Part 2 – Mortal sin and venial sin
In the last installment, we considered that through the sin of Adam and Eve, called the “original sin,” the presence of sin entered into all of creation, resulting in division between God and humanity. While each of us is conceived with this original sin on our soul, separating us God, none of us commit original sin – though all of us are subject to the effects of sin – including that our hearts tend toward the commission of “actual sins.” It is the definitions of actual sins that we consider here.
By way of defining, The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism, No. 1, in Lesson 6, calls actual sin “any willful thought, desire, word, action, or omission forbidden by the law of God.” Clearly any and every sin is a breaking from that which God has set forth for our good. In other words, any break from what God commands that is done “willfully” is considered sinful. Some of these willed acts may be less severe, resulting in a weakening of our union with God – and are termed “venial sins.” Other severe breaks in the commandments which lead to separation from God, cutting Him off, are called “mortal sins.” It is these two types of sins, venial and mortal, that are considered actual sins –
and this distinction follows from 1 John 5:16-17 wherein John refers to sin that is “deadly” and that which is “not deadly.” We will consider both of these types of sin – beginning with mortal sins.
Mortal sins, as covered in paragraphs 1855-1861 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), are serious offenses against God that vanquish the life of God in the soul of the one who commits such a serious sin. In giving clarity to “what” is a mortal sin, the Church identifies three conditions that must all be met when considering a sinful act that determine whether an act is a mortal sin. First, the act must be of “grave matter,” or of great seriousness; second, the person committing the act must have “full knowledge” that such an act is grave; and third, the person committing the act must give “complete consent,” or freely choose of their own accord to commit the act aware of how serious it is. Often when considering what is grave matter, the most literal reading of each of the Ten Commandments or of one of the Five Precepts of the Church frequently constitutes serious or grave matter, acknowledging that even in some of these cases (such as “though shall not steal”) there are levels of severity (note well that each of the commandments and precepts will all be covered later in this series). When a person commits a mortal sin, the life of God is lost from that one’s soul, such that a “new” act of the mercy of God and of the contrition of person who committed the act are necessary for restoration of that grace – as properly found in the sacrament of reconciliation (CCC, paragraph 1856).
Venial sins are those which are “not deadly;” that is, the life of God is able to remain in one’s soul even though charity is weakened through such sins. In paragraphs 1862-1863 of the CCC venial sins are described as those of less serious matter – minding that any sin that does not meet the three conditions of a mortal sin would be considered a venial sin.
In the next three installments, we move toward direct consideration of He that is the remedy for sins – our Savior Jesus Christ, who takes on our human nature through the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation to free us from sin and death.
For further reading: In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1846-1876, a thorough summary of sins, with the distinction of mortal and venial, is given. Please know that in treating each of the commandments and precepts in later installments, many examples of mortal and venial sins will be presented there.