Need help with questions on catholic beliefs


#1

I just need some help with some catholic beliefs. I am struggling with these teachings and don’t know how to get clarity.

Mortal sin, just doesn’t make sense to me. How can one be held responsible for what one doesn’t know? For example, so many young people cohabitate and use contraception. They do not know it is wrong according to God’s laws. Are they in mortal sin? How could they be if they don’t know? I was reading a thread here about divorce/remarriage for Protestants. The whole thing is just so confusing. How could they be responsible for something they never were taught? It just doesn’t make sense. Are all the young people who cohabitate going to hell? Why would God do that to them if they are in this culture that has taught them it is ok?

And that could be true of any sin really. Most people have no idea what is right/wrong according to God’s laws. Homosexuality is another. People really think that they are doing the right thing by supporting homosexuals who have been denied basic civil rights. How do we know for sure that they aren’t born that way? Or that they are just damaged in some way so they are not responsible for choosing to be homosexual and living that lifestyle?

Missing mass on Sunday, how could that be a mortal sin if you miss mass on a trip out of town only 1-2 times a year? I just can’t see how God would send you to hell for that when most of the time you are there.

If someone is doing something sinful but doesn’t know it is a sin, they won’t be culpable. So that means that no one is ever really going to be judged badly by God. Our priest said we can never know if anyone is in hell. So maybe no one is.

Also what is up with some catholics thinking that it doesn’t matter if you are catholic and others thinking everyone else but catholics is not saved? Which is true?

How do we know what is true? I’m not really looking for answers to these specific questions as I can probably quote the “rote” answers.

I just could use some advice or guidance on what to do when all these doubts come into my head.


#2

There are three conditions for mortal sin: that the act is grave matter, done with full knowledge and deliberate consent. “Mortal sin…presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God’s law” (CCC 1859).

In practice there are a couple factors at play here. One can be vincibly (ie. culpably) ignorant, meaning that he does not know that a given act is sinful but ought to know, and he is responsible for not knowing.

I don’t think that to have knowledge of an act, one must a). know that it is a sin qua against God, ie. to know that God exists and disapproves of the act and b). agree that it is wrong. Those are rather strong conditions for an act to be mortally sinful, and indeed they would exclude any non-Christian from mortally sinning; one simply would have to believe strongly enough that what one is doing is not sinful.

However, whether a person contraceiving or cohabiting is guilty of mortal sin is not something that we can say in the concrete case, since we do not know the person’s subjective disposition (and thereby we do not know their subjective culpability). This is why the Church has saints, ie. those pronounced definitively to be in heaven, but the Church does not rule that a particular person has gone to hell. We simply don’t know. We know that contraceiving and cohabiting are objectively sinful, ie. they are grave matter, and it is better that those taking part in them be admonished, but in the particular case, we cannot judge* that someone has mortally sinned.

There are natural truths that human beings should know whether they are Christian or not. Someone could not defend his committing of murder by saying that he was not taught the Fifth Commandment. In the cases of contraceiving and cohabiting, the subjective culpability is grayer. What about someone who was raised in a public school system and was told that contraception is moral? Or a child who watches his parents pirate movies, and goes on to do it himself? These are instances of scandal which damage someone’s moral sense while they are still developing it. We shouldn’t assume that we know how culpable they are. (This is not to say that someone is not at all culpable in these cases.)

*The disconnect between Christian and secular understanding of the word “judge” is at work here. We should not judge, ie. presume to make a determination based on someone’s subjective culpability. But we absolutely should speak up when someone is committing an objectively sinful act. Whether they are mortally culpable for the act or not, the objectively sinful act should not be performed.

A clarification: This question does not turn on the totally different question of whether homosexuals are “born that way” or that they are “damaged” (by society, perhaps). To me it seems pretty obvious that same-sex attraction arises from genetic and environmental factors. And that basically means that those with same-sex attraction did not choose it. (To acquire certain desires through environmental factors early in your life is not to choose to have those desires.) The question of whether same-sex attraction is “chosen” is a total red herring.

