“Ask a Priest: Is it a mortal sin if I break any of the Ten Comandments?”

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Q: Does the Catholic Church still believe all of the Ten Commandments are mortal sins if broken? For example, missing Mass on Sunday and holy days — mortal sin, as is murder? -J.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: The Church never taught that every violation of a Commandment is a mortal sin. Every sin we commit violates one or another of the commandments to some degree. Yet, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not deadly” (1 John 5:17).

For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must be met. It has to involve grave matter, full consent of the will, and sufficient knowledge of the sinful character of the sin (see Catechism, Nos. 1857 and 1859).

To guide us in the spiritual life the Church sets down certain precepts, or rules. The Catechism in No. 2041 explains that the binding character of these precepts “is meant to guarantee to the faithful the very necessary minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth in love of God and neighbor.” One of those precepts calls us to attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation (such as Jan. 1). In the Mass we encounter a wealth of graces, including listening to the word of God in Scripture and the worthy reception of Communion.

The gravity of missing Mass is indicated in Church law (canon law). No. 1247 states, “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are obliged to participate in the Mass.” No. 1248, paragraph 2, adds, “If because of lack of a sacred minister or for other grave cause participation in the celebration of the Eucharist is impossible, it is specially recommended that the faithful take part in the liturgy of the word if it is celebrated in the parish church or in another sacred place ….” If “grave cause” is needed to excuse one from the obligation, then it would be a serious or mortal sin to willfully miss Mass on a Sunday or holy day of obligation.

Why is attending Mass considered so important to the practice of our faith? The Mass “makes present the one sacrifice of Christ the Savior” (Catechism, No. 1330). Jesus celebrated the first Mass at the Last Supper, when he transformed (the technical term is transubstantiated) the elements of bread and wine into his Body and Blood and offered himself to this heavenly Father for our redemption. The Mass represents the highest sacrifice of thanksgiving that can be made to God; thus our participation in it is most fitting.

Or think of the Mass like this. God created us out of love, sustains us in existence at every moment, and even sent his only Son to suffer and die for our redemption. How much more could God do for us? Which leads to a question: What will we do in return? Is it too much that God asks us to spend an hour at Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation? (For further reading, check out the U.S. bishops’ conference website. Or see Understanding the Mass: 100 Questions, 100 Answers, by Mike Aquilina. Or check out the videos here.)

There are particular cases where a person would be excused from attending Mass (illness, severe weather, working to support a family, or caring for a child or sick person). In remote areas where Mass is not readily available the obligation might be eased. People who have ongoing reasons for missing Sunday Mass should speak with their pastor.

True, skipping Mass is not on the same level as committing murder. The gravity of mortal sin can vary. But that should bring little comfort to anyone whose eternal salvation is at risk. Certainly the Church wants all of us to make it to heaven. To that end I pray that you take full advantage of the Mass as a way to give thanks to our loving God.

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