I recently received an e-mail from a diocesan catechetical minister who was contacted by a concerned DRE, struggling to address the following problem:
A sixth-grade catechist, in teaching about mortal sin, told her students that if Mass is missed, then it is a mortal sin and the sinners will go to hell. Yes, she used those words. The student went home crying because her parents miss Mass frequently.
We know these situations are coming up more and more, which make it very difficult to teach authentic Church teaching but still be pastoral and evangelical. I have been in these situations when a student hears the teaching and puts two and two together and then asks the big questions. All the resources I have at my fingertips explain the theology, but nothing has satisfactorily given me tips to lovingly address these situations.
The pastor has also expressed a desire for assistance in this matter.
What are some of your suggestions for dealing with this issue and other issues like this in the religious education classroom?
Here is how I responded.
This is indeed a delicate situation where we want to teach authentic Church teaching and yet be pastoral. In this case, in particular, it is unfortunate that the catechist included the warning about going to hell. We want to emphasize that missing Mass frequently out of negligence is a serious sin and seriously damages our relationship with God and that we are called to confess mortal sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To definitively state that someone will go to hell in such circumstances is reckless, however, since we never know all of the details and circumstances of each individual which can affect his or her level of culpability. The emphasis should always be on welcoming people back, inviting them to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a healing and pastoral path back to the Eucharistic table for those who have wandered away from it for various reasons.
What advice would you give?