Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [available
ST: Summa Theologica
Must a priest
follow certain criteria if he is to refuse Holy Communion to the
can flow from a visit to a Catholic cemetery?
Is anything more to
be gained by hearing two or more Masses at the same time, rather
than just one?
If intention is necessary for the validity of
the sacraments, how can we ever be sure that the sacraments we
receive are valid?
in confession, should a Catholic mention that he is a member of a
third order, or that he has made the total consecration to Our Lady?
II, did the Church accept Protestant baptisms?
true that a heretic, who does not believe in the Real Presence, can
have the intention of doing what the Church does, and celebrate a
I cannot easily get to a traditional church, could you change the
requirements for gaining indulgences, so that I can gain them?
Must a priest
follow certain criteria if he is to refuse Holy Communion to the
A priest does not
have the right to refuse Holy Communion arbitrarily. He must
follow the requirements of Canon Law, which prescribes to whom he
must refuse Holy Communion, and to whom he must administer it.
This law is to be found in Canon 855, §1:
Catholics who are
publicly known to be unworthy (for example, those who have been
excommunicated or interdicted or who are manifestly of ill
repute) must be refused Holy Communion until their repentance
and amendment have been established, and satisfaction has been
made for the public scandal which they have given.
The essential part
of this law is that a Catholic must be a public sinner, or
publicly unworthy, to be refused the sacrament of Holy Communion.
This is the case, for example, of a person who has publicly
performed abortions, or voted for legislation in favor of
abortion; or of a father who would have had his children baptized
and raised in an heretical sect; or giving membership to the
Communist party, or public concubinage; or of persons divorced and
remarried outside the Church or convicted of civil crimes such as
However, the Church
is very clear that Holy Communion cannot be refused to a person
who is not a public sinner, that is if his sin is not sufficiently
well known in the community at the present time. For to refuse
Holy Communion to a person who is not known to many people as one
who publicly breaks the commandments of God would be to defame his
good name and destroy his reputation, which a person has a right
to in justice, even if he is a hidden sinner. It is only by public
sin that he loses this right, for he has lost his reputation.
However, if such a hidden sinner were to ask the priest in private
to receive Holy Communion, or whether or not he can go to Holy
Communion, the priest would be obliged to forbid him to go to Holy
Communion, and this even though he could not refuse him Holy
Communion if he were to request it publicly at the communion rail.
This is explained in the second half of Canon 855: “Occult
sinners, who secretly ask for Holy Communion, shall be refused by
the minister if he knows that they have not amended; if, however,
they seek Communion publicly and the priest cannot pass them by
without scandal, he shall not refuse them.” It is truly sad
for a priest to be obliged to administer a sacrilegious Communion,
but if he cannot convince them privately to abstain from going to
Holy Communion, then he must do so.
The question can
sometimes arise, not of hidden or occult sins, but of public
attitudes that persons might take against the Church, but which
are not public sins. There are some people who lack respect for
their priests, refuse to follow their advice and counsel, who
cause dissension in a parish by gossip and similar means. In
general, they are not to be considered as public sinners or
publicly unworthy, unless they openly promote teachings that are
opposed to Catholic Faith and morality, or unless they incite
other parishioners to direct disobedience and disrespect towards
their pastors. On occasion, sedevacantists and Feeneyites have
fallen into this category.
Also, when parents
obstinately refuse their very grave duty of educating their
children in the Catholic Faith, as required by canon 1113, and
instead educate them in a non-Catholic religion, they must be
refused Holy Communion. Canon 2319 (1917 Code of Canon Law)
stated that they are to be treated as excommunicated, and
consequently refused the sacraments.
What benefits can flow from a visit to a
It must first be recalled that a Catholic
cemetery is a holy place, being consecrated ground, especially
blessed by the Church to receive the bodies, temples of the Holy
Ghost, that will rise up to meet Our Lord, the Supreme Judge, on
the last day. It is for this reason that it was always considered
obligatory for the bodies of faithful Catholics to be buried in
Catholic cemeteries (canon 1205,§1 of the 1917 Code).
