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When was the last time you heard a sermon on hell? For me, it was in Ireland at a Latin Mass in the Summer of 2013--a long time ago considering all the Masses I have attended since then.
A myth exists of the pre-Vatican II pastors emphasizing hell. That was not my experience. Vatican II did not change sermons, but a later instruction to priests concerning using the Scripture of the day more created the homily with which most of us are familiar.
Here is the "rule" from GIRM on homilies.
65. The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.
Now, priests are much better trained in the Scriptures and can speak on the readings of the day, plus they are given much help from the Church through commentaries and the works of the Doctors of the Church. Note, however, that the "particular needs of the listeners" must be taken into account.
With so many Catholics no longer thinking, or even believing that one can go to hell because of the rampant heresy of "universal salvation", does this fact not indicate that preaching on hell is a particular need of every congregation?
So why the reticence?
Blesseds Jacinta and Francisco of Fatima, SS. John Bosco, Teresa of Avila, Faustina, and others had visions of hell, visions which are not part of doctrine, but uphold the Church's teaching that hell is a terrible place of punishment to be feared and avoided.
Many councils refer to hell, even Vatican II reiterates the doctrine of hell.
"Since we know not the day nor the hour, on our Lord's advice we must constantly stand guard. Thus when we have finished the one and only course of our earthly life (cf. Heb. 9:27) we may merit to enter into the marriage feast with Him and to be numbered among the blessed (cf. Mt. 25:31-46). Thus we may not be condemned to go into eternal fire (cf. Mt. 25:41) like the wicked and slothful servant (cf. Mt. 25:26), into the exterior darkness where 'there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth' (Mt. 22:13; 25:30)." Lumen Gentium, no. 48.
"Therefore, all who die in actual mortal sin are excluded from the kingdom of God and will suffer forever the torments of hell where there is no redemption." First Vatican Council.
The Councils of Basel, Ferrara and Florence make for interesting reading. Schism and the plague caused the Pope to move to Florence where important doctrines were clarified.
One can follow some of the history here. This council holds many important decrees concerning the sacraments among other significant statements on the Copts and Armenians, as well as many condemnations of various heretics and schismatics. There are also statements on indulgences and many other teachings,including teachings on Christ and the Trinity.
But, the section of the decrees highlighted in this post on hell follows. In this section, the Council Fathers refer to purgatory, and then, hell.
Also, if truly penitent people die in the love of God before they have made satisfaction for acts and omissions by worthy fruits of repentance, their souls are cleansed after death by cleansing pains; and the suffrages of the living faithful avail them in giving relief from such pains, that is, sacrifices of masses, prayers, almsgiving and other acts of devotion which have been customarily performed by some of the faithful for others of the faithful in accordance with the church's ordinances.
Also, the souls of those who have incurred no stain of sin whatsoever after baptism, as well as souls who after incurring the stain of sin have been cleansed whether in their bodies or outside their bodies, as was stated above, are straightaway received into heaven and clearly behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits. But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.
And there are more council documents concerning hell...
So, why no sermons on hell?
The majority of people seem to be living in mortal sin-most young people now fornicate, and homosexual relations have been accepted by most societies in the West.
Greed, which is another name for avarice, gluttony, anger, and the entire list of capital sins create headlines in the news relating to politicians and leaders of the world, including Catholic ones who support abortion and contraception.
Compromise is the name of the game.
And, yet, talking about hell seems verboten. How can Catholics comes to a realization of hell if the pastors avoid the subject?
How can those thousands, if not millions of people, who may be facing eternal damnation not be challenged by pastors to think of their ultimate destiny? Natural law dictates that many sins have severe consequences.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church restates the seriousness of the four sins that cry out to God for vengeance.
1867 The catechetical tradition also recalls that there are "sins that cry to heaven": the blood of Abel,139 the sin of the Sodomites,140 the cry of the people oppressed in Egypt,141 the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan,142 injustice to the wage earner.143
It is time for priests to preach on hell for the good of all of our souls.