QUAERITUR: Why bother going to Mass in the state of sin? Fr. Z rants with hellfire and brimstone.

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 a hypothetical 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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Philangelus says:

    If you take it out of the spiritual realm, imagine a man who has an affair. His wife finds out, and she’s upset. Their marriage may end.

    If he then says to himself, “Well, the marriage may end and she’s already refusing to have sex with me, so I might as well not take out the trash or help her set the table for dinner,” then the marriage is truly doomed. In our everyday interactions, a little consideration and respect goes very far.

    Sometimes the only thing we can do is show up. I think God can work with that.

    To the person who asked this question: don’t give up on God. Ask God for whatever grace you need in order to restore your relationship with Him, and until God answers your prayer with YES, just keep showing up, just keep taking out the trash and setting the table for dinner, showing up on Sunday and (if it’s the best you can do right now) going through the motions.

  2. LouiseA says:

    The entire question is self-focused. [The question is surely hypothetical.] God is still offended by additional grave sins. Some saint, I do not remember whom, said that if one can prevent a single mortal sin from happening, it was worth all the trials of one’s life. So, even if one is not in the state of grace, realize that you can do something good: you can go to Sunday Mass knowing that by doing so you at least prevented Him that additional sorrow. Our Savior saw all our sins and sorrowed over each of them, especially in the Agony at the Garden and on the Cross. By avoiding a single mortal sin now, or preventing someone else from doing so, know that this action of yours TODAY made a real difference in His sufferings THEN.

  3. Cephas218 says:

    I have met a person who seriously thought along those lines before, and I’m sure it’s a temptation to others, so I appreciate your dealing with it, P. Z. (short for Pater Z?).

    That said, the third paragraph (“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”), inclines me to believe that it is not a simple hypothetical, but that’s just my impression!

    Imagine Christ being beaten by the soldiers. They’ve already hit him and offended the Divinity. Imagine his sad, suffering face look at you full of love. And you want to hit him again??

  4. Speravi says:

    First, if we have offended God, why would we want to offend him more? He did not deserve the first offense, why give him another? Also, the repeated mortal sins would multiply the debt of justice. It is likely that more sins, if we should die unrepentant, would result in a greater torment in hell. It is also reasonable to assume that when returning to the state of grace, assuming hypothetically that all other factors are the same, the one who commits more mortal sins would have more temporal punishment to atone for (even after the debt of eternal punishment has been removed). Finally, Fr. Z is VERY WISE to emphasize actual grace. The graces given in the Mass are very abundant. Especially in the presence of the Sacrifice of Christ, there is VERY good reason (God is good and all powerful) to hope that God would freely give the actual graces which a person did not merit so that they might repent and go to confession. In mortal sin we can’t MERIT grace, but we can still receive actual grace. Also, when we lose charity through mortal sin, provided we don’t sin against faith or hope, we do not lose the virtues of FAITH and HOPE. To intentionally continue in sin is also to expose oneself to the danger of losing these virtues as well. Sin leads to slavery to sin and the passions. This slavery can lead to the temptation to despair of God’s help (that he will give the ability to stop sinning and be converted) or the temptation to despair of God’s mercy (the devil, or we ourselves, lying, begins to tell us that we have commited too many and too great of sins to be forgiven). Going to Mass can be an exercise in faith and hope. Also, slavery to a life which is contrary to a person’s faith can lead to temptations to reject the Faith. I wonder how many college students who lose their faith when the move from home do so on intellectual grounds? It is not more likely that they begin a life of sin and then justify it (and pacify their consciences, thus hardening their hearts) by denying the Faith?

  5. Jesus doesn’t say anything about the Good Samaritan being in a state of grace. Yet somehow, He seems to feel that it’s a good thing for a sinner to stop and do good for someone. Also, Our Lord tells us that such simple acts as offering a cup of water or performing various acts of mercy are richly rewarded, and that a notorious public sinner like the woman who wept on Him is apparently also capable of acts of love and kindness. So obviously, doing good works in a state of sin isn’t chopped liver.

    Also, if the Church is the hospital for sinners, clearly it’s a good idea to spend time there under the care of the Good Physician, even if you’re not able to be fully “treated” in the confessional right away. The Father sent Him to the sick, not the healthy.

  6. Oh, and spiritual communion. And you can work on contrition, too. (And if you got to the point of perfect contrition, Bob’s your uncle.)

  7. nmoerbeek says:

    Even from a mercenary point of view it would be insane to Miss Mass.

    Each sin in hell is punished for all eternity, thus each sin that a person commits is punished for all eternity. Not to mention that God has a set number of sins from each he will tolerate before he punishes either temporally or eternally.

    This previous view point is not an ideal one but just an observation. The ideal would be to Go to Mass as the publican and cry O’Lord have mercy on me a sinner and resolve to amend your ways and go to confession as soon as possible thus you will go home justified.

  8. albizzi says:

    When you are not in state of graces, you are not forbidden to make a spiritual communion during mass. You may even make some other spiritual communions outside the church, at home, in your car that same day.
    How many catholic faithfuls jailed in communist countries who could not take communion FOR YEARS had this unique resource to feed their faith?

  9. “Not to mention that God has a set number of sins from each he will tolerate before he punishes either temporally or eternally.”

    No, no matter how many sins a sinner commits, forgiveness is always given to the repentant who are contrite and ask it, even without confession, should it be the hour of death. There is no “limit” on the sins that can be forgiven: there is no point of no return for eternal punishment.

    And all sins, not only a certain number, can and must be atoned for temporally in this life or in Purgatory.

  10. benedetta says:

    There is a lot to be said for the growth that comes from perseverance, from listening and being open to conversion. There is also a lot to be said for assenting to struggle within the framework that the Church, Christ’s body, the cornerstone and the builder. There is much to be said for respect towards the community of other believers with the priest who offers the sacrifice on our behalf, and the comprehension that they are on the path and pray with us in their solidarity.

    When in mortal sin we should still pray and be open to prayer, to listening to all of the means that the Church communicates the saving and divine mercy of God. We should be open to the action of the whole Church in prayer at the Mass. We should let it change us.

    Most importantly, we should not when in mortal sin despair of the path for our salvation the Church offers through the sacraments.

    Perhaps some parish leaders and pastors will read this and comprehend the need in these times to provide time for confession before the start of Sunday Mass.

  11. michelelyl says:

    I encounter this similar attitude with people I am preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage while they are civilly married…or people who are awaiting a decision on an annulment and are civilly re-married.
    I always tell them that this is a wonderful opportunity to pray in all sincerity for the day when they CAN receive the Body of Christ. Just as I explain to those who want to receive the Eucharist NOW while they are preparing to join the Catholic Church because they just can’t wait…the agony of delayed gratification makes the reception of the Sacraments so much better!

  12. Andy Lucy says:

    I hear this point of view daily at work… I work with prisoners in jail… especially with those charged with murder, or other capital offenses. The attitude is one of, “After the first one, the rest are free. What are they gonna do, execute me twice?” Very fatalistic, and VERY common.

    While the original query may have been hypothetical, the underlying point of view is most assuredly not. It is all too common, even among those who are not facing murder charges.

  13. cjcanniff says:

    While on vacation in Paris this summer, I found an English bookstore. I purchased Brideshead Revisited on the recommendation of Fr. Robert Barron from Word On Fire Catholic Ministries (wordonfire.org). Unfortunately, I have not yet had the chance to read it, but I am certainly looking forward to it.

  14. QMJ says:

    In a previous post Fr. Z said, “No prayer is in vain.” The idea that God is wholly and completely cut off from us when we commit a mortal is sin is horribly wrong and leads precisely to this kind of fatalistic thinking. Whenever I have committed a mortal sin I have been presented with two options: 1) I’ve already lost sanctifying grace so I might was well persist in my sin; or 2) I have no salvation outside Jesus Christ and His Church so I’d better get praying. Option 1 without exception always leads to more misery. Option 2 without exception always leads to healing, grace, and joy. I don’t care what sin I’ve committed; I’ll be at Mass begging His forgiveness, laying my sins at the foot of His cross, and being open to whatever grace He gives me to persevere.


  15. Hypothetical or not, the question is a good one. “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

  16. pfreddys says:

    I think this whole attitude comes about from the misapplication of the concept that the soul can gain no merit while in the state of mortal sin. Certainly, we must be aware that God hears our prayers even when we have the misfortune of falling into serious sin. His Love for us is not dimished, indeed we can say he seeks His lost sheep even more.

  17. Sliwka says:

    I have thought similar at a point or two on my life, but have come to the realisation that even, as Suburbanbanshee alludes, in the state of mortal sin, I can still be nourished by the Mass, the Gospel, and the spiritual communion I ask for.

    I find if I commit a mortal sin, then choose to not go to Mass (usualy out of laziness more than anything else) I fall into the trap of more and more sins. Being actively present at the Mass keeps my sins to a minimum.

  18. Jbuntin says:

    A typical trick of Satan… to try to make us believe there is no hope. Something sinners like myself have to fight daily.

  19. acardnal says:

    I know there are degrees of holiness experienced in heaven based upon the merit of one’s works and level of holiness attained while on earth. I believe it also holds true that the more mortal sins one commits while on earth, and the gravity thereof, that one’s place in hell is also more severe and painful.

  20. Rosevean says:

    This theory excludes the possibility of conversion from outside the church because it suggests that anyone who is not Catholic has no benefit of grace at all, probably being deep in mortal sin – but surely they receive grace as a gift, to lead them to where God wants them to be.

    Describing mortal sin as being “severed” from God is miselading, since He is still reaching for you, it’s you who is failing to take His hand. There’s no angel-guarded cosmic wall here: nothing is “severing” you from His grace except you.

