Dear Miss Barnhardt,
Your mention of the term “scrupulous” in your post Mailbag: An Interesting Gastrointestinal Physiology Meditation got me thinking. You described people possibly calling you scrupulous for advocating longer Eucharistic fasts, and said you’d own it. Longer Eucharistic fasting out of love for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is NOT an example of scrupulosity as written of by St. Alphonsus Liguori, and is not something that should be gladly owned. I write not to correct you, but because I thought if you ever wanted to say something about real scrupulosity, it might do a lot of people a lot of good.
Real scrupulosity is constant fear that one has committed a mortal sin without knowing it. (Notice the contradiction? “Without knowing it” vis a vis “Full knowledge and consent.”) It includes the fear that all one’s confessions were invalid and all one’s communions sacrilegious, and that one incurs the guilt of every sin, even interior ones, committed by anyone around oneself, because one did not admonish them sufficiently. It brings with it frequent temptations to despair. It’s considered to be a religious form of OCD, but I don’t know anything about that. On the matter of Eucharistic fasting, a scrupulous person will often think that if he accidentally swallows a bit of skin from his lips, or even post-nasal drip, he has broken the fast and must not receive. This may be a relief because he had been worried that he shouldn’t receive anyway and now has a reason not to without being positive he’s in mortal sin.
I had never written about it on the internet because the opposite wrong attitude, presumption of God’s mercy, is prevalent nowadays. But lately I’ve wondered if the devil might be using it as a flanking attack in these dark times. Trads are the folks it would be most likely to arise among, and I’ve recently seen some comments on Trad sites saying “If you want to feel better/be happy, go to confession” which can be a very harmful idea if taken to imply that if you go to confession and don’t feel better, it didn’t work.
The debate over whether one can attend Novus Ordo Mass would be a hotbed for scrupulous temptations, since by some (incorrect) arguments it seems to posit a dilemma of mortal sin on both alternatives. Taylor Marshall’s tweet about committing schism if one doubts the validity of Bergoglio’s supposed papacy and attends Mass where he is commemorated is an almost perfect trap for a scrupulous person, with the “Good luck” being especially cruel. Scrupulosity is all about the feeling that one is trapped into mortal sin whichever way one turns and there is no possible escape.
What a scrupulous person absolutely must remember is that one’s feelings are not the arbiter of reality and that God truly, with infinite Love, wants us to reach Heaven; He is not trying to trap us into Hell. The following quote from the Prayer after Confession found in the 1962 Roman Missal may also be helpful:
“Supply also, by Thy mercy, whatever defects have been in this my confession, and give me grace to be now and always a true penitent.” Hearing Bergoglio and his ilk spread their false version of mercy can tempt one to dismiss the idea of God’s mercy altogether, and a lack of trust in God’s true mercy is precisely what scrupulosity is.
Thank you for your writing.
Yours in Christ,