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Imagine following situation. There is a parish in a small village. There is only one priest in that parish (let's call him Fr. Nomen Nescio). It is Easter Sunday (or some important day on which laity expect mass and surely many of the faithful will come to the mass). Mass that will be celebrated on that day is the only one in that village and it will be celebrated in the evening (say 7:30 pm or 8:00 pm). Fr. N.N. prepares for the mass, there is 15 more minutes till mass begins and Church is already almost full. Now, God forbid this awful and monstrous situation; Fr. N.N. commits mortal sin just 5 minutes before mass. He is only priest in that parish (there is no other priest where he could go to confession). Because he is in a small village, the closest priest which could confess him is at least 1 hour of driving away. He is very sorry for his sin that he just committed, however, he has only imperfect contrition; he is unable to move himself to perfect contrition.

What should Fr. N.N. do in that situation?

If he goes to celebrate mass then he is obliged to partake of Body and Blood of Christ, which would for Fr. N.N. be one of the worst mortal sins.

On the other hand, if he does not go to celebrate mass then there is a great evil, every faithful in that village will not get to go on mass on Easter Sunday and everyone already came to mass. If he does not go to celebrate mass, faithful will expect some good reason from Fr. N.N. why there will be no mass.

What course of action should Fr. N.N. take?

I am not sure (that is why I am asking this question) what should Fr. N.N. do, however it seems to me that there is no situation in which one should commit mortal sin; therefore it seems to me that Fr. N.N. should not celebrate mass.

Has the Church foreseen such awful situations and when these situations occur, is the priest somehow not obliged to partake of Body and Blood of Christ during Mass?

  • Hey Thom, this question may not be well received because it is rather speculative, but it also contains many spelling mistakes that could be easily fixed before submitting. I've been cleaning up your posts, but we run a tight ship around here and would appreciate a little help in this area from the person doing the posting in the first place. – Peter Turner May 10 at 16:48
  • @PeterTurner I am sorry. Thanks alot for editing my questions. Is there any program where I can put my text and that my text is corrected? As for speculative nature of my question, I do not see any problem there. Speculative questions and hypothetically situations allow us to understand more deeply the principles which govern human conduct. – Thom May 10 at 17:02
  • @DJClayworth I think I understand what mortal sin. However, your question is missing the point of my question. Even if taking God's name in vain is not mortal sin (but it is) there surley exists many mortal sins which Fr. Jon could have commited (telling a lie somone right before mass, lustful look to someone...). As for plausibility of these cases, none of them are probable (it may very well be that similar situation never ocured). However, this situation is in principle possible and that is reason why do I ask my question. – Thom May 10 at 17:07
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    The thrust of my question was that if a priest has deliberately committed a sin with grave matter (such as murder or apostasy) then they may have other things on their mind rather than whether to celebrate mass or not. – DJClayworth May 10 at 17:13
  • @DJClayworth I am sorry but I still do not understand what you are trying to say. I hope we agree that grave matter is not only such brutal cases as murder and apostasy. One lustful look to someone is grave matter. One bad word can be grave matter. One bad thought can be grave matter. – Thom May 10 at 17:18
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What should a priest who commits a mortal sin just before Holy Mass do, if confession is not available?

The priest in question must make a perfect act of contrition as best he can and must go to confession as soon as possible. He may under some circumstances still say Mass. The Church has very clear guidelines on this subject:

When receiving or celebrating the sacraments, the priest is subject to the same requirements of sanctity and state of grace as every other Catholic; that is, the state of grace is required for fruitful reception of all sacraments except those that actually forgive sins.

Therefore a priest who is in a state of mortal sin should seek to confess as soon as possible and refrain from celebrating the sacraments until he has done so.

Normally, to celebrate Mass or receive Communion while in a state of mortal sin would be to commit a sacrilege. Yet, the sacrament would be valid; that is, there would be a true consecration and a true sacrifice.

The reason is: Christ is the principal actor of the sacraments, so they are efficacious even when performed by an unworthy minister. As St. Thomas Aquinas says: Christ may act even through a minister who is spiritually dead.