    Grace not *earned* by going to confession, or attending mass – it’s not “brownie points”, it’s a gift freely given – but you have to be willing to accept it.

  21. Ezra says:

    St Alphonsus’ sermon, On The Number of Sins Beyond Which God Pardons No More is worth reading when one gets into this frame of mind.

  22. anilwang says:

    I’d like to add a few things.

    The biggest one is, the attitude that “If God doesn’t give me something, I can ignore him” is extremely troubling. Suppose you had a big fight with your spouse and you know you’re in the wrong but she doesn’t forgive you because the wound is deep?

    Do you say, “Well, she doesn’t love me back after I said I’m sorry, so I guess let’s call it quits” or do you come as close as she feels comfortable, and love her, and care for her, and do things to try to reconcile with her, or just do things for her that would please her expecting nothing in return (since there is no guarantee she will forgive you is the would is so deep)? One shows pettiness, the other shows true devotion.

    In the early church, excommunication was far more common than today, and the penance for reconciliation could involve decades of penances and sitting at the back of the Church, being unable to receive communion. People submitted to that precisely because they had such true devotion.

    WRT communion, although you can’t receive, you can still go up for a blessing. Just cross your hands, close your mouth, and bow your head….any priest worth his salt will know what to do. IMO, going up for at least a blessing is important, not only for the blessing, but also because it brings you closer to our Lord, it prepares you for eventual reconciliation, it reminds you that you cannot receive but you are still welcome and will be welcome when you are reconciled, and it is an “altar call” (a declaration to yourself and the world that you want to be reconciled but are not yet at the place where you feel able) in the truest sense of the word.

  23. The Egyptian says:

    benedetta says:
    Perhaps some parish leaders and pastors will read this and comprehend the need in these times to provide time for confession before the start of Sunday Mass.
    Yes, Yes, Yes. this post is the perfect reason for confession before and if a priest is available during mass as well. Not very helpful to have confession on Friday at 2.15 to 2.30 when one is at work, Pastor says no one shows up, well——- gee whiz, make an appointment? don’t think so, I want confession not a hand holding session, confession in a box with screen please, that is why I go when I can to different parish, with box and anonymity, much easier to be frank and to the point

  24. MikeM says:

    It’s worth considering that repentance, itself, requires Grace. It’s only with God’s help that we even want to turn away from our sins. When our sins are getting the better of us, it’s important to turn to God, not away from Him, so that He can give us the help we need to be truly sorry for what we’ve done, to seek to be reconciled with him and, throughout the process, to avoid further sins.

  25. Supertradmum says:

    The most common problems are irregular marriages. I always encourage those people to keep going to Mass, while working on the marriage impediments. Of course, reception of Communion is out of the question. I wish priests would visit those in these circumstances and ask them to come to Mass, if nothing else, to stay connected to the community and to hear the Word of God. We need more sensitive direction in this area.

    God bless all those in this situation.

  26. Adventist says:

    Similarly, imagine the first ten seconds of the realisation that you shall spend an eternity of blessedness in Heaven with God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, His Holy Spirit, the virgin Mother, the archangels and angels, and every saint who overcame this foolish hopelessness! Due to the total ontological change made unto us by the Incarnation of the Son of God, we are called to an apotheosis far beyond the stars.

    What crudity it is to imagine that we live merely for “this grace” or “that grace”. What grace we receive to be repentant just by going to the Holy Sacrifice itself. What glory we have been called to by Hypostasis Who has glorified we little hylomorphs! Thanks be to God we have the ability to get out of the black pit which leads to more and more sin. Everyone should pray for this person before he plunges into total sorrow.

  27. Mdepie says:

    Bottom line: If one commits a mortal sin, try to make a act of perfect contrition, and then go to confession at the nearest opportunity. While the sermon linked to above of St Alphonsus is a little over the top to modern ears ( Is God really sending 5 year olds to hell?? ) His overall point is very sound… you never know when your time is up, 50% of everyone who dies from heart disease presents with sudden death… you can end up on the wrong end of a drunk driver… and so it goes. Do not presume on the mercy of God.

  28. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Years ago I remember musing along lines similar to this hypothetical. There are a few problems with it in addition to those already well-stated by others. For example, not attending Mass on a day of obligation can also be an occasion of scandal for others. Now there’s yet another sin added to the initial mortal sin and the offense against precept. It’s easier to fall into additional mortal sins at times and locations other than the Holy Mass, so the chances of adding to the burden and entanglement of sin are increased in the one who stays away from Mass. We’re creatures of habit – for good and for ill – it’s worth reinforcing habits that can be beneficial. The attitude of “it doesn’t matter” can end up being a significant step toward the sin of despair.

