View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Missing Mass, Missing the Point

The other morning I went to a local church for morning Mass. The priest, noted for his off-the-cuff homilies, caught my attention with one comment.

Missing Sunday Mass is not a mortal sin.

That one stopped me short.

I knew that for a sin to be mortal certain criteria have to be met - full knowledge of the seriousness of the offense, willful intention, etc. - so that in many circumstances missing Mass without good reason may still not be mortal. The missing person may simply not realize how serious it is.

I also knew that there can be a variety of mitigating circumstances under which it is not a sin at all - being sick, caring for a sick person or a small child, being in a place where it is physically impossible to get to Mass, etc.

But I was certain that under the right circumstances it is indeed a mortal sin.

I could not talk to him at the time, but later when I went home I checked on line and in some of my books (including the Catechism of the Catholic Church).

As far as I could tell, my understanding was correct

This morning I went back to the same church. He was the celebrant again. After Mass, and after people had left, I asked if I could talk to him.

I mentioned that I had been troubled by what he had said. I explained that I understood that for a sin to be mortal certain conditions had to be met, and that there can be legitimate and non-sinful reasons for not making Mass. But I said that under certain circumstances, the Church teaching is that it is a mortal sin.

He started explaining that it wasn't a mortal sin, and then what mortal sin is, and I pointed out that I was aware of the conditions. I also pointed out that I had consulted some sources. He told me that I'd obviously misunderstood them and that unless there was continued, willful, knowing missing of Mass there was no mortal sin.

I told him that I agreed with his last point, but that the statement that he had made was a broad one that did not point out the nuances of the teaching. I said that people need to hear full and clear teaching in the homily. He told me that he knew the people at the Mass, and that they understood what he meant.

Later - why is it always later? - I realized I could have mentioned that he could not be sure that all those people did fully understand, that some of those people may not have been properly catechized, or that there might have been a visitor present who did not know what the official teaching is.

At the moment, though, I simply sensed the discussion was getting nowhere, especially when he started in about people putting God in a box and so on. I respectfully said that it would still be a good idea when dealing with complex issues in a homily to point out the nuances. Then I wished him well and left.

It is not my role to judge when people miss Mass. That's between them and God. I am a sinful man and I need to take care of my own soul.

Nor is it my role to judge this priest or his intentions. Only God can read what lies in a man's heart.

While I do not criticize him personally, I felt I had to address his words. They are potentially misleading. Part of his job is to teach the faith completely and accurately. Perhaps because I spoke to him respectfully, maybe this good priest will consider my concern and be more aware and cautious. I place that in God's hands.

I pray for this priest, even as I try to keep watch on my own words and the harm they can cause.


Blogger Laura said...

I have taught my middle school students that missing Mass is a mortal sin because that is what I was taught in my Hearts Aflame class (Certification for catechists.)I also believe that is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "The faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason... or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin." Article 2181

It does NOT say..."as a pattern" or anything like that. If you miss Mass- it's a mortal sin.
Sorry if it sounds harsh. But it's true. With all due respect to your priest-
I am on your team with this one.

7:21 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

Thanks for commenting. You don't sound harsh at all.

I think for it to be a mortal sin it has to be a deliberate act by someone who knows how serious it is to miss Mass.

Essentially what I was trying to get through to this priest is that when talking about subjects like this he has a responsibility to provide a complete picture so people know the Church's teachings. When dealing with mortal sins, one cannot give incomplete lessons - especially not when one is called to teach and be a spiritual leader for the people.

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

I have always been taught that we have a obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, unless there is a serious reason. I was told by a recent RCIA graduate that, "I never said I'd do that."
when asked about attending Mass.
Another RCIA Catholic, from the same parish, asserts, "I go to Mass when i feel like it.." Sin doesn't seem to have anything to do with it's as if the clergy are unwilling to "turn people off" by preaching/teaching the entire truth of the Church. Yes, there are still obligations!

7:49 PM  
Blogger Subvet said...

I've missed Mass in it's entirety two weeks ago because my wife had worked the night before and wouldn't be able to help me with our three special needs kids, all under five years of age.

Could I weasel out and say it probably isn't a mortal sin because of extenuating circumstances? Sure I could, that doesn't mean God will buy into it. So I'll err on the side of caution and confess it at my next opportunity (which hasn't come yet because of similar situations. Last I heard, I can't take three kids into the confessional with me).

Until then, I'm refraining from receiving the Eucharist and praying to God that I'll be forgiven.

Salvation isn't supposed to be easy. Someone should pass that on to many of our "I'm okay, you're okay" thinking clergy.

Good blog you have here. Keep on keeping on.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Subvet- caring for children, let alone special needs children, is a "reason."
Going to a baseball game?
Scheduling too many social events?
....not reasons.

Good post. Love it when I am cornered into having a strong opinion.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Lee Strong said...

I agree with Laura, there can be circumstances under which missing Mass is legit - taking care of a sick kid if there is no other chance to get to Mass later, for example. A car accident. Something unexpected you can't get around.

But softball? Soccer? Going to a Bills game? Hungover? - No way.

If I did have a legit reason, though, I think I would still bring it up in confession later, explaining the circumstances, but more to talk about it than to "confess" a sin.

6:21 PM  
Anonymous Caitlin said...

What makes me sad are all the people that pop into the church during the homily and leave right after communion and think to themselves, "well I did my obligation".

6:15 PM  

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