Need help answering this question regarding mortal sin/Hell

I had a conversation with an ex-Catholic, now Protestant friend of mine, a co-worker who is still stubbornly picking at various issues with the Catholic faith.

Here’s the scenario he gave me:

Apparently there was an issue in the past where eating meat on Fridays was considered to be a mortal sin, and after Vatican II it was changed to a venial sin. Prior to this, the Church’s position was that those who died after eating meat on Friday were in Hell.

His question is this: what then, happened to the people who were condemned to Hell after the Church changed her position?

He asked a priest this when he was in school, and was told not to ask silly questions. I tried to answer his question by saying that God reads the heart, and it’s possible for someone to have a true contrition prior to death without a chance of confession with a priest. I used an example I heard on Catholic Answers about a guy who repented between the bridge and the ground, and I believe it was Padre Pio who informed the family of that repentence. This comes from the very Grace of God and is an issue of faith.

He liked my answer, but stated it didn’t answer his question. It’s one of the issues he has with the Church. He’s not anti-
Catholic per se as he has no problem with Sacred TRadition, but believes some of what the Church teaches is in complete conflict with the Bible.

Anyone have a better answer for this person?

First thing you need to do is call him to task in proving his outrageous statements.

[quote=JCPhoenix] Apparently there was an issue in the past where eating meat on Fridays was considered to be a mortal sin, and after Vatican II it was changed to a venial sin. Prior to this, the Church’s position was that those who died after eating meat on Friday were in Hell.
[/quote]

you should say “Wrong. Show me the official Church document where it said that please.” It isn’t anywhere I’ve seen (although that doesn’t disprove it). Eating meat on Fridays was a sin because it was disobedience. Now we are either to not eat meat or to do another form of penance/sacrifice.

[quote=JCPhoenix] His question is this: what then, happened to the people who were condemned to Hell after the Church changed her position?
[/quote]

Did the disobedience change? No, they still had disobeyed. What’s his question?

“Mortal sin is defined by St. Augustine (Contra Faustum, XXII, xxvii) as “Dictum vel factum vel concupitum contra legem æternam”, i.e. something said, done or desired contrary to the eternal law, or a thought, word, or deed contrary to the eternal law.” ( ENCYCLOPEDIA: CATHOLIC****Sin )

I know of no source of Catholic doctrine which decreed that abstaining from meat on Friday is an eternal (ie., Divine) law. It certainly has been and continues to be ecclesiastical law, which is temporal, dispensatable, abrogatable, and therefore mutable, not eternal.

It certainly a sin to break the law, whether civil or ecclesiastical, so long as these do not contradict Divine Law. But I don’t see this as a mortal sin, according to Catholic doctrine.

The answer to this question relates to the nature of the sin being committed. There is no Scriptural or Traditional precept requiring abstinence from meat on Fridays. Thus when the Church imposed this requirement, it was a discipline and thus ignoring the discipline would be the sin of disobedience. Those who ate meat on Fridays before the Church changed its requirement would still be guilty of disobedience, even though people may now eat meat on Fridays (in the U.S. anyway).

I’m not certain that failure to abstain on Fridays was ever a mortal sin. It would have to be grave matter (relating to the Commandments) and I don’t think this would fall under any of them, unless “Honor thy Father and Mother” is also understood in this case to apply to Holy Mother Church.

As someone who is informed on the matter at hand, let me explain.

The Church before Vatican II (and still today) requires that all Catholic abstain from meat on ALL Fridays (NOT only Lent), except if the Friday fall upon a solemnity (first-class feast, e.g. the Friday in Easter Week, St. Joseph’s Feast Day, Holy days, Epiphany, etc.). Now, before Vatican II (not really Vatican II, but prior to the new Canon Law 1983), there were NO dispensations or exceptions. In the new canon law, the Bishops are permitted to allow other foods to be substituted for meat, and now even are permitted (at least in the US, but I think that it is only for certain countries, not a universal norm) to substitute “other works” (e.g. making the Stations instead of doing abstenance). Now, the universal norm of the Church (and what the opinion of one of the three canon lawyers on the tribunal in my Archdiocese of Atlanta–maybe more but at least one) is that all Catholics are required to abstain from meat still. Now, as I said, there are some dispensations, but these are not universal, and only the Bishops conference can name such exceptions.