A visit to a cemetery is consequently an act of
religion, as is the special care of the cemetery and of the tombs
of those who are buried there. It inspires a Catholic with
reverence, awe for God’s judgments, respect for the souls of those
whose bodies are buried there, with an awareness of the brevity of
this earthly life, and of the union of the Church militant with
the Church suffering in the mystical body of Christ. Special
graces are consequently attached to silent and prayerful visits to
cemeteries. It can easily be understood why Church law prescribes
that each parish have its own cemetery (canon 1208), and why it is
the traditional custom for it to be physically adjoining the
However, if Catholics love to visit cemeteries,
it is especially out of a motive of charity. We long to assist the
suffering souls in purgatory by our prayers, sacrifices, and
Masses, given that we are united as members of the same mystical
body. A physical visit to a cemetery is a great help in inciting
us to this duty of charity. It is for this reason that the Church
has generously enriched with her indulgences visits to cemeteries.
During the eight days from November 1-8, any of the faithful can,
simply by visiting a cemetery and praying for the poor souls,
obtain a plenary indulgence, applicable to the poor souls in
purgatory, under the usual conditions. At other times of the year
this is a partial indulgence. The gaining of a plenary indulgence
does not mean that one soul is freed from Purgatory, but that the
power of the Church’s suffrages is added to the personal prayers
and applied to the poor souls, by manner of intercession. How
could we refuse to take advantage of the unlocking of the Church’s
treasury, which simply depends on our visits and prayers.
Let us consequently be generous and regular
with our visits to Catholic cemeteries, and let us never pass one
by without stopping to recite a short prayer for the poor souls
there, or at least reciting such a prayer as we go by. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Is anything more to be gained by hearing
two or more Masses at the same time, rather than just one?
The multiplication of Masses is of great
benefit to the Church and to souls, for each one is a true,
propitiatory sacrifice, an unbloody reactualization of the
sacrifice of the Cross. Consequently, there can be no doubt that a
soul has much to gain spiritually by assisting at different Masses
successively, even though he can receive Holy Communion at only
one of those Masses, since each sacrifice will contribute to the
purification of his soul and growth in the love of the Cross, by
union with the divine Victim.
However, it often happens in large churches or
monasteries that several priests will offer the holy sacrifice of
the Mass on different altars at the same time. The question of
whether or not anything can be gained by assisting at more than
one Mass at the same time depends upon whether or not it is really
possible to do this. For the assistance of Mass, as for example,
when satisfying one’s Sunday obligation, the Church does not just
require physical presence. It also requires the intention of
worshipping God by assisting at the Mass, and at least some
attention as to what is going on. This attention is not just
external, by the fact of not doing anything else at the same time.
There must also be some internal attention, by thinking of the
essential elements of the Mass. However, it is in no way necessary
to think of everything, which is why involuntary distractions do
not destroy one’s attention to the Mass.
Now, it is manifestly possible for a person to
have the intention of assisting at more than one Mass at the same
time. It is also possible to have the necessary attention, for the
attention to one Mass does not exclude the attention to what is
going on at another altar, at least in the general lines.
Consequently, a person who has the intention of assisting at two
Masses and who pays attention to two Masses at the same time,
truly does assist at two Masses, provided that he assists in this
manner at all the essential parts of each Mass, or at least the
moments of Consecration and Communion. It must be remembered that
a person cannot combine different parts of different Masses
together to make up the assistance at one Mass, for this is a
condemned, laxist proposition (Dz. 1203).
Consequently, a person who had promised to
assist at two Masses, would truly fulfill his promise by assisting
at two Masses being celebrated simultaneously. However, it seems
to me that he would not receive as much grace as if he assisted at
two Masses successively, on account of the weakness and
limitations of our human nature, on account of which we would be
better disposed to receiving graces by assisting at two Masses
successively, given the additional time for reflection that this
The other question that could be raised in this
regard is whether a person could satisfy the penance of hearing
two Masses, received in the confessional, by assisting at two
Masses at the same time. Since it is possible to assist at two
Masses at the same time, this would seem possible. However, it
will depend upon the mind and intention of the confessor who
imposed the penance. If the confessor intended to impose two
successive Masses, and made this clear, then the penitent would
commit a serious sin by omitting this additional circumstance of
the succession of the Masses, thus making his penance much
lighter. However, if the confessor did not make it clear, then the
penance could be interpreted in the same way as other
ecclesiastical laws, and in a narrow sense. (canons 18 & 19;
Code of Canon Law). Since all admit that it is perfectly
possible to satisfy two obligations at the same time, for example
that of one’s penance of assisting at Mass by the same Mass that
is the Mass at which one satisfies one’s Sunday obligation, or
one’s family Rosary can also be one’s sacramental penance, then it
follows that a person could satisfy the penance of assisting at
two Masses, by assisting at both at the same time. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
If intention is necessary for the
validity of the sacraments, how can we ever be sure that the sacraments we
receive are valid?
