Recently, while on the road giving a workshop, I took the opportunity to go the cathedral in the city I was in for a Sunday Eucharist. I was taken aback by the homily. The priest used the Gospel text where Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches”, to tell the congregation that the Catholic Church constitutes what is referred to as the branches, and the way we link to those branches is through the Mass – and if we miss Mass on a Sunday we are committing a mortal sin, and should we die in that state we will go to hell.

Then, aware that what he was saying would be unpopular, he protested that the truth is often unpopular, but that what he just said was orthodox Catholic teaching and that anyone denying this would be in heresy. It’s sad that this kind of thing is still being said in our churches.

Does the Catholic Church really teach that missing Mass is a mortal sin and that if you die in that state you will go to hell? No, that’s not Catholic orthodoxy, though popular preaching and catechesis often suppose that it is, even as neither accepts the full consequences.

Here’s an example: some years ago, I presided at the funeral of a young man, in his twenties, who had been killed in a car accident. In the months before his death he had, for all practical purposes, ceased practising his Catholicism.

He had stopped going to church, was living with his girlfriend outside of marriage and had not been sober when he died.

However, his family and the congregation who surrounded him at his burial knew him, and they knew that despite his ecclesial and moral carelessness he had a good heart, that he brought sunshine into a room and that he was a generous young man.

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