Questions Answered

Mullady art 4-10-16

The Healing of the Lame in the Temple, by James Tissot (1836-1902).

Question: I am very confused about the removal of temporal punishment due to sin in the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. Some say no, but the Pocket Catholic Catechism by John Hardon, S.J., 1989, states: “Also the guilt and temporal punishment for venial sins are removed depending on the dispositions of the person anointed. Temporal punishment still due to forgiven sins is removed, again depending on the spiritual dispositions with which the sacrament of anointing is received.” So is temporal punishment removed or not?

Answer: Fr. Hardon’s opinion on this reflects the traditional manuals of dogmatic theology. These in turn base their teachings on the Council of Trent and the Decree for the Armenians (November 22, 1439) which was approved at the Council of Florence.

The Council for the Armenians teaches: “The effect (of Anointing of the Sick) is the healing of the soul and, insofar as it is expedient, also the healing of the body.” (D. 1324) The Council of Trent gives the following effects of the Anointing of the Sick: “the giving of grace, the forgiveness of sins, and the removal of the dross which remains from sin, and the healing and strengthening of the body.” (D. 1717, 1696) The application of these texts demands some explanation of the difference between the eternal and the temporal punishment due to sin. This will also help interpret Fr. Hardon’s teaching and, perhaps, understand why there is somewhat of a difference among theologians in the application of the doctrine.

In every sin, there is the relation of the sin to God, and the disorder which the sin causes in the order of God’s creation, and in the internal order present in the human soul which, of course, is a part of the order of God’s creation. In mortal sins, one loses sanctifying grace and thus, one cannot go to heaven. Whatever the serious interruption may be in the order of the world, and the self, also results. In venial sin, there is no interruption of the order as such which affects our ability to go to heaven. However, there is some disorder caused in the world, and especially, the soul.

In the sacrament of Reconciliation, the eternal punishment of the denial of heaven is cured by returning the soul to grace. The reparation of the temporal order which includes God’s creation (e.g., in murder, paying the penalty for killing the innocent; in theft, restoration of what was stolen; and lying, by telling the truth), and the inner restoration of the soul must still be accomplished. This depends on the penitent as to possibility and accomplishment.

An analogy might be to someone who had a dear friend who had a prized possession, like a Ferrari. In anger, the person destroys his friend’s property. He is filled with remorse, and begs his friend for forgiveness. The friend is a very merciful person. The friendship is restored. Two things remain to be addressed: the destroyed property, and the inner disorder which led to such an unloving act. Both must be addressed for the person to be completely at peace.

On earth, a person can still do positive acts of repentance to accomplish such a restoration. But after death, because of the lack of the body, the purgation, and also purification, are all passive. The necessity of restoring both these orders is through the temporal punishment due to sin. The “temporal punishment” is the effort: (1) to restore what has been harmed or lost; and (2) to correct whatever internal disorder led to such a sin. Dogmatic manuals maintain that the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick confers sanctifying grace to aid a person in dealing with illness and, at times, possible death. It also forgives mortal sins and venial sins. Some theologians, like Scotus, maintained that this was the principal reason for this sacrament. Thomists, on the other hand, maintain that there does not seem to be a special sacrament to forgive temporal punishment due to sins. This forgiveness of sins is not automatic; for example, if the sacrament is received unworthily. It also depends on the desire of the sinner to be converted, which would involve at least “habitually continuing imperfect contrition.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 448)

When obstacles to grace are removed, a valid sacrament, which was not received worthily, revives. The remission of temporal punishment does depend on the degree of charity, and desire for penance, in the recipient. This sacrament does remit temporal punishment due to sin. However, the disagreement of theologians perhaps reflects the condition Fr. Hardon added which is: “according to the spiritual dispositions with which the sacrament is received.” This is often difficult to discern.


Question: Vatican Radio reported the following concerning a homily by Pope Francis: “Pope Francis recalled the confession, many years ago, of a woman who was tormented by the question of whether a Mass attended on a Saturday evening for a wedding was valid as it had readings different than that of the Sunday Mass.” Does this Mass satisfy the obligation? Also, it seems to me that someone might well recognize the woman’s identity from these comments. Is this an indirect violation of the seal of confession?

Answer: I recently heard a homily by a bishop who chose from devotion to celebrate the Saturday daily Mass on a Saturday evening at 5 P.M. In his homily, he explained that canonically, although this was the Saturday daily Mass, since it occurred after 4 P.M., it did satisfy for the Sunday Mass obligation. He made the distinction, though, that this depended on the intention of the person attending the Mass. If the person attended the Mass in order to satisfy the Sunday obligation, then it did.

This canonical analysis is based on Canon Law: “The obligation of participating in the Mass is satisfied when one assists at Mass wherever it is celebrated in a Catholic rite, either on a holyday itself, or on the evening (vespere) of the previous day.” (1248) This would include the wedding Mass, the Saturday daily Mass, or any Mass regardless of the readings and texts. The question has legally arisen as to when evening begins. The Canon Law Society of America gave the common opinion: “The obligation to participate in the Mass may be satisfied at any time during the twenty four hours of the feast day itself, or on the evening before it. ‘Evening’ should be understood at any time from 4 pm. onward. The legislator uses the word ‘evening’ (vespere) not ‘afternoon’ (post meridiem), in keeping with the proper meaning of the word … an afternoon Mass before 4 P.M. is not an evening Mass, and does not satisfy the obligation.” (New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. 2000) On the other hand, the canonists in the United Kingdom opine that evening may be extended to 2 P.M., though this does not seem the commonly accepted opinion. So the woman would have satisfied her obligation.

As to the violation of the seal, the normal interpretation of this is that since this is a very burdensome law, it must be interpreted very strictly. A Pope giving a very general homily in Rome, based on an incident which occurred over his whole lifetime, would not seem to be giving any information which could lead anyone to know who this penitent was. Presumably, a number of people could have had questions like this. It is true that pastors express the fact that people often ask questions like this in parish situations. It would be very different if he were a pastor in a parish, and used an expression such as: “someone in this parish came to me for confession, and said such and such.” He has not identified the person, but he has narrowed the search enough that it is quite possible many people may know who the penitent was. This would be an indirect violation of the seal.

Fr. Brian Mullady, OP About Fr. Brian Mullady, OP

Fr. Brian T. Mullady, OP, entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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