However, a priest who has fallen into mortal sin, but who is unable to make his confession despite his desire to do so, may celebrate Mass for the benefit of the faithful without adding a further sin of sacrilege.

Thus, as Canon 916 of the Code of Canon Law states: "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible (see also Canon 1335)."

Note that the code requires a grave reason in order to avail of this exception.

One such grave reason is based on the principle of the good of souls. If a priest is required to celebrate Mass or a soul requests the sacrament of reconciliation, the anointing of the sick, or indeed any other sacrament from this priest that would have to be performed before he can avail of confession, then he may, and usually must, administer the sacrament.

A second grave reason stems from the danger of infamy by publicly revealing the state of one's soul.

This can occur in the case of a priest in isolated circumstances when there is no one else to perform the usual celebrations. There is no need for him to do anything that might lead people to suspect his lack of a state of grace.

Even in the case that the priest, or any other person, has secretly committed a grave crime, which would normally lead to his or her being automatically forbidden to receive the sacraments, Church law (Canon 1352) foresees the possibility of the penalty being suspended to avoid infamy or scandal, to wit:

"§1. If a penalty prohibits the reception of the sacraments or sacramentals, the prohibition is suspended as long as the offender is in danger of death.

"§2. The obligation to observe an undeclared 'latae sententiae' penalty which is not notorious in the place where the offender is present, is suspended totally or partially whenever the offender cannot observe it without danger of grave scandal or infamy."

While the possibilities of a layperson or a religious in a state of mortal sin being placed in a similar dilemma as the priest are far rarer, the same basic principles would apply should they occur.

Furthermore, while it is nobody else's business why somebody does not approach Communion, pastors should do all that they can to avoid creating public pressures that might induce a person in a state of mortal sin — or otherwise unable to receive Communion — to receive out of an objective fear of infamy or even out of human respect.

For example, when parish ushers move down the aisles during Communion to assure an orderly procession, it becomes very difficult for someone, especially if well known to the other parishioners and who for some hidden reason cannot receive Communion, not to go forward with the others because staying in the pew is often the equivalent of making a public self-denunciation.

In such cases, a less organized procession at Communion allows such people to pass unnoticed. - When a Priest Is in Mortal Sin

As a side note: I have known of cases in the Extraordinary Rite of the Mass (as we now call it) where a priest had forgotten to fast in the morning before Mass and did not say Mass that day because the fast was not observed.

  • Thanks for answer. However, difficulty arises. It would seem to me that unworthy reception of eucharist is intrinsically sinful. But answer you have given seems to imply that there exist some circumstances in which unworthy reception of eucharist is not sinful. But from that would follow that unworthy reception of eucharist is circumstances dependent and thefore not intrinsically evil. – Thom May 11 at 4:26
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Interesting question, according to Catholic teaching there is nothing which an ordained priest can do to make his service 'profane' in the eyes of a Catholic. Mortal sin or otherwise, once the indelible mark is set, even for priests just moments prior to Mass did the worst act "what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear..."

Here is how the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it:

VII. THE EFFECTS OF THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY ORDERS

The indelible character

This sacrament configures the recipient to Christ by a special grace of the Holy Spirit, so that he may serve as Christ’s instrument for his Church. By ordination one is enabled to act as a representative of Christ, Head of the Church, in his triple office of priest, prophet, and king.

As in the case of Baptism and Confirmation this share in Christ’s office is granted once for all. The sacrament of Holy Orders, like the other two, confers an indelible spiritual character and cannot be repeated or conferred temporarily.

It is true that someone validly ordained can, for grave reasons, be discharged from the obligations and functions linked to ordination, or can be forbidden to exercise them; but he cannot become a layman again in the strict sense, because the character imprinted by ordination is for ever. The vocation and mission received on the day of his ordination mark him permanently.

Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting. St. Augustine states this forcefully: As for the proud minister, he is to be ranked with the devil. Christ’s gift is not thereby profaned: what flows through him keeps its purity, and what passes through him remains dear and reaches the fertile earth... . The spiritual power of the sacrament is indeed comparable to light: those to be enlightened receive it in its purity, and if it should pass through defiled beings, it is not itself defiled.

CCC 1581-1584

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    While it is appreciated for Protestants to reach across the aisle and answer the occasional Catholicism question the term "Papist is a pejorative term referring to the Roman Catholic Church, its teachings, practices, or adherents." not just a word that is interchangeable with Catholic en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papist – Peter Turner May 11 at 1:56
  • You are welcome. The statement is not pejorative but descriptive of one of the key elements which create the 'aisle' between Catholics and Protestants of which you speak , 'the papacy'. Is papacy considered a pejorative term also? I'm pretty sure the etymology follows in a non-perjorative sense. Consult a Catholic papist thoughts on the word: tomperna-org.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/tomperna.org/2013/03/19/… – Lowther May 11 at 19:15
  • At various points after the Reformation, some majority Protestant states, including England, Prussia, and even Scotland made anti-Catholicism and opposition to the Pope and Catholic rituals major political themes, and the anti-Catholic sentiment which resulted from it frequently lead to religious discrimination against Catholic individuals (often derogatorily referred to in Anglophone Protestant countries as "papists" **or **"Romanists"). See here. – Ken Graham May 11 at 21:13
  • last comment: The statement above may be so, but all arises from a struggle for the unbiblical term 'Catholic', Protestants who covet the archives of church history and the first ecumenical councils to be their own have, and still do this until the present day, coveting the name 'Catholic Church' due to it's meaning and use. Papist or romanist were likely descriptively developed to allow the assumption of the name Catholic to bequeath upon protestant denominations as a whole: I believe this to be an error, I do not use the term papist for that reason, I use it descriptively due to the papacy. – Lowther May 13 at 18:07
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What should a priest who commits a mortal sin just before Holy Mass do, if confession is not available?

Canon Law "A person who is conscious of grave sin (mortal sin) is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible." [61](Code of Canon Law, canon 916 Archived June 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine)

There are three conditions in order for a person even a Priest to commit mortal sin.

Three conditions are necessary for mortal sin to exist:

  1. Grave Matter: The act itself is intrinsically evil and immoral.

  2. Full Knowledge: The person must know that what they're doing or planning to do is evil and immoral.

  3. Deliberate Consent: The person must freely choose to commit the act or plan to do it.

Mortal and Venial Sins in the Catholic Church

Example situation in which the priest fall into;

Fr. N.N. commits mortal sin just 5 minutes before mass. He is only priest in that parish (there is no other priest where he could go to confession). Because he is in a small village, the closest priest which could confess him is at least 1 hour of driving away. He is very sorry for his sin that he just committed, however, he has only imperfect contrition; he is unable to move himself to perfect contrition.

Question #1

What should Fr. N.N. do in that situation? If he goes to celebrate mass then he is obliged to partake of Body and Blood of Christ, which would for Fr. N.N. be one of the worst mortal sins.

On the other hand, if he does not go to celebrate mass then there is a great evil, every faithful in that village will not get to go on mass on Easter Sunday and everyone already came to mass. If he does not go to celebrate mass, faithful will expect some good reason from Fr. N.N. why there will be no mass.

The priest in your narration had already admitted his fault and attempted to seek the pardon of God, only then he was not able to reach a state of perfect contrition.

If the fallen priest continue to celebrate the Holy Mass taking into consideration the people who are already present to celebrate the Holy Mass and also knowing that there's no time for him to seek the help of another priest, then by the definition of the three elements of mortal sins the fallen priest does not satisfies the conditions of committing mortal sin. Therefore your assumptions of the situation is in error, it is not a mortal sin anymore in the part of the fallen priest.

Now, let's take a look on the issue of the sacrilege, the question assumed that the priest was unable to reach the perfect state of contrition. In this scenario only God can judge the action of the priest as no man has the faculties to see the heart of a man.It's not for us to make a judgement that he committed a sacrilege eventhough the Church clearly defined that those who partake the Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin committed a sacrilege but the issue was negated by the fact that the fallen priest does not deliberately intend to partake but was only forced by the urgency of the situation.