There can be no doubt as to the necessity of the correct
intention for the valid reception of the sacraments. This is explicitly declared
by the Catechism of the Council of Trent, when it states that the
ministers of the Sacraments:
...validly perform and confer
the Sacraments, provided they make use of the matter and form always observed
in the Catholic Church according to the institution of Christ, and provided
they intend to do what the Church does in their administration (p. 155).
The Baltimore Catechism explains what the
expression "intending to do what the Church does" really means, namely:
the intention of doing what
Christ intended when He instituted the Sacrament and what the Church intends
when it administers the Sacrament.
As a consequence, it follows that
if a priest has a positive intention against what the Church does, namely of
specifically not intending what Christ intends and what the Church intends, then
one of the three elements necessary for the validity of the Mass is absent, and
the Mass is invalid.
This is effectively stated by Pope Alexander VIII when he
condemned the contrary proposition as Jansenist, namely that baptism is valid
when administered by a minister who resolves within his heart not to intend what
the Church does (Dz, 1318).
Since none of us can read the innermost intentions of a
minister’s heart how, then, does any one of us know whether or not the
sacraments we have received were valid. In effect, Saint Robert Bellarmine
points out that we can never have a certitude of Faith concerning the reception
of a true sacrament, since no-one can see the intention of another. However, in
truth we can never have such a certitude concerning human events. The greatest
certitude that we can have is a moral certitude, which is also the certitude
that we can have about any contingent, singular reality.
However, it is perfectly possible to have a moral
certitude. In the traditional rites of the sacraments and of Mass the guarantee
of this moral certitude is contained in the rites themselves. For the
traditional rites for Mass and the sacraments express the intentions of the
Church in a very explicit manner, leaving no room for doubt whatsoever. The same
is not the case for the new rites, framed explicitly to be ambiguous, and to be
just as compatible with a Protestant intention as with a Catholic one. Since
they do not express the intention of doing what the Church does, the intention
of the priest cannot be explicitly known. Consequently there is always a doubt
as to the intention of the priest in the celebration of the New Mass and
sacraments, which does not in any way exist in the traditional rite. The only
way to have moral certitude of valid sacraments is to assist at the traditional
rite of Mass. Although theoretically it would be possible for a priest to
celebrate sacrilegiously in the traditional rite by having a positive counter
intention, it is hardly likely, given that the correct intention is repeated
several times, which is not the case in the new rite. To the contrary, it is
very likely that a Novus Ordo priest celebrate invalidly through lack of
intention, since the full and correct intention is not included in the texts of
the New Mass.
Note that the Faith is not required for an adequate
intention, and that heretics can confer the sacraments validly, provided that
they have the intention of doing what the Church does, even though they might
not know what that is. This was clear from the third century, when Pope St.
Stephen I condemned St. Cyprian’s contention that the baptism of the heretical Novatians had to be repeated. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
When in confession, should a Catholic mention that he
is a member of a third order, or that he has made the total consecration to Our
When we confess our sins we are bound to mention the
nature of the sin, nor are we bound to go into any other further details.
However, frequently circumstances are involved that increase the gravity of the
sin. Such circumstances must be mentioned if they seriously affect the morality
of a mortal sin; e.g., stealing from a church, speaking badly against a
priest, or sinning against the sixth commandment with a person who is
consecrated to God.
Circumstances that modify the morality of a venial sin, or
that do not greatly worsen the gravity of the sin, do not have to be mentioned.
However, in confessing our venial sins, it is always helpful to confess any
additional circumstances, that make the sin more culpable. It helps us to humble
ourselves, and to know the wretchedness of our selfish wills. Consequently, we
should mention such circumstances e.g., that it was a child that I
mocked, or that it was my wife that I was verbally abusive towards. In this
category also fall extra spiritual obligations that I have taken upon myself,
and that make more clear to the confessor my refusal to respond to God’s graces.
