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.
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 Usuryas well as on the much larger calculation of legitimate profitthat 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.