excuse. However, certain grave circumstances do exist.

In this article, however, we will not consider the various exceptions to the law, but rather the basic obligation of the law.

We only point out that we have  used the phrase "skip" Sunday Mass, rather than "miss" – thereby we indicate the difference between missing Mass for a grave reason (e.g. being in the ER at the hospital) and skipping Mass for no good reason (e.g. simply sleeping in).

The obvious bad will in those who say skipping Sunday Mass is not a grave sin

Note that those who advocate for the opposite opinion (namely, that it is only a venial sin to skip Sunday Mass on occasion) fail to quote a single Church document or even the opinion of any saint to support their impious claim. We can see here the bad will of such persons, who promote their own opinion and the vanity of the world in the place of the true doctrine presented by our Holy Mother the Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days is a precept of the Church (cf CCC 2180) which precepts are given to maintain the bare minimum of moral rectitude (cf CCC 2041, "the very necessary minimum").

Again, "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 grave sin." (CCC 2181)

Again, the Baltimore Catechism: "Holydays of obligation are special feasts of the Church on which we are bound, under pain of mortal sin, to hear Mass and to keep from servile or bodily labors when it can be done without great loss or inconvenience. Whoever, on account of their circumstances, cannot give up work on holydays of obligation should make every effort to hear Mass and should also explain in confession the necessity of working on holydays." (No 3, q.1244)

Therefore, whosoever should rashly and with such great hubris dare to assert and even to teach others that occasionally skipping Sunday Mass or Holy Days for no grave reason is not a mortal sin, is rightly to be held in contempt by all and should know himself to be guilty of spiritual murder as leading others into sin, himself having certainly committed grave sin by his impious utterance.

This especially holds for priests.

What makes "grave matter" to be a "mortal sin"?

A sin is mortal if it is grave matter, and committed freely and knowingly.

Clearly, skipping Sunday Mass is grave matter. However, we will not here discuss when a person may or may not have sufficient knowledge or freedom for the sin to be mortal – that is better done in the confessional with a devout and traditional priest.

It is good here to recall that the Catechism teaches that "anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion." (CCC 1385) 

[please note, I have made a correction to the above section to make it more clear that "grave sin" means "mortal sin", and that the distinction is between objectively "grave matter" and "mortal/grave/serious sin" -- thanks to Kevin L who helped to point out this error]

Why is it a mortal sin to skip Mass on Sunday?

The great St John Paul II states, “The Code of Canon Law of 1917 for the first time gathered this tradition into a universal law. The present Code reiterates this, saying that ‘on Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to attend Mass’. This legislation has normally been understood as entailing a grave obligation: this is the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and it is easy to understand why if we keep in mind how vital Sunday is for the Christian life.” (Dies Domini, 47)

Here, the Saintly Pontiff indicates why it is that the Church obliges the faithful to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days under pain of mortal sin: Mass attendance is truly necessary for the Christian life. Participating in Sunday worship is of such great value and necessity to the soul, that the Church holds the faithful bound to this participation by a grave obligation.

We must admit that the following of this precept is of the greatest advantage to the Christian soul which will quickly perish without the helps of common worship, orthodox preaching, and the grace derived from the Sacrament of the Altar.

Furthermore, we must stress that it is the primary duty of the creature to honor his Creator. If God had commanded that every day should be given wholly to him, he would have been within his rights – for the whole man, together with all his time and energies, belongs entirely to God. However, God is most generous in demanding (through his Church) only Sundays and a very few other days which must be given to divine worship. It is such a small demand in his part, and those who fail to do even this little amount are guilty of an extreme boldness.

There can be no doubt that those who fail in this most basic duty of man have failed to fulfill even the bare minimum of what is required of any decent human being – therefore, it is good and right that the Church should hold the faithful bound to the observance of Sundays and Holy Days under pain of mortal sin.


Sharon said...

I have to admit that I was confused by your first quote. It looks like Pope Innocent was saying that it is not a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday, and that you are condemning his statement. I kept reading it thinking, "Why would Pope Innocent say that?" Maybe if the entire passage were in quotes or if the entire passage were in italics, it would be less confusing.

cheryl said...

I admit, I struggle with the idea of mortal (and grave) sin. Firstly, I believe it puts to great a burden on scrupulous consciences (Those who want to go to Mass will and everyone ought to go because they love Christ, not because they are fearful that the habitual grace of Christ will leave them. Secondly, I don't care for where the definition of mortal sin can lead (A sensitive conscience will be prone to find comfort in a theological loop-hole rather than Christ who cleanses us from all sin, or to put it this way, be so afraid of losing grace, that they withdraw from facing their sin head-on in all it's ugliness). Thirdly, it can make venial sin, seem not so bad, when a person can commit it with full (sufficient) knowledge and deliberate will, but not lose the grace that is within them because the matter is not deemed "grave". And finally, all sin comes under the Ten Commandments. I'm a fairly orthodox Catholic, but I'm also scrupulous to a fault and it's a very scary way to live.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Scrupulosity is an error in judgment: when we think a venial sin is mortal or a mere fault is a venial (or even mortal) sin. Thus, knowing what the church teaches about what is and isn't a mortal sin is a great help to the scrupulous soul - her only hope is to trust in the teaching of the church and accept what mother church says regarding mortal/venial.

To simply ignore or deny the difference between mortal and venial is not help to the soul. The mere fact that some people look for loop holes is no reason for you to say "I don't care for the church's 2000 year tradition of teaching on this point".

