Missing Sunday Mass and mortal sin

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Q. My sister was upset with her adult daughter and her husband (who is a convert to Catholicism) when they took holy Communion recently after having missed Mass. She told her daughter that they had committed a mortal sin by missing Mass and then, again, by receiving Communion without first going to confession. She had brought up the matter before with her daughter.

My question is this: Is my sister being judgmental and wrong, or would this be considered helpful guidance in getting her daughter and her family back on God's path? Her daughter resents her mother for doing this, and the daughter's husband is angry. My fear is that they will become alienated from the church and stop bringing their kids up Catholic. Can you help me to help my sister? (Sacramento, Calif.)

A. Your sister is right on her theology but, perhaps, wrong on her strategy. Clearly, the church teaches that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass is a serious one. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "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, the care of infants) ... Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin" (No. 2181). 

Gravity of matter, of course, is just one of three conditions necessary for mortal sin — the others being complete consent of the will and full knowledge of the sinful character of the act or omission. Assuming that your niece and her husband fulfilled these conditions, they must have their sins forgiven in the sacrament of penance before receiving the Eucharist. 

But the "strategy question" is how best to encourage that family to fidelity to their faith. Your sister has already brought it to their attention; to continue to berate them about it, I would think, would be counterproductive — and, from what you say, that seems to be the case. Better at this point, it seems to me, for your sister to spend her time not in offering "helpful guidance" to her daughter's family, but praying for them instead. 

Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018