In this way, it is desirable to mention that I am a third order member or that I
have made the total consecration to Jesus through Mary. This humble avowal will
help our confessions to be more profitable for our soul, and help us to take
seriously the obligations that we have bound ourselves to. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Before Vatican II, did the Church
accept Protestant baptisms?
Already in the 3rd century, the Church defined that the
fact that it is a heretic who administers the sacrament of baptism does not make
it invalid (Dz, 110). The baptisms of Protestants are consequently to be
considered valid, unless a reasonable and prudent doubt occurs as to a defect of
the required matter, form or intention (cf. Roman Ritual, Titulus II,
Caput 3, §11 & 12). If there is certitude about the validity of the Protestant
baptism, then there is no need to repeat the administration of the sacrament.
The ceremonies are to be supplied, the convert makes a general confession, a
profession of Faith and abjuration of heresy, and the excommunication incurred
However, the usual situation is
that it is practically impossible to prove the validity of the Protestant
baptism. Since the investigation is very difficult to do and the validity of the
Protestant baptism practically impossible to establish, the custom before
Vatican II was to baptize conditionally practically every convert being received
into the Church. This is still the practice of traditional priests, who are
aware of their obligation to guarantee with certainty the validity of the
sacrament. This does not mean that the validity of Protestant baptisms is
denied, but simply that they do not have the certitude. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Is it true that a heretic, who
does not believe in the Real Presence, can have the intention of doing what the
Church does, and celebrate a valid Mass?
It is certainly true, as St. Thomas Aquinas explains, that
faith is not required of necessity in the minister for the sacraments he
administers to be valid (ST, IIIa, Q. 64, a. 9). In the same way that
a heretic can validly administer the sacrament of baptism (e.g., a Protestant),
and even the fact that he does not believe in original sin does not invalidate
this sacrament, so also can a heretic celebrate a valid Mass. He does not have
to intend what the Church intends, but only what the Church does, which latter
is possible even when he has a gross misunderstanding of what the Church really
However, this being the case, the
existence of heresy can certainly place a shadow of doubt over the intention of
the minister giving a sacrament. Before Vatican II it was always the practice to
baptize under condition any adult converts from Protestantism. There were
several reasons to doubt to some degree Protestant baptisms, one of which is a
defective intention of the minister. If the minister had an explicitly contrary
intention, namely if he had explicitly formulated the intention of not doing
what the Catholic Church has always done, then the sacrament would be invalid.
It is not the fact that he does not believe in original sin that could make the
sacrament of baptism invalid, but the fact that his explicit intention is just
to give an outward sign, and not to administer a sacrament that removes original
sin and infuses sanctifying grace.
The same can be the case with the New Mass, and this even
if the priest still believes in the Real Presence. He could have a contrary
intention to that of the Church. This would be the case if his intention
explicitly refuses offering a true sacrifice, the unbloody renewal of Calvary,
and explicitly considers that it is to be only a meal and a commemoration of the
Last Supper. Such an intention would be directly contrary to the intention of
doing what the Church does. We do not know how often this happens, but it is
very reasonable to believe that it is a common occurrence. Consequently, there
are probably many celebrations of the New Mass, by priests who are convinced of
modernist theories, that are invalid.
This is one reason that we cannot
have anything to do with the New Mass. However, the more universal reason is
that it is insulting and injurious to Almighty God and to Our Lord Jesus Christ,
even if it happens to be valid.
[Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Since I cannot easily get to a
traditional church, could you change the requirements for gaining indulgences,
so that I can gain them?
The commutation to
other good works for the gaining of Indulgences is authorized by canon 935 of
the 1917 Code of Canon Law, but only to confessors. It is consequently
only the priest who hears your confession who can authorize indulgences to be
attached to other good works that you can do (e.g., kissing a crucifix),
in the place of others that you cannot do (e.g., visiting a church).
Consequently, I could only grant you that favor if I were to hear your
However, Pope Paul VI made
changes in the rules for gaining indulgences in 1968. These enable you to gain
partial indulgences as many times a day as you will it. Any little sacrifice
that you make can have indulgences attached to it, and is automatically
indulgenced, if you have the intention of gaining indulgences, and if you pray
for the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff. Consequently, it is important to
have the intention of gaining as many indulgences as you can through the day,
both by your prayers, and also by bearing willingly and joyfully the hardships
and sacrifices that you make. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
What is the infamous canon 844
of the 1983 Code of Canon Law?