In any event, the mortal sin was not in the act itself. The mortal sin was in disobedience. For example, before 1953, if one were going to receive Holy Communion, he could not eat nor drink ANYTHING (including water) after midnight. Now, if you lived before that time, if you had a sip of water at 12:00 and 1 second, and then you received Holy Communion that morning (considering that you knew it was after midnight), then it would be a MORTAL SIN and a sacrilege, just as today if you have a bite of a sandwich, and then you receive Communion 59 minutes and 59 seconds later, that it is a mortal sin (if you do so willingly, and knowing that it had not been a full hour). The mortal sin is in the disobedience, not in the act itself. That is why, if the Bishops approve an exception (e.g. if they say you can give up chocolate instead of meat on Friday), then if you follow the exception, you are not committing a mortal sin, since you are being obedient.

Now, as far as his question about those who committed the sin before: since they committed the sin, which is a sin of disobedience and not the act itself, it is still a mortal sin. It would be like saying: is it still a sin for a Jew to eat shrimp if he did it the day before Christ proclaimed that all food is clean? Yes, because he was being disobedient to the judicial rules of the Old Law. But that sort of sin is an act of disobedience to the Old Law, not a sin in the act itself.

As a side note, my personal opinion that all the dispensations and exceptions are quite ridiculous. Not only can you pretty much do anything (even maybe a decade of the Rosary, depending upon what your Bishops may say–and who knows these days what they will say) for your “abstenance” on Friday. Moreover, it makes much more sense to have a catholic (that is universal) law for obedience for this and many other things in the canon law, as well as in the Mass. The more uniform and hence catholic things are, the more the CATHOLIC Church is seen to be what She is: Catholic. I suppose it does not much matter since nearly all those who know of the rules of abstenance (and care about followig the rules of the Church) follow the meat abstenance, while those who chose to be disobedient or are simply ignorant do nothing. I would assume only the most staund neo-cons (or those who really don’t want to gie something up but just want to do something easy or easier) would actually follow the dispensations.

N.B. Canons from canon law related are: 1249-1253 (BK IV, II, ii, 2)

[quote=Dr. Colossus]I’m not certain that failure to abstain on Fridays was ever a mortal sin. It would have to be grave matter (relating to the Commandments) and I don’t think this would fall under any of them, unless “Honor thy Father and Mother” is also understood in this case to apply to Holy Mother Church.
[/quote]

Yes, it obedience to the Church’s discipline falls under the Fourth Commandment. And it is a mortal sin to fail to follow these rules of obedience, then and now.

[quote=CatholicCrusade]Yes, it obedience to the Church’s discipline falls under the Fourth Commandment. And it is a mortal sin to fail to follow these rules of obedience, then and now.
[/quote]

Indeed. After my previous post I did a little research:

From the Baltimore Catechism:

[T]here would be a great difference between eating a little more than the Church allows on a fast–day, simply because you were hungry, and eating it because you wanted to show that you despised the law of fasting and the authority of the Church. The first would be only a venial sin, but the latter mortal. So for all your actions. An act which in itself might be a venial sin could easily become a mortal sin if you did it through contempt.

Thus it is possible to commit mortal sin by disobedience.

[quote=CatholicCrusade]Yes, it obedience to the Church’s discipline falls under the Fourth Commandment. And it is a mortal sin to fail to follow these rules of obedience, then and now.
[/quote]

I disagree. By this logic, every sin is mortal.

On the contrary, according to Catholic moral theology, even theft is not always a mortal sin. I suggest you read the article I linked to above from the 1909 Catholic Encyclopedia entitled “Sin.”

