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Jun 26, 2018

Missing Mass and More on the Nature of Sin

Matt Dunn

Among the more frequently addressed types of questions we respond to, questions of morality come up the most often. Some moral questions require nuance, understanding, and a deeper look. Others are straightforward. Today’s question fits in the second category.

Victor asks, “Is missing Mass intentionally a grave (mortal) sin? I’m not referring to being sick or an emergency or when it was not possible to find a church.”

Not an Easy Question

While it may seem like a simple yes or know answer, readers may recall a post entitled Are All Sins Equal, which discussed among other things the requirements for a sin to be considered mortal. As a reminder, the Catechism of the Catholic Church lists three conditions which must be met: grave matter, full knowledge, and consent. These three conditions all must be present, which is why one of the other factors touched on in that article is the difficulty in answering the question “is x a mortal sin?”

Another part of the difficulty is that the Catechism does not precisely define the difference between actions that are mortal and venial as it does describe it. This is because the difference is primarily in the result of the action. Pope St. John Paul II, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote:

“When through sin, the soul commits a disorder that reaches the point of turning away from its ultimate end God to which it is bound by charity, then the sin is mortal; on the other hand, whenever the disorder does not reach the point of a turning away from God, the sin is venial.’ For this reason venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity and therefore eternal happiness, whereas just such a deprivation is precisely the consequence of mortal sin” (Reconciliation and Penance, Chapter 17).

While there are some actions that by their nature are always grave, the eternal result is what defines this. Are we turning away from God, or not? In other words, there is no spreadsheet in Rome we can consult where you find every sin, and move to the next column to see if it is mortal or venial. And there is good reason for this! Man, by his fallen nature, might tend to read this as if certain actions are “only” venial sins, and down that path, dangers lie. As St. John Paul II goes on to say of venial sins, in that same chapter, “This however must never be underestimated, as though it were automatically something that can be ignored or regarded as “a sin of little importance.”

Gravity and Intention

Thus, in the original question, you can see why the second half of the quotation matters. Victor does not mention a situation where someone is unable to attend, but where they miss mass “intentionally.” In this case, our reader assumes a hypothetical in which the one meets the requirement for a mortal sin by freely and willingly choosing to not attend Mass.  So, let us examine the first requirement (grave matter). In this instance, the Church speaks quite clearly:

“The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass. The precept of participating in the Mass is satisfied by assistance at a Mass which is celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the holy day or on the evening of the preceding day.

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” (CCC 2180-2181).

Knowledge Matters, Too

So, we can say with certainty yes, missing Mass is a grave sin. Were it not for the parentheses in Victor’s question, I could have answered him with a simple copy and paste from the Catechism. However, the question did not only inquire about gravity, but mentioned mortal sin. The Catechism answered the first requirement, and, in our hypothetical, the question itself answered the third requirement.  However, that second requirement (full knowledge) still must be met. The very fact that someone needs to ask this question implies that full knowledge may not be there. In fact, it may very well be that there are plenty of people who no longer realize the fact that it is a grave sin.

To the extent that anyone lacks this knowledge, this would mitigate their culpability. However, for those who have read this post, they no longer lack that knowledge. If, in reading this post, you came to a better understanding of the Catholic approach to Sabbath worship, I am glad that this knowledge has helped you.

If you have any additional questions, please feel free to post them in the comments below.

Featured photo by Tomas Robertson on Unsplash.


You May Also Like:

Do I Have to Go? 101 Questions About the Mass, the Eucharist, and Your Spiritual Life

A Biblical Walk Through the Mass, Leader’s Pack

Altaration: The Mystery of the Mass Revealed Starter Pack

Motivation to Go to Catholic Mass (Fr. Mike Schmitz Podcast)


About Matt Dunn

Matt Dunn

Matthew joined Ascension Press in 2014. He studied political science, business technology, and business management at Delaware County Community College and Temple University. Writing is not his only creative outlet: when not in the office, he can be found on stage as a member of Stealth Tightrope, a local improvisational comedy troupe, or as a musician. A clarinetist with the Merion Concert Band, Matthew also enjoys playing professionally alongside his wife, Susan, who is a professional pianist, vocalist, and composer.