November 2017 Print

Questions and Answers

by Fr. Juan-Carlos Iscara, SSPX

Is it sinful to smoke marijuana?

Almost everyone agrees that it is not morally permissible to use drugs such as cocaine, heroin, crack, ecstasy, etc., due to their damaging effects on body and mind. But there is today a growing lack of agreement on the morality of marijuana use – even among us, from easy permissiveness to unbearable rigor.

Matters are not helped by the fact that much of the research that is easily available appears to focus on neurobiological effects (i.e. brain chemistry) of marijuana abuse, rather than on its implications for personal morality and the social common good. The results of such focused research are necessarily partial and misleading. For example, if considered solely under the aspect of physical damage and addiction, tobacco appears as a more dangerous drug than marijuana – an assessment that must be corrected when we consider their consequences for the moral life of the subject. Such results also favor the present trend towards the legalization of use, possession and trade of marijuana – increasing confusion, for in the minds of many “legality” is equal to “moral goodness.”


What is marijuana? What are its effects?

Marijuana (cannabis sativa) has an active chemical, THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which affects the nerve cells in the brain, and requires a longer elimination time, in comparison with other drugs. Its effects are variable, due to different circumstances, for example: the variable concentrations of THC found in cannabis; whether it is taken together with alcohol or other drugs (illegal, prescription, over-the-counter); how much is used, how often, for how long; pre-existing medical or psychiatric conditions, etc.

In the short term, it increases the heart rate and relaxes the muscles, but, more importantly, it affects areas of the brain associated with movement control and coordination; at high doses, it may lead to loss of voluntary coordination of movement. It has also psychoactive effects, producing a feeling of well-being, relaxation, while also distorting the perception of time and space and affecting areas of the brain associated with learning, memory and the higher cognitive functions, and with emotional responses and fears.

In the long term, its use may lead to irreversible cognitive impairment in adolescents, an increased risk of depression, and may lead to addiction.

Its effects may last for about 3-4 hours, depending on how much is taken, but as THC is stored in fat cells (as the brain cells), it is expelled from the body over a period of days or weeks, depending on the frequency of use and amount used.


A general moral principle.

Man does not have absolute dominion over his body and faculties, but stewardship, their use and administration according to the design of God, that is, in a manner convenient to the attainment of the end for which he has been created. It is commonly understood, though, that the steward of any property has the power to manage it, by performing the actions that are necessary for preserving that property in existence, and for its well-being. In fact, it is the intention and expectation of the rightful owner – God! – that he will do so.

The only limits to this power of disposal are established by the natural finality of the faculties and forces of his human nature: “In forming man, God regulated each of his functions, assigning them to the various organs….At the same time, God fixed, prescribed and limited the use of each organ. He cannot therefore allow man now to arrange his life and the functions of his organs according to his own taste, and in a manner contrary to the intrinsic and immanent function assigned to them” (Pius XII). Any risk for life and health may be undertaken only with a proportionately grave motive, for the better preservation and administration of the whole.


Therefore, marijuana use is a sin.

Marijuana, as other psychoactive drugs, damages physical health and impairs the normal use of the higher faculties of the rational soul. The proof of this proposition is to be found in the description of the physiological and psychotropic effects of marijuana listed above.

This being the case, marijuana abuse – i.e. its use without a proportionately grave motive – both negates the absolute dominion of God over our whole being, and violates our duties of stewardship over the body and faculties received from God. The only “proportionately grave motive” is its use for the therapeutic effects, under the guidance of a physician.

The marijuana user, by consuming a drug with such effects on health and behavior, violates the natural finality of his faculties and forces. The intention of the user is to induce a state of euphoria, to get “high”, i.e. to alter his consciousness – thus impairing his ability to make choices that are rational, virtuous and free – which, in turn, are necessary to attain the end for which he has been created. Scripture, in talking about drunkenness (Eph 5:18, Rom 13:13, Lk 21), strongly condemns such voluntary diminution of one’s ability to act reasonably, simply for the sake of the pleasure to be had.

Users may object that their intention is simply to attain a pleasurable relaxation, not to alter his consciousness or impair his rationality, and that, if marijuana is used with moderation, its effects would not be different or less acceptable than having a beer. The answer is that, whatever the good intentions of the user might be, it cannot be used moderately, as it directly and lastingly affects the control of rational functions. In fact, if the aim is to relax, a beer would be less damaging and dangerous than smoking a “joint”…

In consequence, marijuana use is a grave sin, but accidentally—if there is question of an episodic, transitory use of a small quantity, causing only minimal effects for self and others—it could constitute only a venial sin. Please note that it is not the other way round: marijuana use is not a minor fault that accidentally could become mortal because of the damages inflicted. It is a grave fault because the precept violated implies a grave obligation.