  29. snoozie says:

    Fr. Thompson,
    There is a very interesting homily given by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri entitled, “On the Number of Sins Beyond Which God Pardons No More”, that suggests the answer may be a little more complicated than you lay out…perhaps a mystical understanding of an irreversably hardness of heart? It can be found here: http://www.catholicapologetics.info/morality/general/number.htm

  30. In the EF (Extraordinary Form) Mass, at Low Mass and High, there is the Confiteor prayer. Also, the priest blesses himself frequently. The Faithful are encouraged to make the sign of the Cross when the priest does this. In a way, blessings are transferred. The Absolutions of the Mass are applied to all the faithful, those who can receive and those who cannot. Merely attending Mass wears down those countless venial sins which pollute the soul. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Start small and build. (Like Fr. Z says: “brick by brick”) Well, actually, chip by chip, working away at the plastering of sin, the hardening of the spiritual arteries. Go to Mass. Go sinful. Get blessed. Hang out with the only Person who CAN save you. You can’t save yourself. You’re a descendant of Adam. Because we have lost knowledge of the teaching on Original Sin, we sometimes think we can muscle our way into heaven. Loss of merit seems to be an obsession of many. But, St. Therese tells us that when we show up on the day of judgment, we will have to appear before Christ with empty hands. “All our justice is stained in your eyes.” So what!! Show up anyway. Hell is being left alone with yourself and your shame for all eternity. Who would you rather be ashamed with? Yourself or Christ? Go to Mass. Period.

  31. Jack Hughes says:


    I think that St Alphonsus is refering to people who would never have repented and/or those who deliberately sin thinking that they can simply go to confession afterwoods, which is if I remember correctly a mortal sin in and of itself.

  32. Mundabor says:

    To the OP, I would suggest to see it in the opposite way:

    Tom and Jerry are twins, and both in mortal sin. Tom says “hey, I’m in mortal sin, so it doesn’t make sense to go to Mass”. Jerry says “I am in mortal sin, so I must go to Mass in order to pray God more fervently that he may give me the grace of getting out of my condition”.

    Who of the two, would you say, has the better chances of dying in the State of Grace?


    P.s. this is why I think that the daily Rosary is so crucially important. You persevere until you die, period.

  33. Phillip says:

    Though I was not Fr. Z’s initial enquirer, I might as well have been.

    I need to go to confession. Badly.

    Wow. Thanks, Father.

  34. albizzi says:

    Though the sermon of St Alphonsus Liguori is very pedagogic, I doubt it has theological roots in the Magisterium’s teachings of the RCC. And indeed it contradicts theTreasure of Indulgences the Church grants to the repenting sinners who are eager to remove the temporal punishments attached to any of our sins if they comply to certain pious conditions listed in the enchiridion.
    These indulgences may be either partial or plenary, but I never heard that their effects may be refused to any sinner beyond a predetermined number of sins.
    In my opinion there is a serious risk that this kind of sermon might lead many weak souls to despair of their own salvation thus putting themselves in great danger of damnation. On the contratry I acknowledge that it might help stronger souls to leave theirsinful detestable habits and vices forever.
    Like Manwithblackhat just recalls: “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Jesus didn’t add “but only those who don’t sin too much.”

  35. Brad says:

    Even when a soul loses her state of sanctifying grace, she still enjoys God’s actual grace, which will lead her to repentance, harrying her as the hound of heaven on the scent. God never rejects his creatures, even lucifer.

  36. jacobi says:

    An excellant response to this question, Father. What you say about people automatically expecting to go to Communion strikes a chord with me. I get the impression in my part of the world, that Mass is increasingly seen as a communion service and attending Communion, and being seen to attend, is the object of the exercise. My guess, and it can only be that, is that a one third non attendance at Communion might be a healthier situation

    I think that Pius X , who called for more frequent Communion must now be turning in his grave at the spectacle of 100% attendance at Communion but virtually zero at Confession.

  37. GordonB says:

    This raises another question, should we, although in a state of grace, not necessarily receive the Eucharist when attending Mass?

  38. Ezra says:

    I suspect St Alphonsus, a Doctor of the Church who authored over a hundred works of theology and spirituality, was fairly well-acquainted with the “theological roots in the Magisterium’s teachings of the RCC”.

  39. albizzi says: “…it contradicts theTreasure of Indulgences the Church grants to the repenting sinners who are eager to remove the temporal punishments attached to …, but I never heard that their effects may be refused to any sinner beyond a predetermined number of sins.”

    Chatechism 1471 (caps are my emphasis) “Indulgences are the remission before God of the temporal punishment of sins WHOSE GUILT HAVE ALREADY BEEN FORGIVEN…” Indulgences are for sins already forgiven, not for the forgiveness of sins.

    @albizzi – You are talking about sin already forgiven… The sermon of St Alphonsus (a Doctor of the Church ;) ) is addressed to unrepentant sinners whose sin has not yet been forgiven or those who propose to willfully sin with the aforeto-agreed midset that they will “repent” afterward.

    The sermon is quite clear… God determines the number, not men. If he gives you the extra day to repent and you DO it, he will forgive you. The point is that when that number runs out, he may call you suddenly or your heart may be hardened to not seek the forgiveness, etc, etc… there will be no recourse, and all the previous sins will be called to account as well.

