What if I have deliberately skipped Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation? What should I do?
October 25, 2020, 12:00 PM
If you deliberately miss Mass on a day when the Church requires you to attend, simply repent of this sin, trust in the mercy of God, and make plans to go to confession before you again receive Jesus in the Eucharist. (You should still go to Mass on the next Sunday or holy day, even if you have not yet gone to confession and so are not properly disposed to receive). Never lose hope. God is always ready to receive us if we simply turn back to Him.
Whenever we have, objectively-speaking, committed a mortal sin, it is helpful to remember the words of St. Augustine: “Two criminals were crucified with Christ. One was saved; do not despair. One was not; do not presume.”
“Do not despair.” Jesus wants to commune with us here on earth and in heaven – so much so that He actually laid down His very life to give us this wondrous gift. Remember the story of the Prodigal Son (see Lk 14:11- 32)? One of the morals of this parable is that mortal sin is not God rejecting us, but our rejecting Him. Yet, just like the son in the parable, when we turn back to God, we will find our forgiving Father running out to meet us.
While we absolutely should not despair, we should also not presume on God’s mercy, either. It is easy for us to forget that sinning against a loving God is a serious issue. In recent decades, some in the Church have overemphasized God’s love and mercy to the exclusion of His justice. It seems that many people today think sin – especially the sin of skipping Mass – is no big deal. As Pope Benedict points out, we are “surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin… [but, the] loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God’s love,” which was revealed to us fully in Christ’s death for our sins.
God, who created and redeemed us, deserves our love, and His laws demand our adherence. It is crucial to remember that there can be eternal consequences for our actions if we do not repent them. (Remember – Jesus did not die for nothing; our souls were at stake.) If we die in a state of mortal sin, having rejected God’s laws and refusing to repent, we will be excluded from communion with Him in eternity – by our own choosing.
The sacrament of reconciliation is the ordinary and sure way to fix things when we commit a serious sin. Why? Because God set it up that way. In John 20:20-23, Jesus gave to His apostles, the Church’s first bishops, the authority to forgive sins. Some might say, “why not just go straight to God to repent?” We cannot adequately judge our own souls or our spiritual state before God. We cannot be certain whether we had full knowledge or freedom when we committed a particular sin, both of which are necessary for an objectively “grave” sin to be a subjectively mortal sin. (We may not even know whether the sin involved objectively grave matter.) Also, we cannot judge whether we have repented with perfect contrition (i.e., repentance solely out of our love for God), which is necessary for the restoration of sanctifying grace apart from the sacrament of reconciliation. Even St. Paul said that he did not judge himself (see 1 Cor 4:3). When we encounter Jesus in the confession, though, and hear the words of absolution spoken by His priest – “I absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – we do not have to wonder about the state of our souls. We have been made clean; we have been restored to God’s grace and reconciled with His Church (see CCC 1496). Find the happy middle road between guilt and trust, fear and confidence. Make sure you take your sins seriously, but make sure that you also take seriously the mercy of God and your dignity as His son or daughter which no sin, however grace, can take away.