This is the canon of the 1983
Code of Canon Law which authorizes sacramental sharing with heretics and
schismatics. It is the practical application of the new ecclesiology of Vatican
II, particularly the decree On Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio) and of
the new definition of the Church as the People of God, that is without clear
boundaries. The pope explains this in the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae
disciplinae leges which precedes the 1983 Code of Canon Law. It
follows from the fact that the Church does not have clear boundaries, that there
are varying degrees of communion with it. Consequently, this canon speaks of
giving the sacraments to those who do not have full communion with the Catholic
Church, as if it were possible for there to be an intermediary state. This is in
direct opposition to the traditional teaching, according to which one is either
in communion with the pope and the Catholic Church, or one is not at all in
This canon explains under
what circumstances it is to be considered "licit" to receive the
sacraments of Penance, the Blessed Eucharist and Extreme Unction from
non-Catholic ministers, and under what circumstances it is to be considered
"licit" for Catholic priests to administer these same sacraments "to
other Christians who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church."
This is of course a sacrilegious betrayal of the unity of the one, true Church,
outside of which there is no salvation. This is particularly the case for
Penance, for sacramental absolution cannot traditionally be given to any person
who refuses to embrace the Catholic Faith by becoming a member of the Catholic
Church, and for the Blessed Eucharist, which symbolizes the very unity of the
mystical body of Christ which these heretics and schismatics deny.
Of course, there are no
circumstances when this can be done, for the heretic or schismatic must first
convert to the Catholic Church before receiving Confession and Communion. It is
precisely this that the 1983 Code of Canon Law denies, saying that the
sacraments can be given in any case..:
...any time that that necessity
demands it or true spiritual utility suggests it, and provided that the danger
of error or indifferentism be avoided.
Of course we know that necessity
or utility can never justify such a betrayal of the unity of the Church, and
that in such a case the danger of error or indifferentism could never be
avoided. [Answered by Fr. Peter R.
Has this canon
844 always been the policy of the Catholic Church?
This canon 844 is a total and
radical departure from Catholic law, and even from the Catholic Faith.
According to the Church’s
traditional law, any of the faithful who receive the sacraments from, and thus
participate in the ceremonies of, non-Catholics, would automatically be suspect
of heresy. (cf. canon 2316 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which
gives the penalty for the communicatio in sacris with non-Catholics which
is forbidden by canon 1258 of the same Code.)
The corresponding canon from
the traditional 1917 Code of Canon Law which governs the priests’
administration of sacraments to non-Catholics is canon 731 §2, which states:
It is forbidden to
administer the sacraments of the Church to heretics or schismatics, even
though they err in good faith and ask for them, unless they have first
renounced their errors and been reconciled with the Church.
A more direct contradiction with
Catholic Faith and law could barely be imagined, and yet it is to this extent
that ecumenism led Pope John Paul II in 1983, and ever since. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Is a marriage valid if a
couple agrees beforehand to limit the number of children by artificial birth
control or natural family planning?
The Church’s teaching is
summarized in canon 1013 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which states that "the
primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children".
The intention of having children, provided that this is possible, is
consequently essential to the very substance of the matrimonial contract, which
is for "acts which are in themselves capable of engendering
children". Cf. canon 1081 (1917 Code).
The importance of children as
the primary end of marriage was against stressed by the Holy Office under Pope
To the question: "Whether the views of certain recent
writers can be admitted, who either deny that the primary end of marriage is the
procreation and education of children, or teach that the secondary ends are not
necessarily subordinate to the primary end, but are equally principal and
independent" the reply was: "In the negative" (Quoted in Bouscaren
& Ellis, Canon Law, p. 400).
Yet the 1983 Code of Canon Law embraces this concept condemned less than 40 years earlier by not only
placing the two ends of marriage on an equal and independent level, but even
listing first the secondary end (i.e. mutual support, or the good of the
spouses): "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman
establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its
nature ordered towards the good of the spouses and the procreation and education
of offspring" (canon 1055, §1, 1983 Code).
It is ultimately this new
concept of marriage, as being for the couple themselves, and not so much for
children, which has resulted in the refusal of Catholics since Vatican II to
have large families. Artificial birth control, which is the destruction of
Catholic families, is no longer condemned as a mortal sin, for marriage is now
considered in a selfish way, as being for the couple itself, rather than an
outpouring of love desiring to participate in God’s work of creation and
sanctification of His children. The so-called practice of Natural Family
Planning, propagated in the post-Conciliar church as a "catholic"
method of contraception, derives also from the same contraceptive mentality.