It states, "The gravity of the matter is judged from the teaching of Scripture, the definitions of councils and popes, and also from reason. Those sins are judged to be mortal which contain in themselves some grave disorder in regard to God, our neighbour, ourselves, or society. Some sins admit of no lightness of matter, as for example, blasphemy, hatred of God; they are always mortal (ex toto genere suo), unless rendered venial by want of full advertence on the part of the intellect or full consent on the part of the will. Other sins admit lightness of matter: they are grave sins (ex genere suo) in as much as their matter in itself is sufficient to constitute a grave sin without the addition of any other matter, but is of such a nature that in a given case, owing to its smallness, the sin may be venial, e.g. theft."

Unless the Church has decreed it to be a intrinsically grave to eat meat on Fridays, I do not believe there’s support within the sources of Catholic doctrine to give any indication that something of such light matter is a mortal sin.

Any time I sin, I disobey God and the Church. Yet not every disobedience is GRAVE sin.

Contempt of the Divine Will can be manifest in any thought, deed, or sin of omission. Insofar as there is such contempt, any sin can be understood as grave matter. In other words, any sin, with sufficient contempt for God and his Church, can be grave, an act of apostacy.

In such instances, I would argue that it is not the violation of ecclesiastical law that was grave sin, but “contempt of the Divine Will” which is grave matter in every generation.

Refer him to the Code of Canon Law, #1250 - 1253 and to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1438.
As with so many "Facts " from Vatican II, his statement that eating meat on Fridays was changed to a veniel sin is wrong.
What did change was the exact form of the Friday penitential discipline. Since meat is so easily obtainable now, the diocesan bishop can impose a different form of penance on Friday, but the Friday penance remains in force.
I get so tired iof vatican II being twisted to fit someone’s personal agenda.
I see Catholic Crusade beat me to the punch a little with the Canon Law references, but they’re available to all on the Vatican web site.
Most Catholics in the US think that nothing extra is required of them on Friday’s anymore.
Can you say “lousy catechesis,” boys & girls?

CatholicCrusade,

Hmmmmm… on the other hand, failure to do acts of penance as prescribed by the Church is a grave matter, objectively considered. So I think I may now be in violent agreement with you. http://forums.catholic.com/images/icons/icon11.gif

So, although the prescribed act of penance may vary throughout the life of the Church, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, failure to do acts of penance is a mortal sin, objectively speaking.

I can be taught. http://forums.catholic.com/images/icons/icon14.gif

HELLO AND BLESS ALL

There is a truth to the desobedience aspect of this sin , for in the heart lies the true act of sin . However was it not Asked " Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days , or to do evil ? to save life or to kill " St.Mark 3-4 and also said " Have ye never read what David did , when he had need , and was hungered, he, and they that where with him ? St. Mark 2-25 and thus.

“THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN,AND NOT MAN FOR THE SABBATH;THEREFORE THE SON OF MAN IS LORD OF THE SABBATH”[size=2] [/size]
St.Mark 2-26,27
:love:

Getting back to the original post “Prior to this, the Church’s position was that those who died after eating meat on Friday were in Hell.” No way has the Church ever declared that. First of all, intent is not even considered in this statement. If it were an accident, there was no sin at all, if it were a necessity perhaps it was a venial sin, if it were with contempt perhaps a mortal sin, I can only remember two cases where the Church actually declared ANYONE was indeed in hell. She pretty much leaves who is in hell up to God.

Tom,

I agree. Even if considered objectively grave. The subjective elements of full advertence and perfect consent of will are also required for it to be a mortal sin. Only God can know the impediment to the will, or lack thereof. Furthermore, one must remain impenitent of such a sin and die in such a state to be deserving of hell.

I can only remember two cases where the Church actually declared ANYONE was indeed in hell.

Who?

[quote=itsjustdave1988]Who?
[/quote]

To be quite frank, i don’t remember. I’ll have to research it again, it’s been years.

Thanks for your responses, everyone. I forgot to bring my Baltimore Catechism in to work today (as I had planned).

In speaking with a friend last night, I realized my friend’s concern from childhood has not only to do with poor catechesis, but his lack of understanding of mortal/venial sin. He did discuss intent, but apparently he had been told that one would go to hell for eating meat on a Friday.

I think I remember being told similar things, however when I look back, I feel it was really just to make a point that grave sin earns one a place in hell rather than Heaven.