  40. Cecilianus says:

    Here’s an easy solution: Don’t commit mortal sins to begin with. If you are Christian, you won’t do them. [Advise worthy of a Pelagian!] And if, God forbid, you should fall under that fate worse than death, repent instead of compounding it with another one.

    Sunday Mass attendance isn’t a mortal sin just because some arbitrary man-made law made it so; the Church made it so because if you were truly a Christian you would go to Mass anyway. In the early Church without the legal regimen of rule and obligations (which are really only fitting for children, which is what we are), someone who missed three Sundays in a row would be excommunicated, not because he broke any rule but in simple recognition of the fact that he had ceased to be a Christian anyway.

  41. Laura R. says:

    God bless you Phillip! I hope you make it to confession very soon —

  42. pablo says:

    I found your reply very edifying, Padre.

    The comment:

    St Alphonsus’ sermon, On The Number of Sins Beyond Which God Pardons No More

    is a great recommendation from one of your commenters.

    It can be found in audio at:

    www DOT traditionalcatholicism DOT org

    in the Sermons and Conferences section under the title Our Sins Deserve Eternal Damnation.


  43. gambletrainman says:

    I may be going off the deep end, so someone please correct me if I’m in the wrong. Anyway, look at Judas. He committed the “unpardonable” sin by betraying Our Lord. Added to this was the sin of despair. “I’ve done wrong by betraying innocent blood, so, therefore, there’s no hope for me.” Then, he went and hanged himself. I think if he had wept as Peter did, he would have been forgiven (Peter’s sin was to deny Our Lord, not once, but 3 times) and would be honored today as one of the original 12 Apostles. By the time of the Last Supper, satan already had Judas in his clutches. By the time the “trial” had ended, Judas felt it was too late.

  44. A simple answer to the question asked by the reader:
    Unless you have the desire to no longer sin, you cannot be forgiven the sin you have already committed. One cannot approach the confessional without contrition, which implies the desire to no longer offend God.

  45. muckemdanno says:

    One thing not mentioned above – nobody should judge himself to be, or not to be, in a state of grace beyond any doubt whatsoever. You are not your own judge.

  46. If St. Alphonsus said that God will refuse forgiveness to a repentant sinner just because he had committed some set number of sins, then he is not only wrong, he is in heresy. I would assume that he means that the sinner has stopped repenting and is just using the sacrament as a way to get “permission” to sin again. If he believes that, I don’t need to read the link. If he actually thinks got refuses forgiveness to the contrite, then I don’t want to look upon his shame.

    Only the pope speaking ex cathedra enjoys the charism of infallibility. NOT theologians, even those with the title of Doctor of the Church.

  47. nmoerbeek says:


    Such hostility to a Doctor of the Church? Maybe the Homily is deeper? Maybe it is a reflection on not knowing the day and the hour of hour death.

    It has more to do with the mystery of predestination. You do believe that the grace of Repentance comes from God? Is God under obligation to grant a sinner the grace to repent at the hour of his death?

    “Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wis. 11:21) .

    The point of the sermon that you do not want to read [I’ve had just about enough of this….] is that when the devil commits you to sin to consider that this may be the last sin God tolerates before he takes your life before you can repent of it.

  48. nmoerbeek says:

    By the way Father,
    A pope with infallibility made St Alphonsus a Saint and a pope with infallibility made him a Doctor of the Church. [I am not sure that being a “Doctor of the Church” is the object of infallible teaching.] To suggest that he was in conflict with the Council of Trent and still a Saint is just wrong. [The writings of Fathers and Doctors of the Church are not the equivalent of the defined teachings of the Church. There are, for example, numerous references in Deniziger you can consult wherein documents of the Magisterium people are warned not to confuse St. Augustine’s works in this way. Saints are wrong about all sorts of things and for various reasons. So… relax.]

  49. Ezra says:

    Fr Augustine,

    With all due respect, you might do well to read the sermon before commenting further. It’s evident that you’ve neither understood St Alphonsus’ point, nor those made by other commenters earlier in the thread.

  50. JuliB says:

    I was in the Sacristy before Mass, reviewing the readings. We normally have confession 30 minutes before Mass. A man came up there to find out about confession. Our abrupt priest loudly told him that there was no confession that day. The man replied more softly, and then father whirled around, came back in and LOUDLY and rudely said ‘I don’t know why people come to Mass needing confession’.

    I’m still shocked – this happened about 6 weeks ago. I saw the man crossing the street going to his car a few moments later.

    Will this man return? Good grief. :(

  51. Parasum says:

    “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.”