Since marriage is considered primarily for the couple itself, they consider
themselves free to determine the number of children and their spacing. This can
be a mortal sin if NFP is employed without sufficient reason, as approved by the
Church (e.g. serious eugenic, social or medical reasons, such as danger to the
life of the mother through additional children). Whether it be through
artificial or natural means that the first purpose of marriage is frustrated,
such couples who are not willing to accept all the children God sends them do
indeed fail to live up to their marriage vows.
However, this does not mean
the marriage vows with the condition of limiting children by artificial
contraception or natural family planning are invalid. The exclusion of children
is certainly a grounds for a declaration of nullity, but only when there is an
explicit, provable and positive act of the will to avoid all children, for this
is an intention contrary to the substance of marriage itself. The difficulty in
such cases is to determine whether it is the obligation of having children which
is refused, or whether it is simply the fulfillment of this obligation. (Cf.
Bouscaren, Canon Law Digest, I, pp. 532, 533). Those couples who accept
the obligation of having children are certainly validly married, even if they do
not always fulfill this obligation, e.g. by limiting the number of their
children. This is the case of those selfish couples who are determined to limit
the size of their family from the beginning of their marriage. They are truly
married, although their marriage is not pleasing to God, and they will never be
able to communicate to their children generosity, the spirit of sacrifice, the
love of the Cross, of souls and the Church.
Moreover, even if a couple
deliberately excludes all children, the Church always presumes that it is the
fulfillment of the duty that is excluded, and not the obligation of having
children itself, and that consequently the marriage is valid. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Would a person with Celiac
disease be protected by transubstantiation from being harmed by gluten in the
The argument that the accidental
qualities of bread cannot harm the intestine of one who suffers from Celiac
disease (due to non-tolerance of gluten in wheat bread) is false. It is of
course true that the substance of the bread does not remain after the
consecration of the sacred species. However, all the accidents remain, which
include not just the exterior appearance, but everything that is subject to the
senses and that science can investigate, including the chemical composition. The
chemical effects of the gluten on the intestinal wall will consequently still
remain, just as much as the appearance and texture of bread, for they are just
as accidental to the real nature of what is there as the appearance and texture.
Here lies the miracle and the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist. It would be a
miracle if the accidental qualities of gluten were not to harm the intestine.
Although such miracles can happen, we cannot depend upon such an extraordinary
intervention of Almighty God. Consequently, a person who suffers from Celiac
disease needs to ask the priest to give him or her a very small portion of the
host. It is never allowed to manufacture the host out of rice or a non-wheaten
material that does not contain gluten. Such hosts are not valid matter for the
Holy Eucharist. [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
Is a Catholic in mortal sin if he allows more than one year to
pass since his last confession?
It is one of the six precepts of the Church, and
explicitly stated in canon 906 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law: "All
Catholics of either sex who have reached the years of discretion, that is the
age of reason, are obliged to confess all their sins accurately at least once a
year." Since this is a clear obligation in a serious matter,
established by the Church for the salvation of souls, it is clear that it is
under pain of mortal sin, and if a person deliberately omits to confess his or
her sins, he commits an additional mortal sin.
However, there is a change in the wording of the
corresponding canon in the 1983 Code. Instead of all sins, it now says "serious
sins" (canon 989).This leaves some ambiguity, but it must be understood
as meaning "mortal sins" to use the precise term employed by the
traditional Code of Canon Law. This seems to take away all obligation to confess
sins if one thinks that one has no "serious" or mortal sins on one’s
soul. This is the common practice in the post-Conciliar Church, in which many
practicing Catholics go for many years without seeing the need to go to
Confession. It is a great tragedy, for their conscience becomes extremely lax.
Who are they to judge of themselves that they have not committed any mortal sin?
It is hard to understand how one who is familiar with the traditional teachings
of the Church could be excused from the sin of presumption.
