Every Advent, when we are preparing to have our seasonal Penance Service and listen to the confessions of numerous people, certain questions always come up about different sins and the seriousness of some of the sins that are mentioned to the priest. Among the more difficult are the questions surrounding our observance of the laws regarding Sunday and Holy Days of Obligation. Usually they’re addressed in this way: “Father, I haven’t attended Mass for several Sundays, and I want to know if I committed serious sin that should keep me from receiving Holy Communion until I confess it.” Also, “Father, is it a serious sin to do work on Sundays that can be done on other days?” My response is often based on finding out the reasons for not attending Mass; this says whether it was a serious sin or even a sin at all. On these issues, let’s look at the teaching of the Catholic Church as found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Here are some specific teachings of the Church in those areas quoted from that source:
“The celebration of Sunday observes the moral commandment inscribed by nature in the human heart to render to God an outward, visible, public and regular worship ‘as a sign of His universal beneficence to all’.”#2176 “The Sunday celebration of the Lord’s Day and His Eucharist is at the heart of the Church’s life. Sunday is the day on which the paschal mystery is celebrated in light of the apostolic tradition and is to be observed as the foremost holy day of obligation in the universal Church.” #2177 “Participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and being faithful to Christ and to His Church. The faithful give witness by this to their communion in faith and charity. They testify to God’s holiness and their hope of salvation.” #2182
“The precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord very precisely: On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass.” #2180 “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, emergencies) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.” #2181
“On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life and health.” #2185
Then, there’s the question of serious sin. “Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us –charity, necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart, which is normally accomplished within the setting of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” #1856 “Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin.” #1859 “Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself. It results in the loss of charity and the privation of sanctifying grace, that is, of the state of grace. If it is not redeemed by repentance and God’s forgiveness, it causes exclusion from Christ’s kingdom and the eternal death of hell, for our freedom has the power to make choices forever, with no turning back.” #1861
During this Advent season, as we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ into our lives, we can prepare our hearts as a suitable place for Him to dwell. A salutary way is through a thorough cleansing in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Our annual Advent Penance Service (with Confession opportunities for all) will be held in our church on Wednesday evening, December 21st at 7:00 P.M. Several priests of the area will join Father Danis and myself to be available to hear Confessions and to help make you feel more worthy to receive the Christ Child in Holy Communion. If you have not been going to Mass through your own fault, or if you have in some way seriously offended God directly or through His people, then this can be an excellent opportunity to be reconciled with the Lord and to receive the Eucharist worthily. Though I know good people everywhere are trying to prepare for Christmas in a most sincere way through the reception of the Sacrament of Penance in order to receive Holy Communion worthily, there are others who are not yet “focused” on their faith and the serious moral questions of their life. Maybe this article will be helpful to them. Perhaps you can share it with others and do your part in promoting a spiritual work of mercy. I hope you have a happy Advent and an even happier Christmas!