This rather dark scenario/dilemma ran through my mind: let’s say a faithful Catholic is unfortunate enough to be trapped in a nation where control is usurped by an evil, strongly anti-Catholic dictator. Clergy are massacred, churches are demolished, and the populace is brainwashed into killing Catholics on sight. The borders are so heavily defended that an ordinary man would need a miracle to make it through alive. Customs force you to engage in mortal sin in order to sniff out any Catholics.
Given this nightmarish situation, our poor hero is completely severed from the sacraments. What would be the moral course of action here?
Making a spiritual communion as often as possible, reading or meditating on the Scripture (which hopefully he would have memories of), silent prayer and offering mortifications unobtrusively (fasting, abstinence), assistance to fellow Catholics, and living a Catholic life, and praying for the grace, when finally ‘discovered’, to remain faithful unto death.
Seriously, though, I guess I should have mentioned the two alternatives I was contemplating:
Make a mad dash for the borders, most likely getting martyred in the process
Be a secret Catholic until you die (basically what most people recommend)
All other courses of action I could think of would be sinful.
I was actually worried about how this predicament stretches the obligation of attending Mass. I mean, there’s an absurdly small chance of fulfilling that obligation by rushing the border, so would we be obliged to do that?
A related scenario would be a man stranded on an island. It is technically possible for him to swim to civilisation and the Mass, so would he be obliged to?
In other words, this is essentially about how far we are to take our obligation to attend Mass? If these extreme scenarios free us from this obligation, how do we resolve the Sorites paradox? What is it that frees us from this obligation?
A “grave cause” excuses the obligation to attend Sunday mass. “Grave cause” is not elaborated on exhaustively (typically taken to mean sickness, care for others who are sick, travel, etc), but certainy needing to risk one’s life by crossing a patrolled border or undertaking a swim they may not survive are clear cases of grave causes. Once does not have to risk martyrdom to attend mass, although such is what saints are made of!
I don’t know how this relates to the Sorites paradox, except to say that naturally there will be some grey cases. Much like many other moral considerations, the term “grave” is too vague for some people, who worry that their reasons are not serious enough, when for most other people they would not cause such concern. A pastor is the appropriate person to work throughthis particular issue with, which is no help at all to the hypothetical people in the scenarios you describe. In the end, they must make their own judgement calls on this, and eithe risk martyrdom or decide that they have a “grave cause” for missing mass.
Hmm. This sounds a little iffy. I doubt the distinction of “grave cause” is supposed to be made by the individual layman.
And yes, it was to this distinction that the Sorites paradox is supposed to relate to. I’d have expected the Church to have some official, rigorous, Sorites-proof (and preferably Thomistic) definition of “grave cause”, not deciding to leave it up to the individual. That sounds like a suspiciously Protestant modus operandi.
Your dark scenario has happened in real life. What you describe is exactly what happened in Russia, Polonia, Slovakia and all other countries that fell under the power of the communist regime. The communist destroyed churches, arrested priests and nuns, tortured them, religion was eliminated and Catholics were forced to practice their religion hidden. From what I know the church ran underground. I remember watching on ewtn how a group of nuns ran an underground “church” they would do spiritual communion and recruited catholic to do hidden “services” as others have mentioned in these situations prayer first and second find other Catholics and try to organize underground. As the communist nations experienced catholic faith is quite strong and capable of overcoming that dark scenario.
This exact thing happened in England and Ireland after Henry VIII, 500 years ago. Priests caught were executed. Many priests went to these countries–even newly appointed bishops–knowing that they would be caught and executed. They went because of the plight of Catholics there. I recall one incident too–a priest was being led to execution in England and a housewife on the street gave a sign of respect as a Catholic as he passed by. She was executed too. If such persecution occurred where I lived, I would study what Catholics did then as a form of advice for myself. There was a further problem too in England because people were ordered to attend the government church–the Church of England–or be punished by fines.
I also recall the story of the Byzantine-rite Catholics in the Ukraine. The Communist government made their Church illegal in the 1940s. But still they had masses, in the forest, in places where they would be secret, being very careful who they invited to these masses. If Catholicism was made illegal, it might be such a situation rather than the even more severe situation of England when priests and those who harbored them were subject to execution.
However, those living under such persecution could expect to hear what the Church expects of them then.
But in your scenarios it has to be made by the layman! Catholic teaching provides clergy and lay alike guidelines to make moral decisions, and sometimes those decisions are made by the individual in isolation as best they can.
Catholic moral theology isn’t a rulebook to live by in the way the Pharisees lived and attempted to justify themselves by works of the law. It gives us principles to guide our moral choices and form our consciences according to such principles (not mere rules).
Would you like a long list of illnesses that are acceptable reasons to stay home, and illnesses that do not excuse the Sunday obligation? Would you like a rule about how far out of one’s way one must travel to get to mass (eg less than 100km you must go, over 100km OK to miss)? Would you like to know what chances of death one must risk in order to get to mass (51% chance of death, OK to miss, <50% and you must risk it)? I really don’t know what such a rulebook would look like, but regardless of how comprehensive it is, there will always be scenarios that are not covered.
It’s completely impractical for the Church to provide such rigorous rules. And it misses the point. We are not justified by keeping the rules, and we are not doomed to hell for breaking unreasonable ones. When attending mass is difficult, we make an assessment of whether our reasons are grave and our own conscience (not the letter of the law) will be our judge.
So does that mean that someone with scrupulosity will be compelled to obey his conscience and charge the border? Or perhaps that a visit from an old friend relieves a person with a malformed conscience of the obligation to attend Mass?
Surely there must be some less vague definition of what a “grave cause” is! Perhaps not to the extent you have stated, but the words “grave cause” do not tell us much if they stand “as is”, with all further interpretation and judgment delegated to the individual. I’d expected there to be some more specific guidelines or principles.
Yes, a scupulous person or someone with a poorly formed conscience may make erroneous judgements. But this is true of many other matters also, not isolated to this one.
Illness and care of infants are given as specific examples in the catechism:
*2181 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.119 Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin. *
It is also noted that one can be dispensed by their pastor, so yes it is something that a lay person can seek advice on.
But there will never be a comprehensive list of reasons, since such will never be comprehensive enough, and it creates the sort of legalistic approach that misses the point. A fathful Catholic should want to go to mass, to worship God and seek His graces, and only something that is indeed serious (or “grave”) would come in the way of that.
To experience a barrier to receiving the Eucharist but at the same time remaining in sacramental communion has to do with more than actually receiving. It requires a ‘way of thinking’ also. So to accept valid communion with Christ because receiving is not possible, is not to become Protestant in the least. From the CCC…
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.”