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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Attending Mass When you Can't Receive Communion

An excellent piece by the indomitable Fr. Z.  Check out the original here.
From a reader:
Fr. Z I’m struggling to wrap my head around what the point of going to Mass if we’re not in the state of sanctifying grace.
My understanding is when we fall from grace, any good works we do merit us nothing. Also, it only takes one mortal sin to sever our relationship with God, so committing another one by not fulfilling my Sunday obligation wouldn’t really make a difference in regards of the state of my soul. And finally, I can’t receive communion, so I don’t receive any graces from that.
So in summation, I wouldn’t sever my relationship with God because it already is; I can’t merit any good works or graces from Mass because I’m not in the state of sanctifying grace, and finally, because my relationship with God is severed, he doesn’t care if I’m there or not.
So really, what’s the point of going to Mass when i’m in the state of mortal sin?
The attitude described in your question above, and I assuming you are presenting this as ahypothetical question, is dangerous.  Hypothetical it may be, but I will treat it seriously.
There is an image in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited: the blow upon the bruise.
To commit a mortal sin is bad.  To commit another with the attitude that it doesn’t make any difference now that you have already committed one is dreadful.  It can lead to what we refer to as hardness of heart, the ingrained callousness about sin that ultimately ends in never seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.
Not to attend Mass, intentionally not to fulfill your obligation, is itself a mortal sin.
Purposely multiplying mortal sins with the attitude that it doesn’t make a difference or that it is pointless to do something good and indeed obligatory is foolish and dangerous.
The Lord Himself speaks about blasphemy, sins against the Holy Spirit, which are unpardonable.  This sin against the Holy Spirit can manifest in various ways, including impenitence and despair.
A few more things.
First, our obligation to attend Holy Mass on days of precept is a commandment of the Church rooted in the divine positive law given in the Ten Commandments.  Holy Church says you have to go to Mass because God says we are to give Him His due.  That is a good enough reason to go.
Second, while it is true that, being in the state of mortal sin you would not receive the graces that would come from reception of the Eucharist, there are other actual graces offered to sinners to help them return to the state of grace.  Just because you cannot go to Communion, that doesn’t mean that you cannot receive human formation and edification from the readings, sermons, probity and good example of the congregants, the ars celebrandi of the priest, the beauty of the windows, a waft of incense, etc.  God works in the small things, too, in the spaces between the signs, and in the silences.  It could very well be that something will penetrate which will help to bring about conversion and, thus, help drag the soul back from the ledge looming above the pit of eternal hell.
Third, some people are under the mistaken impression that attendance at Holy Mass automatically implies reception of Holy Communion.  When they go to Mass, they automatically receive whether they ought to or not.  Similarly, people could have the false idea that if they cannot receive Communion, then it is pointless to go to Mass.   It is good for people to receive Communion if they are properly disposed.  However, the Latin Church’s law requires reception of Communion once a year.  At the same time, the laws says that we must attend Mass on every day of precept, which of course includes all Sundays.  Going to Mass does not imply automatic Communion.  We go to Mass for many other reasons as well.
Finally, and I’m serious, spend a little while trying to imagine the first ten seconds of realization experienced by the soul who winds up in hell.
Imagine the shock of realization.  “This can’t be happening to me!”   Imagine the first ten seconds.  Imagine the surprise and panic and anger and fear and the growing understanding that it will never end.
I suggest avoiding the voluntary infliction of your own blow upon the bruise you already inflicted on yourself.  Don’t hurt yourself, at least because of the dread of the loss of heaven if not, at first, the love of God who made you in His image and desires your eternal happiness with Him in heaven.

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