Now, although in the abstract we admit the possibility of its use being a venial sin, in the concrete, however, it is not always so, for different reasons. There is usually certain frequency or regularity in the use of the drug, which thus potentiates its effects. Frequently, the available marijuana is of far higher grade, and frequently also mixed with other drugs, of which the user is unaware, thus rendering the damaging effects greater and somehow unforeseeable. Moreover, the circumstances may add to the malice of the action: breaking the law (as marijuana is still illegal in most places), its use together with other drugs (especially alcohol), the access and exposure to more gravely damaging drugs, the scandal given or the distress caused to family and friends, etc. Finally, as it has been said above, the effects may vary according to the persons and even from one drug intake to the other, thus making difficult to foresee the damage that its use in the present case may cause.

Should we receive communion frequently?

Yes! It was the practice in the Church since the earliest times and, after many historical vicissitudes, it has been officially restored and recommended by St. Pius X.

In the early Church and in the patristic period, the faithful were expected to communicate as often as the Mass was celebrated, but it was not imposed as an obligation. Gradually, the custom weakened and in the Middle Ages (paradoxically the “ages of Faith”), communion was less frequent than in any other period in the Church’s history, so much so that even Saints received it rarely. Consequently, the Fourth Lateran Council (1213) imposed the obligation of receiving communion at least once a year. For their part, the theologians consistently insisted on frequent, even daily communion (Summa Theologica, III, q. 80, a. 10), and various reformers, intent on spiritually revitalizing the Church, as St. Catherine of Siena and St. Vincent Ferrer, advocated the return to frequent communion.

After the Council of Trent and the indefatigable work of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Philip Neri, the practice was revived, but always understanding it as requiring regular confession and serious preparation. Alas! the practice soon was opposed by the Jansenist heresy which, considering the Eucharist as a reward for the spiritual perfection attained by the communicant, rather than as the nourishment for our spiritual growth, demanded a previous, severe penance for past sins and an almost unattainable pure love of God for worthily receiving communion.

One of the early Fathers, St. John Cassian, had denounced such attitude already in the 5th century: “We must not avoid communion because we deem ourselves to be sinful. We must approach it more often for the healing of the soul and the purification of the spirit, but with such humility and faith that considering ourselves unworthy we would desire even more the medicine for our wounds. Otherwise it is impossible to receive communion once a year, as certain people do considering the sanctification of heavenly Mysteries as available only to saints. It is better to think that by giving us grace, the sacrament makes us pure and holy. Such people manifest more pride than humility for when they receive, they think of themselves as worthy. It is much better if, in humility of heart, knowing that we are never worthy of the Holy Mysteries we would receive them every Sunday for the healing of our diseases, rather than, blinded by pride, think that after one year we become worthy of receiving them.”

The Jansenist error was promptly condemned, but it left a long-lasting influence on the life of the faithful, again rendering communion less and less frequent.

The matter was definitively put to rest with the decree “Sacra Tridentina Synodus,” issued in 1905 by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, following the directives of St. Pius X. The decree acknowledges that frequent and even daily Communion is a practice most earnestly desired by Christ our Lord and by the Catholic Church, and that by it union with Christ is strengthened, the spiritual life more abundantly sustained, the soul more richly endowed with virtues, and the pledge of everlasting happiness more securely bestowed on the recipient. Consequently, it lays down the conditions for worthily receiving communion:

To be in the state of grace – that is, to be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in the future. Moreover, although it is not imposed as an obligation, it would be fitting that those who receive Communion frequently or daily should be free from venial sins, at least from such as are fully deliberate, and from any affection.

To have the right intention, i.e. that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect, but that he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects.

To be properly prepared for the reception of the sacrament, and to give thanks to God afterwards, for although the sacraments infallibly produce their effect, nevertheless, they produce a great effect in proportion as the dispositions of the recipient are better, therefore, one should take care that Holy Communion be preceded by careful preparation, and followed by an appropriate thanksgiving, according to each one’s strength, circumstances and duties.

To observe the legal rules of fasting before receiving communion.

Nonetheless, the encouragement given to frequent communion must not make us forget that it is a sacrament to be received with due preparation, in a state of grace, and in a state of life that accords with Catholic doctrine. We must avoid routine communions, made almost mindlessly, out of habit or of human respect, and usually without an preparation or without and adequate thanksgiving, thus avoiding the sad spectacle of the rush to the church door by those who have just received the Body and Blood of Our Lord.