Society of Saint Pius X Africa

by Fr. Justin Swanton

Regaining supernatural merit, the extent of the Sunday obligation and the obligation of annual Confession, as well as the problems posed by modrn usury form the subject matter of this month's questions. How about a few questions of your own!

Q. Is all supernatural merit which is lost in a period of mortal sin lost forever?

We are taught that when one is in mortal sin, one cannot gain any supernatural merit for heaven. However, when one has received absolution in Confession for mortal sin, is all that merit lost during the time of mortal sin regained?

A. There is no formal decision of the Church on this question, but it is the common teaching of theologians (sententia communis) that the merits due to good works performed in the state of grace which have been rendered null by grievous sins, revive. The Church Fathers are almost unanimous on this point: "He that has laboured for the faith of Christ and has subsequently fallen into sin, of him it is said that he has suffered the foregoing in vain, so long as he sins; but he will not lose it, if he returns to the former faith and the old zeal." ? St. Jerome.

St. Thomas Aquinas raises the question: if someone rises from mortal sin to a state of grace or charity less than what he had before, will all, or only part, of his former merits revive? He answers: "He who, through Penance, arises to a lesser charity, will receive the essential reward according to the degree of charity in which he is found. Yet he will have greater jay for the works he had done in his former charity, than for those which he did in his subsequent charity: and this joy belongs to the accidental reward." - Summa Theodogiea, III, Q. 89, Art. 5 ad 3. By "essential reward" he means the joy of God Himself in the Beatific Vision; "accidental reward" refers to the others joys of Heaven.


Q. What is the definitive ruling on replacing Sunday Mass with prayer?

If one is away, say, on holiday (over a Sunday or Sundays) at a place where there is no traditional Mass, is one obliged under pain of mortal sin to replace one's normal Mass attendance with prayers? If so, would a rosary suffice, or does the time one is obliged to spend in prayer have to equate to the time one normally spends at Mass, i.e. 45 minutes - the equivalent of 3 rosaries, for example?


A. To the Six Commandments of the Church is added the grave obligation, under pain of mortal sin, of keeping them. However, it is a principle of law that the application of a specific law must always be done narrowly when there is a question of a grave penalty. The commandment to sanctify the Sunday - as far as a grave obligation is concerned - applies only to the attendance of Mass and the abstention from servile work. If one cannot, for a good reason, attend Mass on that day then one is not, under pain of mortal sin, held to anything further.

However, in as far as one can, one is held, under pain of venial sin, to sanctify the Sunday by some prayers or devotions. It remains the Lord's day. To fulfil this obligation satisfactorily, the faithful are advised to spend the time of a Mass without Communion, i.e. half an hour, in prayer, be it by reading through the Missal, or by praying the rosary with some additional prayers (eg a spiritual Communion) to make up the time.

 

Q. What is the definitive ruling on the obligation of annual Confession?

With regard to the Precept of the Church that one should receive Confession and Communion at least once a year, a Jesuit priest once explained, that the Confession obligation only applies if one is in mortal sin, because one was not obliged to go to Confession for only venial sin, and if was possible to go for a year without committing mortal sin. Is this true?

A. Afraid not. The Commandment of the Church regarding annual Confession is absolute, not conditional. Confession is not there just to remove mortal sins. It is also the occasion for the removal of venial sins (which, if allowed to build up, can paralyse the work of grace in the soul and make it ripe for mortal sin), for the reception of some very important graces that strengthen one against sin, as well as an occasion for very necessary advice and encouragement in one's spiritual life by the priest. All this one has absolute need of, at least from time to time, which is why the Church has made the obligation of annual Confession a grave one.

 

Q. Is it a sin for a Catholic to seek strenuously after high interest earnings to enhance one's income?

With regard to the sin of usury, is it wrong for Catholics to endeavour earnestly to invest their savings at the highest possible interest rates, and also to dabble in the stocks and shares market to make as much money as possible, bearing in mind that, from the Scriptures, man should really earn his bread by the sweat of his brow?


A. A tricky question. Hilaire Belloc in his essay On Usury, makes a distinction between the productive loan, which is morally justifiable, and the unproductive loan, which is not.


A productive loan is one in which the money borrowed is used to found some enterprise that will produce wealth. The interest required on the loan comes out of the profits of the enterprise. An unproductive loan is one used for something that does not produce any wealth itself. For such a loan one cannot in conscience demand interest, just repayment. Belloc gives an example of such a loan: "Now let us suppose that [a] man comes to you and says: "I know the case of a man in middle age who has been suddenly stricken with a terrible ailment. Medical aid costing £ 1,000 will save his life, but he will never be able to do any more work. He has an annuity of £100 a year to keep him alive after the operation and subsequent treatment. Will you lend the £1,000? It will be paid back to you on his death, for his life has been insured in a lump payment for the amount .of £1,000." You answer: "I will lend £l,000 to save his life, but I shall require of him half his annuity, that is £50 a year, for every year he may live henceforward, and he must scrape along as best he can on the remaining £50 of his annuity:" That answer would make you feel a cad if you have any susceptibilities left...." Unproductive loans requiring interest repayments generally put a heavy and even intolerable financial burden on the borrower, and hence have always been condemned by the Church.

In our world however, it is generally impossible to tell whether loans are productive or unproductive. To quote Belloc: "….in nine hundred and ninety-nine cases out of a thousand the distinction is impossible. A man is at pains to save. He must use his savings under a system where interest without examination is normal and all the infinite details of a world-wide system of production, distribution, and exchange have so long been based on the acceptation of Usury—as well as on the much larger calculation of legitimate profit—that the two can no more be divided in practice to-day than can the mixed colours of a dyer's vat."

In principle, then, it is permitted to invest one's money or use it on the Stock Market, provided one does so prudently and without avarice, if for no other reason than to keep up the value of one's money against inflation.

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