Questions and Answers
How often should I go to confession?
In accordance with divine law, the Church stresses the necessity to confess each and every mortal sin that is remembered after proper and diligent examination, with all the circumstances which may change the species of sin. In the present times, as a consequence of the requirement of receiving communion at least once a year, by ecclesiastical precept we also have the grave obligation to confess at least once a year any mortal sins not yet declared in a valid confession.
The Church does not demand more—neither a greater frequency, nor the confession of venial sins. But both the Church and all spiritual authors advise and encourage us to two additional things. First of all, to seek absolution from our mortal sins as soon as we can and as often as needed.
Second, we are also advised and encouraged to the devotional confession of even our venial sins. As the Council of Trent puts it, “venial sins, which do not deprive us of the grace of God and into which we fall more frequently, may rightly and profitably and without any presumption be told in confession, as is clear from the practice of devout people. They may be left unsaid without any fault, and they can be atoned for in many other ways.”
The pious practice of frequent confession ensures a more rapid progress in the way of perfection. By requiring a frequent examination of conscience and acknowledgement of our weaknesses, it increases self-knowledge and the growth in humility; “our bad habits are corrected, negligence and tepidity are resisted, conscience is purified, the will strengthened, a salutary self-control is attained and grace is increased in virtue of the sacrament itself” (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis).
While for professed religious canon law requires a weekly confession and for priests at least every two weeks, for the laity “frequent” confession usually means between once a month and once a week, according to the possibilities and needs of the individual.
To advance in spiritual perfection, frequent confession will ordinarily require having a regular confessor. He will be the best qualified person to suggest the frequency suited to the spiritual development and the physical and moral possibilities of the penitent.
If I go wilderness camping over the weekend, do I have to trek out four hours to go to Mass?
By natural law and by positive divine law, we have to render worship to God. Ecclesiastical law determines that this obligation must be fulfilled by the attendance to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation. This precept binds sub gravi (i.e. under pain of mortal sin) all those who have reached the age of reason, i.e. seven years of age. Moreover, any person who is bound to obey a law is also bound to make efforts to avoid any obstacle for its observance.
As no law can oblige to what is impossible, the Church admits that, in certain circumstances, one may be excused from observing the law. Thus, a moderately grave cause may excuse us from attending Mass on a Sunday. The principal causes usually argued are: (1) physical or moral impossibility, for example, illness, great distance from a church, dangerous weather conditions, risk of serious material loss, etc.; (2) charity that obliges us to help our neighbor, for example, by taking care of a sick person, or being present so as to protect somebody from falling into sin; (3) obligation imposed by certain functions or offices, for example, soldiers, nurses, firemen, etc., while on duty.
But while God does not expect us to do what is impossible, He does expect that we put up with some inconveniences or obstacles to our own plans in order to be able to do His will.
Thus, it is not licit for us to put up what is an obstacle for fulfilling the law, unless there is a proportionate grave cause.
Relaxation and recreation are certainly legitimate human needs, as well as gifts from God. But as there are many ways of attaining the needed relaxation, we should choose one that does not force us to skip Sunday Mass.
Thus, if we choose to engage in a recreational activity that will prevent us from attending Sunday Mass, the reason for doing so must be of a gravity proportional to the gravity of the ecclesiastical precept. A motive of such proportionate gravity would be, for example, if wilderness camping is devised as the most helpful means to strengthen the mutual bonds of a family that is at risk of falling apart. Other motives of proportionate gravity would be, for example, if we will not have the opportunity of taking an annual vacation at any other time, or when it is question of a foreign trip which we will have never again the occasion to make.
In any case, we must avoid making our recreational activities the starting point for arranging our weekend schedule, thus relegating God and Mass to an afterthought.
The Mass is a gift from God, and to attend it is an incredible privilege for us, especially in the present crisis of the Church where there are a diminishing number of Masses and Mass attendees to render to God the worship that is due to Him.
Therefore, we should not be trying to find excuses for not attending, but, on the contrary, to make efforts to attend Mass even on other days of the week…
Do I really have to get a hunting or fishing license, morally speaking?
God has given man stewardship over all creatures, including animals, allowing them to be used by man for just purposes, such as food, clothing, scientific experimentation, work, and even leisure. Sport hunting and fishing fall under this aspect of leisure and recreation. On the other hand, needless cruelty to animals is sinful, not because it violates supposed animal “rights” (which do not exist, as only rational beings are subjects of rights), but because it detracts from man’s own dignity as a rational being and as steward of God’s creation.
As God has provided animals for the use of all men and also for future generations, the civil authorities—temporal ministers of God—have a duty to see that animals will be preserved and not wantonly destroyed, as it would easily happen if there were no regulations.
In our times, that duty is exercised by means of civil laws that regulate the time, place and kind of animals that may be hunted or fished. Those laws are established to care for some particular elements of the common good of men—the preservation of wildlife, which has been created for all of us, and the safeguard of human life and property.
That being the case, the civil laws regulating sport hunting and fishing are true laws, according to the Thomistic definition: “an ordinance of reason, designed for the common good, and promulgated by the authority that has charge of the community.”
Therefore, yes, if one hunts or fishes for sport and recreation, there is a moral obligation to observe these laws. They bind in conscience—that is, to disregard and violate them is a sinful act. Nonetheless, not all of them bind under pain of mortal sin, but in direct proportion to the gravity of the matter.