Humility is what the scrupulous soul needs most. Your great task should be to humbly and rrustingly submit to the church as to a loving mother.

Anonymous said...

Cheryl, I also suffer from scrupulosity, even to the point of being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. This is why I love the Church so much. After a lifetime in Protestantism where the next book I read might point out a new sin in my life that I was not aware of, I love being able to rely of the authority and honesty of the magisterium to help me deal with my faults.

Anonymous said...

I am 87 yrs. old. live alone and drive to church. I will not drive if there is snow on the roads or if it is sleeting out. My neighbor is 82 and she does not drive. I usually take her. Am I committing a sin by not attending Mass on bad weather days?

Dan said...

My daughter has the opportunity to go on a class field trip to Washington DC. It is a three day trip (Fri-Sun) and the itinerary literally goes from 7AM until 10PM all three days. There is no time to go to Mass. I told her she couldn't go but after much complaining on her part I agreed to let our parish priest decide. We asked him today and he said she is permitted to miss Mass since there is no time to attend. I don't agree with this but my hands are tied because of our priest. Who is right?

Boo said...

I would consult a good and holy priest about this. Do you live far away from the church? If driving under snow/sleet conditions poses a grave danger to you, particularly given your age, then this might be a mitigating circumstance. If however, you have another way of getting there (someone taking you and your neighbour in bad weather) it would be good.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Well, the pastor of your parish really does have faculties to dispense your daughter from the obligation to attend Mass. This should inly be done for a grave cause, and apparently he feels that the trip is sufficient reason to miss Mass.
As the father, you still have the say in whether or not she can go -- however, it is good to realize that she would not be held guilty for skipping Mass (and that priest will obviously have to answer before God for all the times he used his authority as a shepherd to excuse people from the Mass).

On the other hand, if your daughter's conscience tells her that the trip is not really of grave importance so as to justfy skipping Mass, then even the priest's dispensation would not excuse her from sin.

Given the dispensation, I suppose her conscience would dictate whether she should ask you to let her go.
And then you have the right to decide based on what you think is best for her.

Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Anonymous 87 year old,
If you are able to get to Mass, you are obligated to go. If you are truly not able, then you are not obligated.

However, it is good to ask yourself -- "do I manage to go anywhhere when there is snow? Or do I remain trapped in my house all winter?" If you are able to get out to go to the store, then there should be some way to attend Mass.

Certainly, if there is a blizzard on Sunday morning, this could well make it impossible to attend Mass.

However, if you have friends or relatives who take you to the store or to doctor's appointments and haircuts, you should also ask these individuals to help you get to Mass as often as possible on Sundays.
You wouldn't feel bad asking for a ride to the ER to save your physical life -- neither should you feel at all bad asking for a ride to church.

Again, if it really is extrememly difficult, you are not obligated to attend Mass and there is no sin in missing.

Hope that helps! +

arnold said...

Christ centered,
Is it a mortal or venial sin to miss mass because my manager requires us to work under pain of being written up or even worse disciplinary measure.

Lyllian-Odile Crenshaw said...

Hello, I do not know if this site still works....
I have lost my beautiful daughter when she took her own life on June 4 of this year 2016...
This devastation has taken so much from me... I pray to God while He guides me..I am trying to get back out into the world, but my pain is so great that being around others is extremely difficult..I will get there, with patience and prayers...
I am writing this because I, who usually go to mass everyday...have not been able to get out because its just too hard to see others that know me...My tears are to great for now...My devastation too hard....I have to make an effort and ask Our Dear Lord to guide me, and give me His Grace of courage... Pray that I have the courage and fortitude to go back to mass, and not fear the people and their reactions towards me... In my heart I know that God does understand me and the reason for my not leaving my home, which in turn prevents me from going to mass...I have gone, but it was so hard..I cannot become the center of attention and cry cry cry.... In time...I will start going back again, everyday like I have done... thank you for reading this..

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Lyllian, it is very understandable that you would not be able to attend Mass for some time (maybe even a few months). I encourage you to reach out to your parish priest and ask for his assistance and support. I will say a prayer for your daughter and your family. +

Morag Marinoni said...

Lilianne, your parish priest will arrange for you to receive Our Lord if you let him know your situation.

God bless you.

Lyllian-Odile Crenshaw said...

Thank you for your comment Father ...thank you Morag:
I am happy to say that I do have a spiritual guide who is a priest in a parish... He of course knows my situation.... although he has known it hard for me to leave my house for mass, we never really discussed it as being a sin... He is a very holy priest, and I am thankful to have him guide me...
I did go to mass the other day to find the doors closed for the summer ...open in the evening...pray that I find courage to once again try to go into the church for mass... My priest said I can sit in the way back ...
Thank you, God Bless,
Praying for all priests...

Morag Marinoni said...

Hello again Lyllian. I am sure all will be well eventually. Not sure if my previous comment was clear enough: I meant that you could receive Holy Communion and Confession at home but your response does not indicate that you are having this.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

I am confused about the paragraph that states that going to Saturday Mass whether the Mass of Saturday, a wedding Mass or Vigil Mass fulfills the Sunday obligation. I was taught that to fulfill the Sunday obligation the Mass has to be the Vigil Mass on Saturday evening or Sunday Mass and that attending Saturday daily Mass, a wedding or funeral Mass does not fulfill the obligation. Have I been mistaken for my entire life?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

If the mass is in the eve on saturday, it fulfills - but a typical daily Mass is before the eve and therefore doesn't fulfill.

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