However, it must be admitted that "strictly speaking,
only those are obliged by this precept who have committed a moral sin" (Jone,
§395, p.279). This is confirmed by Woywood and Smith’s Practical
Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (pp. 512, 513). It is there pointed out
that the obligation of confessing one’s mortal sins is of divine law, coming
from Our Lord Himself. The time for the confession of sins was specified by the
Fourth Lateran Council (1215), but the Council of Trent interpreted this as
applying only to those sins that have to be confessed by divine law. The 1917
Code of Canon Law states explicitly (canon 902) that the confession of
venial sins is optional, and one canon cannot contradict another. Hence it was
never strictly obligatory under pain of mortal sin for a Catholic who was sure
that he had no mortal sin to go to confession every year.
However, putting aside this
technical and unreal exception, (for who can really pretend to be free of mortal
sin when he is so lax as to go to confession only once a year?), it remains that
the spirit of the Church is that which is contained in the letter of canon 906
from the traditional code, and not that contained in the new code, namely that
every Catholic should consider it his duty to go to confession at least once per
In fact, it is not just once a
year, but frequently that we should confess our venial sins if we hope not only
to stay in the state of grace, but also to advance in virtue. This is what Pope
Pius XII had to say on this subject in 1943:
It is true that venial sins may be expiated in many ways
which are to be highly commended. But to ensure more rapid progress day by day
in the path of virtue, We will that the pious practice of frequent confession,
which was introduced into the Church by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,
should be earnestly advocated (Mystici Corporis Christi, §88).
Condemning the younger priests who "lessen esteem for
frequent confession," the pope described some of the many advantages to the
soul of the regular confession of our venial sins.
By it genuine self-knowledge is increased, Christian
humility grows, bad habits are corrected, spiritual neglect and tepidity are
resisted, the conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary
self-control is attained, and grace is increased in virtue of the sacrament
Is it any wonder that the Church requires that we go to
confession eight days before or after gaining a plenary indulgence? [Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
I have a
relative in her early 30’s, who has not been baptized. I was taught
that anyone can baptize, if no priest is available.
It is certainly true that a lay person is capable of baptizing validly. However,
it is only licit for a lay person to baptize when the unbaptized person is in
immediate danger of death and when a priest is not available. Furthermore a lay
person can only give the matter and form necessary for the validity of the
sacrament. He cannot administer the other ceremonies, which can only be
separated from the sacramental form in the case of danger of death.
In addition, an adult can only be baptized if he believes and embraces all the
articles of the Catholic Faith, if he has studied and learned his catechism, if
he is sorry for his sins, and has requested to be received into the Catholic
Church. Only a priest can judge if these conditions are fulfilled. If they are
not, the baptism could very well not be fruitful, and not give grace.
A case in which a lay person could baptize would be when an unbaptized person is
on his death bed, and there is no time to call a priest, and he makes acts of
Faith, Hope, Charity and contrition with the dying person, who states that he
believes all that the Catholic Church teaches, is sorry for his sins and wants
to become a Catholic. However, every effort must be made to find a good
traditional priest to judge the dispositions of the catechumen.
[Answered by Fr. Peter R. Scott]
of mine was raised a Catholic, fell away from the Church, and married a
non-Catholic person outside the Church. She has now divorced him. Is he
free to remarry?
You are perfectly correct in stating that a Catholic is obliged to the canonical
form of marriage, and that this is, according to ecclesiastical law, under pain
of invalidity of the marriage. Before Vatican II the marriage of a Catholic by a
justice of the peace or by a protestant minister was always invalid. The couple
was not married in the eyes of God until such time as the marriage was
regularized before a Catholic priest.
There are, however, two shamefully liberal exceptions which are permitted by the
1983 Code of Canon Law, and in which cases the marriage would presumably
be valid. One case is where the Catholic party formally apostasizes. In the New
Code, he is no longer obliged to the canonical form to enter into a valid
marriage, as if once a Catholic he is not always obliged to be a Catholic. The
other shameful exception is the dispensation from canonical form, which the
parish priest can now give, that a person might be married in the church of the
non-Catholic party. Such a marriage is valid, but it is founded on
indifferentism, and the children suffer, for they have no chance of being raised
Catholic in such a case.
Presuming that the marriage was never regularized, and that neither of these two
cases applies, your friend’s marriage was invalid.
However, these are quite a few presumptions to make. Consequently a person is
not allowed to judge in his own case, and he must seek a decision from an
ecclesiastical tribunal, which will consider all the circumstances, and if it
truly is the case that the marriage is invalid, will grant an annulment for lack
of canonical form.
[Answered by Fr.
Peter R. Scott]