St Francis Q&A

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"You knew full well..."

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“For those who know the Church’s teachings on a particular act but believe the teaching is incorrect, do they have ‘full knowledge’ that the act is wrong? …what constitutes ‘full knowledge’ of sin and culpability?”

An excellent question from a blogger. This is one answer I have yet to find exactly. On the one hand, full knowledge could imply a complete awareness of all of the aspects of a particular act. That would be a lot! On the other hand, it could mean that one simply knows fully well that a particular act is wrong. For example, a parent might scold a child for doing something they knew was wrong by saying, “you knew full well that …” The Church’s brief definition of full knowledge is probably closer to the latter viewpoint: “knowledge of the sinful act, of its opposition to God’s law” (CCC, 1859).

The best and simplest answer might be that full knowledge means that you know an act is wrong and that you are committing the act. For example, a married couple learns from the Church (through a homily, article, discussion group, blog site, etc.) that artificial contraception is morally wrong and opposed to God’s law. At that point, they know that is wrong. Assuming that that they know what artificial contraception is and that one spouse isn’t secretly using contraception, they would both know if and when they are doing it. So, they would both have full knowledge.

Now, let’s say that one or both of the spouses says that they don’t believe the act is wrong. They have heard what the Church teaches and said that the Church is wrong. Dangerous ground: they know better than the Church! A good question might be, “do you also disagree with the Church when it says that murder or adultery or stealing is wrong”? They would most likely say no. So, how do they know which teachings of the Church are correct and which ones are incorrect? And, on what authority do they base their position? Their weak and shallow position has no real authority because the Church is the moral authority on Earth, as given by Christ. It’s such dangerous ground to disagree with the Church on matters of faith and morals because it’s the same as disagreeing with Christ.

“My daughter asked me a question that I’m not sure I answered correctly. She learned about the parts of the Mass in school and asked why we need to go to Confession if we have the penitential rite at the beginning of the Mass. In thinking about it, the penitential rite does sound like Confession (minus absolution). We are told to call to mind our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. I told her that absolution must be granted to be fully reconciled with God, and that’s why we go to Confession- to be reconciled. But I can see how some might think they don’t need confession if they reflect on their sin and ask for forgiveness each Mass. She went on to ask, if people are recalling their sins but not going to Confession, shouldn’t most people there NOT be receiving the Eucharist. I told her to ask her teacher about that one.Adding to my daughter's question, if I remember correctly, in other churches absolution IS granted with the penitential rite, and the church does not say those people will not go to Heaven. If God is going to welcome other non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians into Heaven, and they don’t go to confession, why do I need to?”

Your daughter asks a great question! You did a good job in answering most of it. I would have added something about the value of receiving the counsel of the priest which we don’t get in the Penitential Rite at Mass. That personal advice has helped so many people! Your daughter also gives a tremendous insight which also hints at a big part of the answer to her question. The forgiveness of mortal sins is reserved for the sacrament of Reconciliation, not the Penitential Rite. So, when she suggests that most people should not be receiving Communion without going to Confession first, she hits at a big problem: many Catholics receiving the Eucharist in mortal sin.

Finally, the “absolution” given by the priest to conclude the Penitential Rite at Mass “lacks the efficacy of the Sacrament of Penance” (USCCB).


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