The Gravity of Penance: Follow-Up II

by Jimmy Akin

in Liturgical Year, Moral Theology

Another reader writes:

So that we, the readers and commentators on this topic, "Meat On Lenten Fridays: A Mortal Sin?" all are all ‘on the same channel,’ would you please define ‘mortal sin’?

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him. Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: "Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent" [CCC 1855, 1857].

According to Paenitemini, the substantial observance of the Church’s days of penance is grave matter. This means that if one fails in this regard with adequate knowledge and consent, a mortal sin is committed.

The reader continues:

Once, at a CCD teacher’s meeting, I flew through the ceiling when one of the Catholic teacher-participants said she thought the Eucharist was only ‘symbolic’. My explosion amounted to a hill of beans. Her calm retort was, "Why does everything have to be so technical?"

Somewhat in sympathy with her I must ask, where does all this legalistic niggling regarding rules go?

According to John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges :

[T]he writings of the New Testament enable us to understand even better the importance of discipline and make us see better how it is more closely connected with the saving character of the evangelical message itself.

This being so, it appears sufficiently clear that the Code is in no way intended as a substitute for faith, grace, charisms, and especially charity in the life of the Church and of the faithful. On the contrary, its purpose is rather to create such an order in the ecclesial society that, while assigning the primacy to love, grace and charisms, it at the same time renders their organic development easier in the life of both the ecclesial society and the individual persons who belong to it [here, but you’ll need to scroll down].

What the pontiff says regarding the Code is true of the Church’s laws in general. They are not a replacement for faith, grace, and the charisms of the Spirit, but are intended to create an order in the society of the Church that facilitates the development of these.

If you don’t like the way the law is presently written, that is your prerogative. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have a problem myself if the Church decided to change the grave matter of the law in question. But I’m simply trying to represent the Church’s law accurately.

The reader continues:

I drew the line at symbolism vs. Real Presence.  (My mistake was to think this lady had actually thought things though. She hadn’t and she is forgiven.) Are you ‘drawing the line’ at a sausage topping or animal fat in the four-cheese pizza dough?

No. Please read the blog relevant entries on this subject. Cheese and animal fat are do not violate the law of abstinence. Whether the amount of meat on a sausage pizza would violate the substance of the observance might be a debatable matter. (However, there are limits. A "meat-lover’s pizza" certainly would.)

The reader continues:

Are you asserting that ‘deliberately violating the law of abstinence is…’ on a par with the grave matter of the denial of God, blasphemy, adultery, fornication abortion, murder, rape, child sex abuse, calumny, drunkenness, devil worship, infanticde, suicide etc.?

Depends on what you mean by "on a par." If you mean "Is it also grave matter?" then yes, that is what the Church’s law provides. If you mean "Is it as grave as the other matters you name?" then no, clearly that is not the case.

The reader continues:

For example, are the Catholic attendees at our Benedictine run Catholic high school who blithely chow down on the pork chop sandwiches proffered by the booster club on Friday night football games really consigning themselves to hell?

Are not these the same sheep that are being led by the shepherds, i.e., the priests who head their parishes?

I’m afraid that I don’t understand your remark regarding sheep, so I can’t respond to it. I can only tell you what the law says.

If someone knowingly and deliberately fails to observe the substance of the Church’s penitential requirements by violating the law of abstinence then, since the law itself states that this is grave matter, the person will commit a mortal sin.

However, if people are "blithely" chowing down on pork chop sandwiches on Fridays during Lent (which is when the law of abstinence binds in the United States) then their blithe-ness may be evidence that they may not be aware of the law or its gravity and so may lack the necessary knowledge to commit a mortal sin in this matter.

If your Benedictine-run Catholic high school has such poorly catechized Catholic attendees at the sports games it sponsors that they don’t know the law in question, that would seem to be the fault of the shepherds who head their parishes.

If people don’t know what the law says, don’t blame the messenger who finally tells you. Blame the ones who should have told you in the first place and didn’t.

Hope this helps!

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רישום דומיין July 5, 2007 at 1:06 am

Nothing seems important. I’ve just been sitting around waiting for something to happen. What can I say? It’s not important. I guess it doesn’t bother me. My life’s been basically dull.
רישום דומיין
[url=” “]בנית אתרים[/url]

Kim March 10, 2008 at 10:04 am

So what if you are aware that eating meat on Fridays during Lent is a grave sin but you just forget. You forget it’s Friday or forget it’s Lent…is it still a mortal sin? You’re not deliberately eating meat on a Friday during Lent because you don’t care. It seems that it would not hold to being a mortal sin.

Tony Pelletier March 21, 2008 at 4:08 pm

I don’t think it’d be a mortal sin. Remember the three conditions for a mortal sin: For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent” [CCC 1855, 1857].
In the case you bring, the person has not *full* knowledge of the gravity of the sin (and, furthermore, consequently, cannot give her/his deliberate consent to a known sin against grave matter).
Like I read once, in one of Father Thomas Santa’s books (Understanding Scrupulosity): “You cannot (mortally) sin by accident.”
Hope this helps.

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