    That’s an interesting angle; but, does it make sense to talk of time – even if only a few seconds in duration – in a state, place, or condition that is eternal ? Granted, talking about is Hell is complicated by the fact that we do not live in eternity, but in time (though perhaps even that statement needs to be qualified…)

  52. jflare says:

    I suppose I shall play a slight devil’s advocate for a brief moment:
    I understand this question all too well because..I’ve been in that frame of mind before. I’ve had those Sunday mornings in which, for various legitimate reasons, I had been up VERY late the night before, I’m tired, and the last thing I really want to do is drag my tail end off to Mass. Why not? Because I haven’t been able to go to Confession that week; Confession will not be offered prior to Mass; the Mass itself will be in a parish that barely concerns itself with His presence; the music will be mediocre at best, or at worst may speak something darn near open heresy; the homily will bear almost no relationship to a worthwhile point from the readings; or actually, there’ll be a speech similar to a homily offered by a lay member of the parish; and there’s a decent chance there’ll be a liturgical dance somewhere in between. ..And the “community” will arrive within the last few moments before Mass begins, but mostly vanish within 5-10 minutes after the closing.

    In some cases like this, I’ve literally rolled over and gone back to sleep. ‘Course, I’ve thought better of the choice later in the day and attended Mass at a different parish that evening, but you get my point. ..And then there’re those occasions when you can’t find that later-evening Mass….

    Even in a much better situation, I’ve literally dragged myself to Mass mostly because I felt I should at least show up and stare at God from 40 yards when the priest offers the consecration.
    Interesting how even doing that tiny little bit winds up making the rest of my week..bearable.

  53. Parasum says:

    Albizzi said:

    “In my opinion there is a serious risk that this kind of sermon might lead many weak souls to despair of their own salvation thus putting themselves in great danger of damnation…”

    ## This sounds like a very fair judgement on a well-known sermon of St. Leonard of Port Maurice, here: http://olrl.org/snt_docs/fewness.shtml

    “Note well that there is no question here of the human race taken as a whole, nor of all Catholics taken without distinction, but only of Catholic adults, who have free choice and are thus capable of cooperating in the great matter of their salvation. First let us consult the theologians recognized as examining things most carefully and as not exaggerating in their teaching: let us listen to two learned cardinals, Cajetan and Bellarmine. They teach that the greater number of Christian adults are damned, and if I had the time to point out the reasons upon which they base themselves, you would be convinced of it yourselves. But I will limit myself here to quoting Suarez. After consulting all the theologians and making a diligent study of the matter, he wrote, “The most common sentiment which is held is that, among Christians, there are more damned souls than predestined souls.””

    That STM to be very dangerous preaching – not least because of the sort of God it implies :(

  54. Ezeckiel 33 makes it clear that to not warn others of danger, one incurs their guilt. For the Saints, or anyone, to remain silent on an issue regarding eternal salvation would be sin. They don’t paint a picture of a god that doesn’t exist, but of the God that the Scriptures reveal. Christ Himself said that few would be saved. This implies a God that is in charge, not a push-over that many would have Him be.

  55. GordonB says: This raises another question, should we, although in a state of grace, not necessarily receive the Eucharist when attending Mass?

    There are circumstances when, being in the state of grace, we should not receive Holy Communion. If we have broken the pre-Communion fast, for example, that would be a time not to receive Communion. Or if we have already received Communion the maximum number of times in the day that we can receive It (except Viaticum). Otherwise, it seems to me good to take advantage of every opportunity to receive It when we are not impeded, and to make a spiritual Communion when we are.

    Re St. Alphonsus Liguori: the sermon in question is an excerpt from a work that has been published under the title Preparation for Death. It is essentially about the sin of presumption. The whole point of the work is to exhort sinners to avail themselves of God’s mercy without delay, no matter how terrible or how many their sins (cf. also The Glories of Mary), so it is erroneous to attribute to St. Alphonsus a heretical view of God’s mercy. A Doctor of the Church may not be infallible (if memory serves, the Angelic Doctor — like everyone else in his time — was wrong about the moment of ensoulment, and thus did not clearly grasp the yet-to-be-defined dogma of the Immaculate Conception); but I can’t think how anyone could be declared a Doctor of the Church if he was the author of heresies.

  56. puma19 says:

    This whole question raises some serious matters and Fr Z has touched in some way, noting the hell issue which is before us all.
    BUT, have we forgotten the very Gospel teaching?
    The Parable of the Good Samaritan?
    Jesus and Mary Magdalene?
    The Beatitudes?
    And of course the Lord Himself on the Cross, speaking to the dying thief. This day you will
    be with me in paradise.
    I mention these, as a central point and foundation block of our faith is the very forgiveness offered by God to the sinner. God’s love for his crreation.
    Have we ever wondered about the sinners who come to mass, seeking the forgiveness of the Lord? I was once in a famous Catholic chuch in London and sitting near me was a very famous actress who had been married to a very very famous ‘celebrity’. I don’t think many noticed her and yet she has remarried and is still so much in the public eye worldwide. Who can judge her? Who can make any spiritual assumptions on her except the judge of all of us whose mercy is boundless?
    We are all sinners in the eyes of the Lord, we all fall short of the eternal grace of God.
    Should all those pontiffs in history whose lives fell shot so much and were a scandal be forgiven or what? Remembered for the damage they did to the Church?
    We all fall short and so many go to Mass even if in sin to seek the mercy of God and pray for his
    power to cleanse. No one should be refused to enter and pray in Church as they seek the forgiving love of God and that means even at the eucharistic sacrifice of Calvary.