This is not his only objection to the faith, but I’m beginning to understand that he is confused by some very poor teaching from the time he was young, and he is having difficulty sorting out the real teachings from his impressions and what he remembers.

Please, anyone, if you have more to say, keep the comments coming…I have a feeling this isnt’ the last time any of us will run into this issue.

According to Jimmy Akin, in the US, there no longer remains a mandatory Friday penance (fast or other). The most recent issue of This Rock magazine has his article on it. Also, his blog has essentially the same info here:

jimmyakin.org/2004/07/friday_penance_.html#trackback

Although the bishops still encourage the practice of Friday penance, it no longer carries the penalty of sin (because it is not an obligation).

With all due respect to James Akin, my Daily Roman Missal (1993) states:

Abstinence from meat (or from some other food) or another penitential practice, as determined by the conference of bishops, is to be observed on all Fridays of the year unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday.

According to EWTN’s Colin B. Donovan, STL:

On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. They must do some penitential/charitable practice on these Fridays. For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year.
(ewtn.com/expert/answers/fast_and_abstinence.htm)

From *New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, *John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, ed., Study Edition, (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), p. 1446-1448:

… Pope Paul VI’s 1966 apostolic constitution, *Poenitemini, *provides the historical, doctrinal, and disciplinary background for the following canons on penitential days and times [canons 1249-1253].

… [Canon 1249] mentions several ways that days of penance are observed. The first three (prayer, works of piety and charity, and self-denial by fulfilling one’s obligations more faithfully) are left to the individual faithful to observe in their own way or to the regulations of the conference of bishops. The final ways (fast and abstinence) are specific penitential acts binding the faithful in accord with canons 1251 and 1252. The adverb “especially” (praesertim) recalls the words of Paul VI that “fast and abstinence have a privileged place” among the forms of penance. …

… The conference of bishops may substitute for abstinence from meat abstinence from some other food. This adaptation is more meaningful in countries where the people rarely eat meat.

The USCCB states:

Fridays Throughout the Year—In memory of Christ’s suffering and death, the Church prescribes * making each Friday throughout the year a penitential day. (Committee on Pastoral Practices National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics)*
Seems to me, it is binding upon all Catholics that we must do some act of penance on all Fridays unless a solmenity falls upon a Friday, and abstaining from meat is *recommended *by the USCCB, although other works of corpeal or spiritual mercy can be substituted.

May the Lord be with you

Are the words of Christ spoken in St. Mark good enough or do you need more?
:love:

[quote=JCPhoenix]Thanks for your responses, everyone. I forgot to bring my Baltimore Catechism in to work today (as I had planned).

In speaking with a friend last night, I realized my friend’s concern from childhood has not only to do with poor catechesis, but his lack of understanding of mortal/venial sin. He did discuss intent, but apparently he had been told that one would go to hell for eating meat on a Friday.

I think I remember being told similar things, however when I look back, I feel it was really just to make a point that grave sin earns one a place in hell rather than Heaven.

This is not his only objection to the faith, but I’m beginning to understand that he is confused by some very poor teaching from the time he was young, and he is having difficulty sorting out the real teachings from his impressions and what he remembers.

Please, anyone, if you have more to say, keep the comments coming…I have a feeling this isnt’ the last time any of us will run into this issue.
[/quote]

[quote=thirsty4uolord]May the Lord be with you

Are the words of Christ spoken in St. Mark good enough or do you need more?
:love:
[/quote]

I appreciate the words of Christ, however, my friend’s question has nothing to do with the words of Christ but his misunderstanding of a historical event and our designation of mortal/venial sins and what happend to the people he believes were unjustly condemned to Hell by church officials. (or some such misunderstanding).

I’m still trying to figure out what he was really getting at and how to best answer him and get to the bottom of it. The problem lies in whatever misinformation he was given at the time.

Answers are never really as easy as they might seem on the surface, are they? We all have our questions, and reservations, and sometimes they are so hard to put aside!

I hope I can get through his “wall” with all the info you wonderful people have so kindly posted in spite of my incoherent post!

God Bless!

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.