Jesus on the cross; Gravity of sin



Q. What was the meaning of Christ's words from the cross when he said, "Father, why have you forsaken me?" (Leicester, United Kingdom)

A. Both Matthew and Mark indicate in their Gospel accounts that among the last words of Jesus on the cross were the following: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Some readers might find this puzzling and ask, "How can God abandon God?" Actually, though, Jesus was uttering the first words of a familiar psalm, Psalm 22.

That psalm/prayer, as it develops, is really a testament to the enduring love and support of the Lord.

Though it addresses God with the anguished plea, "Do not stay far from me, for trouble is near, and there is no one to help," the psalm goes on to proclaim the confident assurance of divine support:

"For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out."

And the last line of the psalm lauds God's triumphal reign: "The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought."

Q. I am a retired Catholic school principal and the product of 18 years of Catholic school education. It troubles me greatly that the church routinely "assigns" sins to people. Missing Mass on Sunday is one example.

Catholic teaching says that the subject matter of a mortal sin must be gravely immoral, the individual must agree that the action is gravely immoral and the individual must choose the action with full freedom while agreeing that it is gravely immoral.

In my experience, any number of people may not agree that attending Mass on Sunday is a grave matter. In these cases, they cannot be assigned a mortal sin. (Ballston Lake, New York)

A. The church has spoken clearly on the obligation of a Catholic to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, "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).

I agree with you that gravity of matter is just one of the three necessary conditions for a mortal sin -- the others being complete consent of the will and full knowledge of the sinful character of the act or omission.

Where I disagree with you, though, is your apparent belief that an individual can ignore the church's teaching and simply decide for himself what is a sin and what isn't.

A Catholic has to be guided by the church, and the church has already spoken on the gravity of missing Mass.

Perhaps No. 1859 of the catechism is relevant here: "Mortal sin requires full knowledge and complete consent. It presupposes knowledge of the sinful character of the act, of its opposition to God's law. It also implies a consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice. Feigned ignorance and hardness of heart do not diminish, but rather increase, the voluntary character of a sin."

I shudder to think what would happen if your worry about "assigning sins" were applied to such matters as fidelity in marriage. Certain circumstances, of course, can excuse one from attendance at Mass on a particular Sunday.

The current pandemic is a notable example, and the catechism mentions illness and the care of infants, but others might be unavoidable work obligations, lack of transportation or inclement weather sufficient to put one's safety at risk.

- - -

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoy[email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.