But to have desires is not necessarily to license one to exercise those desires. An alcoholic wants to drink, but he still ought not to drink. (And this is not to compare those with same-sex attraction with alcoholics, just to prove the claim that to have a desire is not to have a license to exercise that desire.) The exercise of a desire is quite independent, morally speaking, of the possession of the desire. (That is obvious from the fact that if it is moral for those with same-sex attraction to practice homosexuality, then it is also moral for those without same-sex attraction to practice homosexuality. Desire is irrelevant. Unless someone wants to claim that someone without the desire is not permitted to act on it, while someone with the desire is. But I doubt anyone will make that argument.) If the exercise of the desire is morally wrong (which is what the issue actually is), then it should not be exercised.

Living out the desire would be acceptable only if one were truly compelled to do so, ie. if we did not have the free will to do otherwise. But that is not the case.


#3

There are a lot of different cases in which this is not necessarily mortal (even assuming that one knows that missing Mass is a mortal sin). There are Saturday vigil Masses, for example. Most people who travel are going somewhere where there is a Mass, so another alternative would be attending elsewhere. In those cases, one is still able to maintain one’s commitment.

If neither of those are options, then one can speak to one’s pastor about the particular case, and possibly get a dispensation. For example, if you have to travel to Antarctica for your job, and there is no Mass in Antarctica, you will probably be released from the commitment–because it is a commitment you cannot fulfill (and possibility is a necessary condition of obligation).

If you’re going on a vacation and you’ve chosen somewhere that will prevent you from spending the one hour of your week that our Lord demands of you, however, then you are probably culpable. There is no necessity here; you could have planned a vacation in such a way that you would not have to miss Mass, but you knowingly and voluntarily chose not to.

I remember a discussion about whether or not hell could be empty. Maybe. It strikes me as extremely unlikely, however (and obviously nothing we could rely on!). Regardless of the borderline cases where people may or may not be invincibly ignorant of God’s law, I have mortally sinned before, with full knowledge that I was sinning against God’s law, for example. So it does happen.

I don’t know if my answers will help you. Perhaps you knew them already. They are the standard answers of the Church (or at least I believe I have properly represented them, and if I haven’t, someone should correct me). I think they form a pretty coherent system. Perhaps you disagree.


#4

Thank you, this does help some. Especially about the cohabitation. Well all of it really. My mind gets rather confused sometimes as I feel I am surrounded by relativism, plus have a mix of protestant and catholic theology in my head. I don’t know that I feel I could tell someone else what is sinful though. I have tried that with my daughter about cohabitation and it backfired. I see situations at my parish that confuse me (divorce/remarried going to communion, even non-catholics going to communion, people who dislike the bishop and say things–I just find it very confusing). It makes me feel like an idiot for taking it all so seriously and I think that is part of the protestant theology that just says “use your common sense” instead of the catholic following rules.

I still don’t know about the Sunday mass though. If you were going to to a family wedding with people you only see once a year and Saturday night is the wedding and then Sunday morning you get together for breakfast before all heading out of town to go home, is that a mortal sin? Of course you could have gotten up much earlier, searched out a mass and possibly missed seeing family before you left, but you didn’t because you were too worn out and really needed sleep before heading home.


#5

God bless you. All great questions, but really, don’t you think that priests ever get tired? I’m sure there are times when they are ill, were out late at a wedding reception, or with friends, family, and would rather sleep in.
But they have an obligation. Just like you do when you’d rather hit the snooze button than be on time to work. But you make yourself do it, yes? Jesus hung on the cross for all of us. It’s not a big sacrifice when you really think about it. He asks so little of us. To meet Him at the table. As the famous ad says…just do it.
To say “I’d rather sleep or be with other people instead of You, Lord” is a grave matter.
That’s why parishes offer such a variety of Mass times. So people can have every opportunity to attend Mass.
Peace!


#6

Ok, thinking more about the Sunday mass missing as mortal sin, I still just don’t understand this. I can’t get past thinking that if you try every day (and of course don’t always do it well) to honor God, but a family wedding that only happens once or twice a year and is the only time you see your relatives, prevents you attending mass, how that would send you to hell.

A part of me just thinks God would understand that you need to be there for your family and that is a matter of showing love to them at that time and that you could pray wherever you are. But the catholic rule says you “have” to be there come hell or high water. At least that is how I read it and I just can’t make sense of it as the commandment says to “keep holy” the Lord’s day and not “go to mass” which of course is what the catholic would do. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out and it makes me really doubt the whole catholic faith because it seems so legalistic and I can’t believe that is how God meant it. I also have a voice in my head that I must have heard somewhere that says that the catholic church came up with the “mass every Sunday or go to hell” rule so that the pews would be filled. I don’t know how to counter that.