Question #2

What course of action should Fr. N.N. take?

I am not sure (that is why I am asking this question) what should Fr. N.N. do, however it seems to me that there is no situation in which one should commit mortal sin; therefore it seems to me that Fr. N.N. should not celebrate mass.

What course of action should the fallen priest do? Asking for forgiveness and seeking the mercy of God is the first step as you narrated was already initiated by the fallen priest. So, the first step was good. The next step since the fallen priest already acknowledged his fault then he should expect the merciful graces of God to come as it is the Will of God primarily for Him to fulfill his obligation or priestly vows. Our loving and merciful God does not count how many times we fall but encourage all of us to rise up by seeking His merciful graces.

Question #3

Has the Church foreseen such awful situations and when these situations occur, is the priest somehow not obliged to partake of Body and Blood of Christ during Mass?

The answer is absolutely yes, that's why the Church thru the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit had instituted the Canon Law that oversee the governance and discipline of the Catholic Church Ministers of the Holy Eucharist not just for the Clergy but also the issues towards the lay faithfuls.

Code of Canon Law THE MINISTER OF THE MOST HOLY EUCHARIST

Other consideration; you described the situation as awful but let us not forget that your described situation is very light compare to actual situations that happened in the Catholic Church. What do I mean, God Permissive Will allowed ordained priest to celebrate the Holy Mass that was identified as belonging to the Communist group that infiltrated the Church as testified by Bella Dodd. This ordained priest has no vocation nor God's calling to serve the priesthood but God allows them to infiltrate the Church and celebrated Holy Mass eventhough the heart of this ordained priest was corrupted by the malice of Satan.

Full text of "Investigation of Communist activities in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Hearings"

Also, one good example that God allows the celebration of the Holy Mass even if a priest celebrant is sinful or perhaps not in the state of grace is the personal testimony of Fr.Steven Scheier. For twelve years, as Fr.Scheier testified that he was not a good priest and as you said it is a sacrilege on the part of the priest to partake the Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin. So, the testimony affirmed that Jesus judgment for him is eternal damnation. But there's a beautiful story behind the beautiful life of Fr.Scheier as he rise up from his lukewarm or sinful ways as a Priest.

The Illumination It did not take long before everything seemed to come back to me. The following seemed to happen immediately after the accident. I was before the Throne of Judgment! Jesus Christ was the Judge. I didn’t see Him, I merely heard Him. What took place was instantaneous as far as “our time” is concerned. He went through my entire life on earth and accused me of sins of commission and omission that were unconfessed and therefore unforgiven and unrepented sins. To each offense, I said, “Yes, Lord!” I had planned that when this would happen I would have all kinds of excuses to say to the Lord. For example, “Well, Lord, you know, she was a pretty feisty woman, and one lost his patience very easily with her all the time!” Well, when you are talking to Truth personified, you don’t have any excuses; so all you say is “Yes, Lord!”

Mother – He’s Yours He reached the end of my judgement and said to me, “Your sentence is hell!” Again, I said, “Yes Lord, I know!” It was the only logical conclusion that He could have come up with. It was not a shock to my system! It was as if He were honoring my choice, my decision. I had chosen my sentence; He was merely honoring my choice. It was then, after He had said this that I heard a woman’s voice, “Son, would You spare his life and his immortal soul?” The Lord said, “Mother, he has been a priest twelve years not for himself and not for me; let him reap the punishment he deserves!” She, in reply said, “But Son, what if we give to him special graces and strengths and then see if he bears fruit. If not, Your will be done!” There was a very short pause and then I heard Him say, “Mother, he’s yours!” And I have been hers both naturally and supernaturally now for the past twelve years. I don’t believe that I could have been without her for the length of time that she was absent from my life and my spirituality.

God’s Merciful Judgement: A Priest’s True Story by FR. STEVEN SCHEIER | DECEMBER 17, 2015

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