Apologetics for the Masses - Issue #133
As a number of you noticed, there was a typo in the web address I gave in my last newsletter for that article on the Mass from a formerly “devout” Catholic. A “/” was left out. Here is the correct link if you would like to read that article and think about how you would respond to it:
I’ll be in Washington, D.C. next week in my official capacity as the Pro-Life Director for the Diocese of Birmingham, so no newsletter then, but I should be back with one the following week.
This newsletter is going to be a couple more questions and answers. The first one on eating meat on Friday and mortal sin; and the second one on receiving communion in a non-Catholic faith community.
Q: Can the pope or the Catholic Church change, eliminate, or discontinue mortal sins – such as missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation – as they did with the mortal sin of not eating meat on Fridays and eliminating some of the holy days of obligation?
A: The short answer is, “No.” Something either is a mortal sin or it isn’t a mortal sin and neither the Pope nor the Church can change that. In order to commit a mortal sin, three conditions have to be met: 1) Full awareness of the intellect; 2) Full consent of the will; and 3) grave matter. These conditions cannot be changed. However, there is something that you have misunderstood that we need to clear up.
The Church once required, as a discipline not a doctrine, that its children not eat meat on Fridays. The Church has since changed this discipline to require that we make some sacrifice on Fridays – even Fridays outside of Lent – in remembrance of our Lord’s sacrifice for us on that Friday afternoon on Calvary so long ago.
This sacrifice could be abstaining from meat, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be abstaining from some other food that you really like, fasting, offering additional alms, going out of your way to do something for someone who really annoys you – in other words, offering a sacrificial act of kindness and love. So, we are still called by the Church to offer a sacrifice on Fridays, but now the Church leaves the particular form of the sacrifice up to us.
The question is, then, does the fact that the Church has allowed the form of our Friday sacrifice to change, mean that the Church has somehow changed a mortal sin? Absolutely not. You need to understand that even during the days when the Church required its children to abstain from meat on Fridays, the act of eating meat on Friday was not, in and of itself, a mortal sin. Eating meat on Friday does not, in and of itself, constitute grave matter. It is not a serious sin.
However, to knowingly disobey the authority of the Church is another matter entirely. If one was fully aware of what the Church taught regarding abstaining from meat on Friday, yet they went ahead and ate meat on Friday knowing full well that they were in defiance of Church teaching, then that could indeed constitute a mortal sin. 1) They ate meat on Friday with full awareness of their intellect that it was Friday, that they were eating meat, and that the Church required abstinence from meat on that day. 2) They ate the meat of their own free will, no one forced them to do it. 3) Willful disobedience to Church authority constitutes grave matter. So, all the requirements for a mortal sin would have been there.
I once heard someone say that the Church no longer requiring abstinence from meat on all Fridays must have really upset all the people who were in Hell for having committed the mortal sin of eating meat on Friday. That statement showed a woeful lack of understanding of Church teaching. Again, if anyone is in Hell because they ate meat on Friday, it is not because of the act itself of eating meat, but rather it is because they willfully disobeyed the Church in eating that meat and never repented of their willful disobedience.
So, whether the Church changes a discipline, or does away with a discipline altogether, it is not “changing” a mortal sin. The willful disregard of Church authority in regard to any Church discipline is what would constitute the mortal sin, if a mortal sin was indeed committed.
Q: I am active in many groups/teams that are made up of various faith based beliefs. Activities include faith based programs and services such as KAIROS prison ministry. At some of these a communion service is offered. I have been told that communion by someone other then an ordained priest, from the lineage of Peter, is not communion and there is no problem. It is just a symbol and not a real communion. What is the ruling on taking communion at these services?
A: In some of the various Protestant and Evangelical congregations, their belief regarding communion is very close to what Catholics believe. However, only a priest ordained by a bishop who has authentic apostolic authority can effect the change of bread and wine into the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. Which means that these congregations, even though they believe they are receiving the Real Presence, are not actually doing so. They are receiving a piece of bread and some wine.
In most of the Protestant, Evangelical, and non-denominational congregations, however, not only do they not have a validly ordained priest, but they also do not even believe in the Real Presence. Their communion service is meant to be merely a symbol.
So, either way you look at it, it is essentially correct to say that in the Protestant, Evangelical, non-denominational, and other such communities, communion, or the Lord’s Supper, is merely a symbol. The question is, does that make it okay for Catholics to receive? The answer is: No, it does not.
In the Catholic Church, we believe the reception of Communion is the sign and symbol of union – union between Christ and those who receive Him, and union between all those who receive Christ in this sacrament.
In a marriage, the physical joining of husband and wife is the sign and the symbol of union between the two. If there is no union – no lifelong commitment – then the sign of union should not take place. Which means sex outside of marriage is a lie – you are saying with your bodies that a union exists, that a commitment has been made, when no such union actually exists.
Just so, it is a lie for someone who is not Catholic to receive Communion in the Catholic Church, when there is first no union with the Catholic Church. When you receive Communion in the Catholic Church, you are saying with your body that you are in union with the Church and that you believe as we believe. And not just in regard to the Real Presence, but also in regard to the Pope, to Mary, to the other Sacraments, to the Communion of Saints, the priesthood, salvation, and so on. If there is no union, there should be no Communion.
The same holds when you receive communion in a non-Catholic faith tradition. You are saying, with your body, that you believe as they believe. You are telling everyone present that there is essentially no difference between what they believe about communion and what you, as a Catholic, believe about Communion. You are telling a lie with your body. That is why Catholics should not receive communion, or the Lord’s Supper, outside the bounds of the Catholic Church.
I hope all of you have a great weekend!
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