#7

No problem.

A lot of things are messy these days. Catholics do have reasons for what they believe; one doesn’t have to be able to prove that the Catholic Church’s teachings are correct in order to hold them on the authority of the Church. But one option is studying up the reasons for them so that you know how to respond to the relativist tendencies of our culture. That’s not easy, of course.

Good luck. I’ll pray for you.

I don’t know if I can say about specific cases. If something like this comes up, I would say speak to your priest. I personally would probably try to find an early Mass that Sunday morning, in that case. If your family is Catholic (even if the person getting married is not), I would hope they do something to accommodate. However it might be a sacrifice. Non-Catholic or lax Catholic family members might be peeved that you went to Mass rather than say goodbye.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’[c]


#8

it’s not “either-or”

it’s both-and.
Go to the wedding Have a great time supporting your loved ones.
But don’t neglect the Lord and think that it doesn’t matter.
These things are there because every person alive could “justify” the breaking commandments in some way or another. Prisons are full of innocent people, right?
We’re good at deluding ourselves.
Like if your husband said…Oh, I was out all night with a woman from work…I hardly get time to visit with her…but you know I love YOU right?
Would you be ok with that?
These are not arbitrary rules. They are there so that you can THRIVE as a child of God.
It’s not about punishment. It’s about staying close to Our Lord and placing Him first in your life. Every part of your life.


#9

Hmmm, well at home I would make myself get up and go to mass. Or in my case, go to work, which is the equivalent of what the priest would be doing. But out of town, strange city, how to hook up your pc to find a church, then try to figure out where it is and how to get there, assuming there was even one close by that still allowed you to say goodbye to your relatives who you haven’t seen all year and who you won’t see until next year.

I don’t see it as “I’d rather sleep than be with you”, I see it as such a hassle to figure out how to do, not even considering your spouse who you have to convince to help you figure it all out and that he has to get up early with you too, assuming you find a church and a mass. I just find it kind of overwhelming when you are in a strange city. If you had time to plan ahead you could, but sometimes it is such a whirlwind getting out of town, catching your flights which of course are delayed due to weather, missing connections, husband forgot to pack shirts so you are rushing trying to find a store, grandkids show up and you need to meet with them too in addition to all your relatives and guests from around the country. It’s all such a rush to get to the wedding and then you get home very late, and your husband is taking pain pills because he is in such pain from standing in hard shoes all night, and then to get up to make an early mass, say 7 a
m, and also know you will have to do the long drive home because he is drugged up… I don’t know.


#10

Well, I understand you have a lot of “extenuating circumstances” in this example.
But I look at it this way…
I am healthy. I have a car. I have internet access. I have GPS.
There are people with no transportation that walk to church.
There are people who are ill who ask for rides to church.
There are people who have to actually call for Mass times.
There are people who are directionally challenged.
And they make it.
And there are those who have dying relatives, missing children, and unemployed husbands who need my prayers. I go. Nothing hinders me, unless I’m extremely contagious. God knows our hearts.
I don’t want Jesus to look at me on the last day and have to ask me why I couldn’t be bothered to go. Mortal sin or not. I just couldn’t face Him. All of us rely on the mercy of God, all of us.
Peace.


#11

I wouldn’t think too much about hypothetical situations where it might be difficult to get to mass.
Usually it will not be so hard to find a mass you can attend.

And if you ever do get into a situatuon where attending or not attending mass really puts you into a (moral) dilemma (might affect your health due to lack of sleep; might prevent you from family obligations) then ask your pastor about that specific situation beforehand if possible. But don’t worry about it now, it might never even come up. :slight_smile:

Kathrin


#12

We send ourselves to hell…choose hell by our grave sin.

Sunday Mass can be easy to get to quite often. And such sets an example - is a witness to others that one would seek it out.

There is the Saturday Vigil Mass…and even in some places Sunday Mass in the evening.

One can also just call ones Pastor up and get a dispensation.


#13

Maybe it would help if someone can point me to some reading about WHY the Catholic church decided that “keeping holy the Lord’s day” turned into a requirement to go to mass every Sunday even when it poses a real hardship, under penalty of mortal sin. Anyone?


#14

Read this. Mass attendance is a privilege.

catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0111.html

Peace.