  57. NoraLee9 says:

    My mother, G-d rest her soul, always said that church was a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.

  58. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Fr. Augustine Thompson OP,

    St. Alphonsus does not say in the sermon that God refuses forgiveness to a repentant. In fact, if you confess with a very weak resolve to get oneself out of the situations of future sins (which the not-friendly might very well call “for permission for future sins”) is in itself a valid confession, as also St. Alphonsus implies); although one does need some decision against sin for validity, St. Alphonsus implies that the confession itself is valid, which implies they have it too. Which to my superficial view seems less than you imply here.

    What St. Alphonsus does say is that with these kind of sinners, the hour appointed may come when there will no longer be a confession available for them.

    The thought that comes to my own little mind is that, guessed from purely natural psychology (without any expertise), somebody who upkeeps his religious life, even constantly struggling with mortal sin (which implies: not denying that it is mortal sin), and has not committed the sins usually listed as blasphemies against the Holy Spirit (and many sins together do not of themselves “sum up” to either presumption or obstinacy, though they may make it more likely) will be able to make an act of contrition in articulo mortis.

    As St. Thomas said, every man is able, and indeed obliged under mortal sin, to hope for his salvation; a hope which does not rest on present grace and merit solely but primarily on God’s omnipotence and mercy, and a hope which, even if not together with sanctifying grace, does not lack certainty. Cf. Sth. II/II 18 IV. It’d be better for the mortal sinner to do away with his sin. If he does not for whatever weekness or reason that may be, he is not bound, indeed this is the one thing forbidden if anything is forbidden, to add another sin by despairing.

    Dear @Parasum, as Ludwig Ott said: “Contrary to the rigorist stand, which was taken – in the view of Mt 7,13, cf. Mt 22,14 – by St. Thomas as well (S. th. I 23 VII) and which says that the number of the predestined” – as a whole, not among Christians – “be less than the number of the reprobed, it seems likely in the view of God’s universal will of salvation and Christ’s universal deed of salvation that the Realm of God is not smaller than the realm of Satan.” And Ludwig Ott can certainly not be accused of any tendencies called “liberal” in the American sense.

  59. Imrahil says:

    The Ott quote is: Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma IV § 12 III a.

  60. bookworm says:

    “Sometimes the only thing we can do is show up. I think God can work with that.”

    That’s probably a good thing to remember, not only for times when mortal sin prevents us from receiving Communion but also for other times when anxiety, sorrow, fatigue, illness/pain, or other distractions prevent us from being fully present or “actively participating” in Mass.

    I have gone through extended periods (several weeks in a row) of attending Mass without receiving Communion because I had committed serious sin (or what I felt to be serious sin) and had not yet made it to confession. Yes, there were times when I was tempted to not go because without Communion what was the use, but, I figured that avoidance of another mortal sin was reason enough to go. Plus, I have often found such Masses to be spiritually beneficial to me in other ways.

  61. Joshua08 says:

    Fr. Augustine, I do think you miss the fact that the question is “more complicated.” Of course God forgives the repetenant (after all He gave them the grace of contrition in the first place).

    That doesn’t mean He will always give that grace or that you have tomorrow to repent. St. Alphonse’s point is that one who says he will repent later and continues in sin is an idiot, since God does not promise us tomorrow to repent

    “O folly of sinners! If you purchase a house, you spare no pains to get all the securities necessary to guard against the loss of your money; if you take medicine, you are careful to assure yourself that it cannot injure you; if you pass over a river, you cautiously avoid all danger of falling into it: and for a transitory enjoyment, for the gratification of revenge, for a beastly pleasure, which lasts but a moment, you risk your eternal salvation, saying: I will go to confession after I commit this sin. And when, I ask, are you to go to confession? You say: On tomorrow. But who promises you tomorrow? Who assures you that you shall have time for confession, and that God will not deprive you of life as He has deprived so many others, in the act of sin? “Diem tenes” says St. Augustine, “qui horam non tenes.” You cannot be certain of living for another hour, and you say: I will go to confession tomorrow.Listen to the words of St. Gregory: “He who has promised pardon to penitents, has not promised tomorrow to sinners” (Hom. 12 in Evan). God has promised pardon to all who repent; but He has not promised to wait until tomorrow for those who insult Him. Perhaps God will give you time for repentance, perhaps He will not. But, should He not give it, what shall become of your soul? In the meantime, for the sake of a miserable pleasure, you lose the grace of God and expose yourself to the danger of being lost forever. ”

    I do think it is a quite valid point that repenting is a grace itself, one you are not guaranteed.

