Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is it a Mortal Sin to miss Mass?

I received a question on my Facebook page a little while ago, and while I answered it there I thought it would be good for the rest of you to know the answer to it too.

The question was: "Is it a Mortal sin to miss Mass?"

Speaking personally for a moment, I always knew growing up that I had to go to Mass every Sunday. At first it was out of obligation because Mum always made myself and my brothers go as despite our stubbornness (Mum had a way of winning), but as I got older I had to stop myself from thinking that I was going to Mass because I "had to". Of course I "have to" go to Mass, but I wanted to make sure that at that stage of my life, I was going because I genuinely wanted to, and I made sure of that first. If I ever felt that I was going to Mass because I "had to", I prayed and recalled why the Mass is there in the first place: to make Christ the very centre of my life and to go out into the world after the Mass and bring Christ to others.

Before I give the answer to whether it is a Mortal Sin to miss Mass, one or two very things must be noted:

- deliberately missing Mass is not the same as unintentionally missing Mass;
- there are some very good reasons why a person may intentionally Mass and this would not be the same as refusing to fulfil your Sunday obligation

I'll explain those in a bit more detail in a little bit (you'll see what I mean when you read the reference from the Catechism of the Catholic Church), but now what the official Church teaching is on missing Mass intentionally (bolded for emphasis):

"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." - Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 2181

In short: yes, it is a Mortal Sin ("grave sin") to miss Mass deliberately.

What is meant, though, by "deliberately"? In this context, "deliberately" is understood to mean a conscious decision to not attend Mass not due to circumstances that would otherwise prevent or make it difficult for a person to make it to Mass. For example:

- Making a conscious decision not to go to Mass due to being ill, incapacitated, caring an infant or an invalid would not be considered deliberately failing to meet the Sunday obligation due to being constrained by circumstances (if of course the individuals intentions would be to otherwise attend Mass) and therefore not a Mortal Sin;
- Making a conscious decision not to go to Mass out of disobedience or refusal to uphold the Sunday obligation and tenet of the Church would constitute Mortal Sin, i.e. the individual says in some manner of form, "I don't want to go!"

I remember being on holidays in England as a teenager with my mother and brothers, and we had arrived in England on a Saturday afternoon. As a young devout Catholic with a devout Catholic mother, I was fully expecting my mother to take us along to Mass on the Sunday morning. Now I figured that Mass was on in the morning and that Mum was going to take us regardless. That morning, however, Mum wasn't feeling up to it and I was the only one wanting to go to Mass. As an 18 year old I could have gone alone, but being a foreigner making his own way to a place I didn't really know how to get to, I didn't feel safe or comfortable with the idea. I opted to stay home and prayed that God would forgive me for this. Though by definition I was not committing a grave sin, I confessed this to my priest as early as I could on our return home.

The experience made me think of the the capital vice ("deadly sin(s)") of sloth. The sense of laziness in itself is not sinful but is an inclination to act sinfully. In the instance of going to Mass, I'm sure we've all felt like we don't want to go to Mass and that the thought of giving yourself one more hour of leisure or rest, but there's an old adage that comes to mind: "Evil triumphs when the good men of the world do nothing" and how true does this ring for us as Christians? Consider the good we miss out on in ignoring the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life (CCC, par. 1324). If every Catholic truly knew and understood the Eucharist, why the heck would you want to miss out on it? Furthermore, if every Christian knew and understood the Eucharist, they'd be flocking in the thousands to get in on some of that... Catholic stuff (*wink*).


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