#15

Pope Benedict XVI vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html#The_eucharistic_form_of_the_christian_life (keep reading)

From SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS

And St. Pope John Paul II vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_05071998_dies-domini_en.html


#16

“95. At the beginning of the fourth century, Christian worship was still forbidden by the imperial authorities. Some Christians in North Africa, who felt bound to celebrate the Lord’s Day, defied the prohibition. They were martyred after declaring that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord: sine dominico non possumus. (252) May these martyrs of Abitinae, in union with all those saints and beati who made the Eucharist the centre of their lives, intercede for us and teach us to be faithful to our encounter with the risen Christ. We too cannot live without partaking of the sacrament of our salvation; we too desire to be iuxta dominicam viventes, to reflect in our lives what we celebrate on the Lord’s Day. That day is the day of our definitive deliverance. Is it surprising, then, that we should wish to live every day in that newness of life which Christ has brought us in the mystery of the Eucharist?”

–Pope Benedict XVI

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html

““Sine dominico non possumus!”* Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lord’s day, we cannot live: That was the answer given in the year 304 by Christians from Abitene in present-day Tunisia, when they were caught celebrating the forbidden Sunday Eucharist and brought before the judge. They were asked why they were celebrating the Christian Sunday Eucharist, even though they knew it was a capital offence. “Sine dominico non possumus”: in the word dominicum/dominico two meanings are inextricably intertwined, and we must once more learn to recognize their unity. First of all there is the gift of the Lord – this gift is the Lord himself: the Risen one, whom the Christians simply need to have close and accessible to them, if they are to be themselves. Yet this accessibility is not merely something spiritual, inward and subjective: the encounter with the Lord is inscribed in time on a specific day.”

–Pope Benedict XVI Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna Sunday, 9 September 2007


#17

The Church doesn’t teach what you propose above. If we have a real hardship we either have no obligation or we can ask for a dispenation from our pastor,

You have not presented a real hardship in your scenario, merely a preference. If you did have a real hardship in a situation where you were traveling, again you would either have no obligation or could be dispensed from Mass with a simple phone call.

My 85 year old mother in law was in the hospital last Sunday morning having serious surgery. That we a real hardship. Her husband and my husband (who were with her) still attended Mass and then returned to the hospital.


#18

Thank you; this is very helpful!


#19

Your welcome. Do not miss this :slight_smile:

“95. At the beginning of the fourth century, Christian worship was still forbidden by the imperial authorities. Some Christians in North Africa, who felt bound to celebrate the Lord’s Day, defied the prohibition. They were martyred after declaring that it was not possible for them to live without the Eucharist, the food of the Lord: sine dominico non possumus. (252) May these martyrs of Abitinae, in union with all those saints and beati who made the Eucharist the centre of their lives, intercede for us and teach us to be faithful to our encounter with the risen Christ. We too cannot live without partaking of the sacrament of our salvation; we too desire to be iuxta dominicam viventes, to reflect in our lives what we celebrate on the Lord’s Day. That day is the day of our definitive deliverance. Is it surprising, then, that we should wish to live every day in that newness of life which Christ has brought us in the mystery of the Eucharist?”

–Pope Benedict XVI

vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_ben-xvi_exh_20070222_sacramentum-caritatis_en.html

““Sine dominico non possumus!”* Without the gift of the Lord, without the Lord’s day, we cannot live: That was the answer given in the year 304 by Christians from Abitene in present-day Tunisia, when they were caught celebrating the forbidden Sunday Eucharist and brought before the judge. They were asked why they were celebrating the Christian Sunday Eucharist, even though they knew it was a capital offence. “Sine dominico non possumus”: in the word dominicum/dominico two meanings are inextricably intertwined, and we must once more learn to recognize their unity. First of all there is the gift of the Lord – this gift is the Lord himself: the Risen one, whom the Christians simply need to have close and accessible to them, if they are to be themselves. Yet this accessibility is not merely something spiritual, inward and subjective: the encounter with the Lord is inscribed in time on a specific day.”

–Pope Benedict XVI Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna Sunday, 9 September


#20

There is a wonderful website run by the Bishops called masstimes.org. All you have to do is enter a city name or zip code and Voila! All the churches are plotted on a map for you, along with mass times. I use it constantly when I’m traveling. Takes out all the hassle. Go on Google maps, give your hotel address and the Church address and it will plot your path for you. The Internet can be wonderful!


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