Apologize and Don't Be Sorry!

A site dedicated to thinking through the common objections to the Catholic Faith as well as questions of a general religious nature.

Location: Prague, Oklahoma, United States

Just your basic 21st century priest trying to bring the Gospel to everyone who will give it a fair hearing.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

(Author’s Note: For the next few issues, in honor of school starting, all of the questions come from a group of college students studying the Catholic Faith.)
Dear Father Tharp,
Is it really a mortal sin to miss Mass? If I sleep late on Sunday and then later get hit by a bus on the way to dinner, will I really go to Hell? What if I believe sincerely as God as my savior (Jesus) and do good but just don’t believe that Mass is necessary for heaven? What if I am a regular Mass go-er and sometimes go instead to church with my protestant boy friend?
Sincerely Yours,
Trish Brown, Alva, OK

By way of review, there are three conditions for a sin to be mortal: 1. the object of the act must be grave, 2. the act must be committed with full knowledge of the evil, and 3. the act must be committed with deliberate and full consent (CCC #1857). In your question, you give the example of someone who accidentally over-sleeps and misses Sunday Mass. In this example, the person probably is not guilty of a mortal sin because it was not deliberate. Your question revolves, it seems to me, around whether or not the obligation to attend Mass on Sunday qualifies as grave matter.

For modern people, worship is an odd thing. Frequently, I hear the complaint that someone no longer attends Sunday Mass because it is boring or that they "get nothing out of it." This mentality reveals an attitude that worship is for the participant, but this is not properly speaking, a Christian line of reasoning. Worship, first and foremost, is service that we render back to God, in thanksgiving for everything that He has rendered to us in His goodness. We go to worship, not to receive something, but rather to GIVE something, a gift of ourselves, through active, participation in worship. Only after we have presented our gifts of self does Christ respond with a gift of His own.

When we look at the Ten Commandments, you will notice that the Commandments do not begin with how do we treat our neighbor. The first matter they address is what are my obligations to God. We are given three: that we have no idols or other gods that we worship, that we honor and reverence the name of God, and that we keep holy the Sabbath (Cf. Exodus 20:1-11, Deuteronomy 5:6-15, CCC #2168-2173). Thus, belonging to the Covenant God makes with His people involves the necessity of rendering worship and service back to Him. While it is laudable that people do good, they are still objectively out of step with God and His plan if they do not render Him the worship that in justice we owe to Him.

We find this notion strengthened in the New Testament in two senses. First, that on the eve of His sacrificial Death which will bring a new Covenant of Grace into the world, Jesus institutes a new definitive form of worship, the Holy Mass. He does this by taking the Passover celebration, which celebrated the first covenant and the liberation of Israel from Egypt, and instituting the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which represents for all generations the saving Death and Resurrection that liberates from our greatest oppressors sin, suffering, and death. When Jesus commands that the Apostles should "do this in memory of [Him]," the Greek verb tense used here for "do" is translated more fittingly as "keep on or continue to do this in memory of me." In short, the Holy Mass is a perpetual offering for the Church to connect us to this life-giving Mystery of the Lord. Through this sacrifice, we make clear our belonging to this covenant.
Second, we see the Sabbath moved from the last day of the week to the first in honor of the Resurrection. The Sabbath was the high point of God’s creation because it pointed to what we were made for, union with God. Due to sin and the Fall, we could not attain to this union. The Resurrection confirms that Christ’s sacrifice has redeemed Man and initiates a new covenant, one sealed in the Blood of Christ. As in the previous Covenant, the heart of the Sabbath centered on the worship of the temple. In the New Covenant, if the Sabbath is to be fulfilled, it too must center on worship, otherwise it would lose its essential connection to work of God in previous ages.