  62. Will D. says:

    I fell into the same trap years ago. Between habitual sin and a flirtation with agnosticism, I saw no point or need for me to go to Mass. I periodically said prayers for various intentions, but never darkened the door of a church for something like a decade. Then, about four years ago, I spontaneously felt the urge to go to Christmas Midnight Mass. And then I went for Sunday, then the Feast of the Holy Family, and so forth. Sometimes, in my hubris and stupidity, I unworthily received Communion, until a fire and brimstone sermon by my Pastor reminded me of my obligation to go to Confession — but I didn’t stop attending Mass. Little by little, the Lord kept prodding me to move closer to him.
    His grace came to me in Mass and in private prayer, and in the encouragement of my Pastor and Fr. Z (among others), until I was finally able to break some wicked habits and make a good confession on Holy Thursday of this year. The Lord was kind and merciful to give me the time to come around. Not everyone is so lucky.
    So yes, there are graces aplenty available to sinners at the Mass. Go there and pray for the grace to make a good Confession. Go and pray for the strength to resist temptation. Go.

    Psalm 51 says it so well:

    Lord, you will open my lips;
    and my mouth will proclaim your praise.
    For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it;
    a burnt offering you would not accept.
    My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
    a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.

  63. mkamoski says:

    Father, thanks for another great article.
    I think the answer is simple– just go to Penance.
    Here is a good
    Try to go to Penance weekly.
    Try to Mass daily and receive the Eucharist.
    – Mark

  64. cheekypinkgirl says:

    Warning people or scaring the h e double hockey sticks out of people? It just always seems to be so much the latter here in the commbox.

    Father Z – and I really, really mean this and hope you see this – why do you keep emphasizing “hypothetical?” I am very near to the situation your reader wrote you about. There seems to be some kind of “judgement”(?) or ascribing of something (what?) in your emphasis upon this term.

  65. benedetta says:

    cheekypinkgirl, I’m not sure what or which comments make you feel fearful but I just wanted to say that if the question resonates with your experience that I hope that you do persevere. I should think that a good reason to continue to go to Sunday Mass, even if in a state of being aware or thinking one’s self as having committed mortal sin, would be to keep, an open line, or a dialogue, with God, to hope after reconciliation. One can work through such a situation with God, together. And if it is a matter of a struggle then to reconcile and receive the grace of the sacrament of confession would strengthen to continue and offset the temptation and discouragement to just give up.

    The writer says “mortal sin severs relationship” with God. But he or she does not say, momentarily, or, temporarily and I think some of those (who seem to be writing from the heart on this and not so much hypothetically) commenting are saying, that we perhaps should also have a healthy fear that we know not truly how momentary or temporary it will be, not being able to predict the future, and not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Others are pointing out other aspects of perhaps unplanned or undesired consequences to just abiding by a break in relationship with God. I don’t think people are hoping to scare, pointlessly, or, just to scare, but it is in a sense of acceptance of the reality of the world, of not knowing what may happen in the short term future truly, that people are saying it’s better to try to bring all to the sacrament of confession and be reconciled, sooner, rather than later. I add to that the feeling that if one is going to have to attempt to live through some hardship of one kind or another, that the sooner one receives the grace of the sacrament, the better.

    For those who continue to attend Mass in the meantime while struggling in this sort of situation, I don’t think at all that is an easy situation to be in but I think this like everything can work to the good of the soul that attempts to sort things through even if delayed a bit in reconciling and amendment. Perhaps a start would be to observe others praying and suffering together as believers in different situations. Another start would be to ask God to increase one’s faith. Or a prayer to the Divine Mercy. The writer seems to ascribe to God a sort of cause and reaction sort of thing, a kind of expected timeline or causal chain of events and I am not at all sure that we may do that with any sort of assurance of its accuracy. God’s ways are not our ways. So, does God not hear sincere contrition conveyed before the absolution? I don’t think this would be correct and it assigns a timeline that is somewhat artificial and of our own design. God knows all. God cannot deceive nor be deceived. God cannot be told some things but not other things. The idea that this person has, no recourse to God at all having severed relationship through mortal sin, I’m not sure about that. Severing the relationship I should think does matter a great deal and perhaps that person is less able to have recourse to God or petition God in this state than another person not in that state, that person’s acts, words, do not glorify God, do not permit God to live through that person as much as another who is not in that state, that may be true, but contrition and hope for reconciliation for God is the starting point, a basic prayer that God would never be closed to hearing.

    Fr. Z must have some reason for determining this question to be a hypothetical, not having to do with judging someone.

  66. Will D. says:

    why do you keep emphasizing “hypothetical?” I am very near to the situation your reader wrote you about. There seems to be some kind of “judgement”(?) or ascribing of something (what?) in your emphasis upon this term.

    Fr. Z is (perhaps charitably) working under the assumption that the writer is asking this as a purely intellectual exercise and is not in a state of grave sin him- or her- self. I don’t think there’s any hidden agenda or judgment at work here. Should one find oneself in a state of grave sin, one should pray for the grace to make a Good Confession and then make a beeline for the nearest place where the sacrament is offered.

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