As Catholics we hear quite a bit about the love of God. We are reminded…
Does God have a soul?
Question: I believe the Church teaches that God is pure spirit. But do the members of the Trinity each have souls? And how does a spirit differ from a soul?
— Name withheld, via email
Answer: Scripture often uses the words soul and spirit interchangeably. Thus it is hard to give a definitive and indisputable answer to your question.
However, some Christian anthropologists have preferred to define the soul as the animating principle of a living thing. It is what distinguishes a living plant, animal or human from a dead one. And thus human beings have souls, but so do animals and plants. In this anthropological tradition, it is really the “spirit” that distinguishes the human person from animals and plants. The spirit is the rational aspect of the soul that human beings and angels have. It’s this part of us that gives us a capacity for God and enables us to think, reason and engage beyond the physical to the metaphysical.
As for God, we do not speak of God as having a soul, per se. Rather, as God, he is pure spirit, as are the angels. However, we do speak sometimes of the angelic soul. But it is not traditional to speak of the divine soul. God is ultimately simple, admitting not of parts or distinctions as such. God is. Since “soul” means the life-giving principle of a living thing, we must hold that God does not have or need a life-giving principle since he is existence itself. He is simple, undivided and, though having soul-like qualities, is pure spirit.
Question: Is there a difference between something that is a grave matter and something that is intrinsically evil? Can an intrinsically evil act performed with sufficient knowledge and consent be judged a venial sin, or would it always be a mortal sin?
— Marian Newman, Gaithersburg, Maryland
Answer: An intrinsic evil is an act that, of its very nature (ex genere suo) is evil. As such, it is also disordered and sinful.
It does not follow, however, that every sin involving an intrinsic evil is mortal. One reason is what you describe — namely, that one might do something intrinsically evil but without full consent of the will or without sufficient reflection.
However, even in the case you describe — namely, an intrinsic evil committed with full consent of the will and proper understanding — it does not necessarily follow that a mortal sin is committed.
Take for example a lie, here defined as saying something untrue with the intention to deceive. Now a lie is intrinsically evil. However, not all lies are grave matter. Certain (so-called) polite lies admit of light matter. Small lies do not deform a great, serious or essential truth. Sometimes they are told merely to flatter, or to protect people’s feelings. However, such lies, even though small, are intrinsically wrong and should be avoided.
But there are big lies and small lies. Some lies cause great harm and distort essential information and, as such, may well be mortal sins. But not every lie, though intrinsically evil, qualifies as a mortal sin because of light matter. Thus not every intrinsic evil is a mortal sin.
Neither does every mortal sin involve an intrinsic evil. Sometimes it is the circumstances that render it mortal. For example, sexual intercourse is not intrinsically evil — between a husband and wife it is good and holy. However, between two unmarried people it is gravely sinful. In this case, it is the circumstances, not the act in itself, that is disordered and sinful.
Hopefully these distinctions will help to explain that while the concept of intrinsic evil and mortal sin are related, they are distinct and do not always go hand-in-hand.
Bells at Mass
Question: In my previous parish they rang bells at the elevation of host and chalice. In my new parish there is just silence. Which practice is correct?
— Name withheld
Answer: The ringing of bells at the elevation is permitted but not required (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, No. 150). Hence this is not a matter of right or wrong but of local custom. In the past, when the Mass was generally whispered and the priest prayed toward the altar, the bells served as a signal to alert the parishioners of the elevation. Some argue that today this is no longer necessary because the Mass is in the vernacular, audible and more visible. Others argue that the ringing of bells adds solemnity and piety to the moment.