It goes without saying then that a person who misses Holy Mass on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation without grave reason, e.g. serious illness, commits a mortal sin (cf. CCC #2174-2188). Furthermore, if we recognize that the Mass is divinely instituted worship, instituted by Christ, we see that while the intention of our Protestant brothers and sisters is to worship God, it cannot hold a candle to the Mass. No matter how good the preacher might be, or how lovely the choir, it is not the worship that Christ demands of us and that the Church through the centuries, in various forms, has celebrated.


Blogger Rhys said...

Most churches on Sunday have both a morning and evening service, so if you have
a protestant boyfriend or girlfriend, you could attend both mass and the protestant service. I do that sometimes.

10:02 PM  
Blogger Soshersas said...

"Is it really a mortal sin to miss Mass? If I sleep late on Sunday and then later get hit by a bus on the way to dinner, will I really go to Hell?"

According to Catholic teaching, missing Sunday Mass really is a "matter" of mortal sin and is one of the precepts of the Church. Given that many Catholic churches have afternoon and evening services, just sleeping late is no excuse. Carelessness regarding this obligation is in itself a sin. A responsible and mature Catholic would go to bed at a respectable hour so as to be awake and alert for Sunday religious obligations. I sense in the question, "Will I really go to hell?" a lack of gravity and respect for the sacrament.

"What if I believe sincerely as God as my savior (Jesus) and do good but just don’t believe that Mass is necessary for heaven?"

If you suppose that faith in Christ is sufficient and that you do not need the Mass, then you are no longer a genuine Catholic but a Protestant. They dismiss the Mass and the Church as insignificant. If you believe that the host is God-- that the Mass is a re-presentation (in an unbloody manner) of the sacrifice of Calvary-- if you believe that the Eucharist is a true oblation of propitiation, then nothing and no one should keep you away. Without the rations from the promised shore to which we travel, the Eucharist, our souls are liable to weaken and perish.

Further, you can do all the good works you want, but if you commit mortal sin by missing Mass, those works would have no merit whatsoever. If the soul is blackened and dead, it does not have the capacity to receive sanctifying grace. The value of the external action depends upon the internal disposition.

"What if I am a regular Mass go-er and sometimes go instead to church with my protestant boy friend?"

If you do not prize the Eucharist highly as essential to your spiritual life, then you need further formation and catechesis in the true faith. Being a "regular" participant at Mass means going every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. If you miss, you are obliged to go to Confession before next receiving Holy Communion. The Mass and a Protestant service are entirely different. The Episcopalians have counterfeit priests and an empty ritual pretending to be Eucharistic worship. Other Protestant groups may not even have this much-- plenty of song, fellowship, and grape juice-- but no real presence of Christ in the sacrament, no priest, and no sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. If you are not well-versed in your faith, and such is apparently so given this question, then I would contend that you have no business attending Protestant services anyway. While it is true that the strongest Catholics might do double duty on behalf of a loved one, going to Catholic Mass and a Protestant service, it is dangerous for weak Catholics to soak in Protestant heresies and dissent. Attendance at a Protestant service does NOT fulfill the obligation, under pain of mortal sin, for a Catholic to attend Sunday Mass. If your boyfriend is unwilling to convert or would place obstacles to your Catholic practice, then it is time to look for a new boyfriend. I know many Catholic girls who steer clear of Protestant boys, at least the obstinant ones, for this reason. Indeed, a friend of mine cancelled her marriage because of such a position that developed in her non-Catholic betrothed.

>Denial of the value and necessity of the Mass.

>Placing a so-called personal saving faith in Jesus over his presence that comes to us in the corporate worship of the Mass.

>Equating Protestant services with the holy sacrifice of the Mass, or replacing it with such.

These three assumptions share more with the Reformational churches than with the community that is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

6:56 PM  
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9:13 PM  
Blogger dsnyd said...


7:19 PM  
Blogger dsnyd said...

Hi--I am a Christian (Disc of Christ) married to a Catholic. We attend church together, alternating between the two. If I read you right, you believe my wife commits a mortal sin every time she misses Mass to go with me? How else can we take communion together? Going to two churches is not an option. Thanks. Don S

7:36 PM  

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