17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

July 29, 2023 Column Father De Celles

Humanae Vitae. This last Tuesday, July 25, was the anniversary of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical reaffirming the ancient and apostolic teaching of the Church that contraception is a grave sin. In the years since, his words have been largely ignored by the world, even by Catholics. But they still remain as true today as ever. Moreover, his explanations of the reasons for and the consequences of disregarding this teaching have been proven out over the years. He warned that it would lead to increased sexual infidelity and “the general lowering of morality,” especially among young men, and that eventually men would lose respect for women, seeing them only as object of selfish enjoyment. Elsewhere he would specifically point to the immediate connection between contraception and abortion.

Over the last 55 years we have seen this all bear out as we’ve seen the dramatic and catastrophic increase in divorce, marital infidelity, pornography, abortion, prostitution, teenage pregnancy and promiscuity, child abuse, wife abuse, and acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism.

But Pope Paul also recognized that it was morally acceptable, for a “just reason,” to “regulate birth” using methods that take into account the “natural rhythms” of the fertility cycle of women. Today several highly scientific methods are available to couples in this regard, usually referred to as “Natural Family Planning” (NFP). These are very effective as a moral methods of both postponing and promoting conception.

Sunday Mass Obligation. It always surprised me how many Catholics don’t know that it is a mortal sin to miss Mass on Sunday or on any other Holy Day of Obligation. As the Catechism reminds us: “The [first] precept of the Church specifies the law of the Lord more precisely: ‘On Sundays and other holy days of obligation the faithful are bound to participate in the Mass’…” [2042]. This obligation may be fulfilled “on the evening of the preceding day,” e.g. the Saturday Vigil Mass.

During Covid this obligation was temporarily dispensed by our Bishop. But that dispensation no longer exists, and the Sunday obligation again applies to all of us, except for: “those who….have reason to believe that they were recently exposed to the coronavirus, another serious or contagious illness;….are confined to their home,…or nursing facility; or those with serious underlying health conditions.”

If you have any question as to whether you are obligated to attend Mass on Sunday’s let me know. Remember, as the Catechism states (2181) “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”

The Church acknowledges certain other general exceptions from any obligations created by any merely Church law, i.e., when: 1) you are truly unable to do what is obliged, or 2) the obligation conflicts with another equally important obligation. So, for example, if you’re sick (as is discussed above), or if there is inclement weather, and you are not able to go out because of ice or heavy rain or snow (this especially applies to some of our elderly). Another case would be those who are required by employers to work on Sunday, and those who do critical work for the common good, i.e., policemen, nurses, etc. Still another case is that of a mother or father having to stay home to take care of a sick child.

Some ask whether they are excused from Sunday (or Holy Day) Mass when they are on vacation or otherwise travelling. The answer is “no,” unless one of the exceptions above specifically applies. The Church recognizes and, to some extent, encourages the importance of recreation in the form of vacation. So that if the circumstances of your vacation cause you to be truly unable to attend Mass, you are excused. So, for example, you are free to choose to go on a cruise, or travel to a non-Christian country, even though there may be no Mass available. Moreover, if you are camping out in some place hours away from a Mass, or if you’re on a guided tour that requires you to be with the group on Sunday, you are excused as unable to go to Mass. Also, if you are travelling in such a way that it is not possible to attend Mass, you are excused: let’s say you are flying on a Sunday, leaving at 5am and arriving at 7pm.

Most (but not all) orthodox priest-confessors and theologians believe that this would apply to all-day car trips on a Sunday, since it is so difficult to coordinate Mass times in strange cities along the way. Moreover, car trips provide unique challenges to families with little children (parents have special obligations here), that might make it extra difficult. Note though, with the availability of internet and smart phones this is less difficult today than in the past.

Even so, the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Mass is a grave one, never to be excused lightly. One should not seek out, invent or make excuses for missing Mass. The reason for the exception must be genuine. For example, if a worker could easily get off from work by simply asking the boss for Sundays off, then there is no excuse not to go to Mass. Or if you’re on vacation in a non-Catholic country, but there’s a Catholic church just 15 minutes away, there is no excuse. Or if you drank too much the night before, that may be a reason you are physically unable go to Mass, but it is not an excuse from your obligation since you freely chose the consequences of your actions the night before.

And remember: you can also go to Saturday evening Vigil Mass. And if you think you might run into difficulty attending Mass at any time, especially on vacation, you can ask your pastor (me) for dispensation (if you are my parishioner), and I can commute it to some other pious spiritual act (e.g., watching Mass on TV, saying the Rosary, reading the Scriptures).

Enjoy your travels and vacations this summer. But go to Mass. And if you miss Mass without a serious excuse, make sure you go to Confession before you return to Holy Communion.

Baptizing Babies ASAP! There is a growing tendency of parents to postpone the baptism of their babies for months after birth. This is a huge risk—and normally a mortal sin.

Baptism is not merely a nice symbolic rite of passage. Rather it is a necessary sacrament, that washes away original sin and gives a share in the Eternal Life of God to the baptized. The grace of Baptism is necessary for salvation, as Christ taught: “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit”—John 3:5). And while the Church teaches that God sometimes gives the grace of Baptism in extraordinary ways, e.g., martyrdom, the Church has always maintained that it does not know if anything like that applies to babies who die without baptism.

Because of this, and with loving concern for the eternal souls of babies, the Church requires [Can. 867 §1]: “Parents are obliged to see that their infants are baptized within the first few weeks” after birth.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles