Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. My daughter, who was 50 years of age, became deathly ill, spent six weeks in the intensive care unit, then entered hospice to die. When death was imminent, a nurse finally found a priest to administer last rites. (It was a Jewish hospice, and they weren’t used to calling a priest.)

By that time, my daughter was in a coma. She hadn’t been to church or to confession in I don’t know how long — although she was baptized, made first Communion, etc.

As soon as the priest gave her the sacrament, she passed away. (I was holding her hand.) My question is this: Since she had not been to confession and may have committed a mortal sin (she may have had an abortion, although I am not sure), did she go to purgatory instead of hell?

She was extremely generous in helping the needy and was loved by everyone. I am just so worried. I say the rosary for her every day — twice a day when I can — and I offer St. Gertrude’s prayer for the souls in purgatory. (City of origin withheld)

A. I would not presume to know for certain the ultimate fate of your daughter, but I am inclined to trust in the mercy of a loving God.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus indicates the final standard on which each of us will be judged — and the key question is, “Did you help people when they needed it?” (“I was hungry and you gave me food … ill and you cared for me.”) From what you said, it would seem that your daughter scores high on this scale of compassion.

If, in fact, she did have an abortion, it could be that she regretted it later and repented of it. (I don’t believe that any woman can be comfortable knowing that she has taken her child’s life. I have spoken to women who, years later, wondered what their child would have been like at that point and were deeply saddened in realizing what they had done.)

Your reference to the “last rites” reminds me to mention that this sacrament is actually called the “anointing of the sick” — highlighting the fact that it is not reserved for the moment of death but should be received when anyone is seriously ill. That way, the person is more likely to be able to confess his or her sins, receive absolution and be assured of the mercy of the Lord.

I, too, will pray for your daughter, that you will one day be with her again in the glory of God’s presence.

Q. I attended Mass on the most recent holy day of obligation and noticed that only about one-sixth of our parish was in attendance. Is it a mortal sin for those who did not attend? If so, must they go to confession before receiving holy Communion? (Glens Falls, New York)

A. The simplest — and safest — answers are “yes” and “yes,” but they require some explanation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants). … Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (No. 2181).

Realize, though, that gravity of matter is only one of three requirements for a mortal sin — the others being full knowledge that the act or omission is seriously sinful and complete consent of the will. (From the frequency of the question, I would guess that a fair number of Catholics are unaware that Mass attendance on holy days is a grave requirement — an excuse that disappears now that you have read this column!)

The catechism mentions illness and the care of infants to justify missing Mass, but there are other legitimate reasons as well, such as unavoidable work obligations. Particularly when a holy day occurs on a weekday, that could well be the case — a reminder to parishes that evening Masses are a big help.)

So if a Catholic misses Mass on a holy day through his own fault — and knew that it was a serious obligation — yes, of course, he should go to confession before receiving the Eucharist. (It bears mentioning that sharing in the Eucharist was the one specific way Jesus asked the apostles to keep his memory alive.)

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.