Back then, we had the wonderful Penny Catechism:
121. What is mortal sin?
Mortal sin is a serious offence against God.
122. Why is it called mortal sin?
It is called mortal sin because it is so serious that it kills the soul and deserves hell.
123. How does mortal sin kill the soul?
Mortal sin kills the soul by depriving it of sanctifying grace, which is the supernatural life of the soul.
124. Is it a great evil to fall into mortal sin?
It is the greatest of all evils to fall into mortal sin.
125. Where will they go who die in mortal sin?
...They who die in mortal sin will go to hell for all eternity.
271. In order to receive the Blessed Sacrament worthily what is required?
In order to receive the Blessed Sacrament worthily it is required that we be in a state of grace and keep the prescribed fast: water does not break this fast.
272. What is it to be in a state of grace?
To be in a state of grace is to be free from mortal sin, and pleasing to God.
273. Is it a great sin to receive Holy Communion in mortal sin?
It is a great sin to receive Holy Communion in mortal sin: 'because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the Body, is eating and drinking his own condemnation.' (1 Cor. 11:29)
286. Are any conditions for forgiveness required on the part of the penitent?
Three conditions for forgiveness are required on the part of the penitent - Contrition, Confession, and Satisfaction.
287. What is Contrition?
Contrition is a heartfelt sorrow for our sins, because by them we have offended so good a God, together with a firm purpose of amendment.
288. What is a firm purpose of amendment?
...A firm purpose of amendment is a resolution to avoid, by the grace of God, not only sin, but also the dangerous occasions of sin.
328. When are we answerable for the sins of others?
We are answerable for the sins of others whenever we either cause or share in them, through our own fault.
329. In how many ways may we either cause or share the guilt of another's sin?
...We may either cause or share the guilt of another's sin in nine ways:
1. By counsel.
2. By command.
3. By consent.
4. By provocation.
5. By praise or flattery.
6. By concealment.
7. By being a partner in the sin.
8. By silence.
9. By defending the ill done.
335. How must we hate sin?
All of which has a superb clarity.We must hate sin above all other evils, so as to be resolved never to commit a wilful sin, for the love or fear of anything whatsoever.
Now, we are being told that that proposals to re-admit those who have pretended another marriage whilst already married are not a change in doctrine, only in practice.
I have been struggling to get my head around this; how could they possibly think that? But I think I may be beginning to understand it.
For, of course, for a sin to be a mortal sin, certain conditions need to be met (grave matter, consent and knowledge, in brief). So perhaps the bishops saying some of the odder things believe that nobody really understands marriage any more, so sins against it (grave though they may be, and consenting too, come to that) are not mortal sins, subjectively; and therefore those committing them should be free to receive Holy Communion.
There is of course, a problem with that, though. I remember, on first learning of the conditions for mortal sin, asking my late mother whether, in that case, it would not be better simply not to teach the Faith, because then nobody would be able to commit a mortal sin.
She set me straight (of course). On the one hand, the moral law is written in our hearts: we know (for example) that breaking our marriage vows is wrong, without the Church having to tell us. There is no ignorance here.
But more importantly, we are under orders from Christ himself to teach the Faith. That's the trouble: and §328-9 above are very clear that we cannot keep others in ignorance about their sins without incurring the guilt of them ourselves.
And that is the same, rather inconvenient, Christ who foresaw that this would be a difficult area; that our human compassion might tend to over-rule our heart's discernment and incline us to collude with the person who 're-marries;' the Christ who, therefore, taught us very explicitly that such a case was adultery.
Of course we should be merciful: but mercy tends to the good of the other. And the good of the other is not served by lying to them about the sinfulness of their situation, and failing to call them to repentance; still less by encouraging them to eat and drink condemnation to themselves.
This is indeed, as the apostles noticed at the time, a hard teaching. But even the Pope does not have the authority to change it.
The reality is, I think, that those who propose a pastoral solution do not 'hate sin above all other evils,' nor do they remember that even sin committed in ignorance does damage.
And we only have to look at the damage that divorce and 're-marriage' is wreaking on society to realise that, as we should have recognised all along, Christ was right.