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Browsing Fr. Joel Hastings

What is a mortal sin

Name some mortal sins other than killing, missing Mass on Sundays and Holy Days (Part 1:  Definitions).

           In recent years, when there have been many in the Church who have spent much time and energy explaining away all sin, let alone the reality that there are serious sins that completely separate us from God’s grace (what we call “mortal sin,”) I am pleased to address this question.  However, some deeper clarity is needed by way of definitions if we are going to be in right position to identify particular mortal sins.  In addition, this question begs for encouragement in more fully examining our consciences and in making use of the sacrament of Penance, that we would remain in God’s friendship and not become separated from him due to serious sins.  Thus, I will break this question into two parts, beginning today with definitions and following up next week with more on examining ourselves and going to regular confession.

First, we acknowledge that all sins that you and I commit are called “actual” sins.  These sins differ from the mark of sin that was on our souls from our moment of conception (called “original sin”), which is forgiven at baptism (and thus, why baptism is necessary).  Sins that we “actually” commit are those considered actual sins.

Within actual sins comes the difference between “mortal” sins and “venial” sins.  For a sin to be considered a mortal sin, all three of the following “conditions” need to be in place:

  1. The action committed is a “grave” matter – that is, the seriousness of the harm inflicted on self or another (God or neighbor) is great or immense.
  2. The person committing the act needs to be fully aware and knowledgeable of the serious harm inflicted by the act.
  3. The person committing the act needs to fully consent to doing it – that is, they need to freely choose to do it.

Meanwhile, venial sins can be rightly understood as any committed sin which lacks one of the three conditions of a mortal sin.  For their own part, venial sins “weaken” a person’s soul, thus weakening their relationship with God and neighbor – even though they are still in a state of grace.  As for mortal sins, due to their seriousness, these “kill” the life of God’s grace in the soul, leaving one separated from God (and hence the word “mortal”) – and thus outside communion.

Most of the time, the real issue at hand in considering whether a sin is mortal or only venial is condition 1:  grave matter.  Though in our age there are many who unfortunately do not always know what is sinful and what is not sinful – as they have not been properly formed – the question of a which sins are seriously or gravely harmful may seem unclear.  However, a relatively clear list of sins of “grave matter” that inflict serious harm can be easily found in the face value meanings of these two sources:  the Ten Commandments and the Seven Precepts of the Church (please note – the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part III contains detailed explanation of the Ten Commandments and paragraph 2041-43 lists and explains only five of the traditional seven precepts, the unlisted sixth and seventh precepts referring to keeping the laws of marriage and in participating in the work of evangelizing).  While not every offense against these may be gravely harmful, it is absolutely true that it is far better to acknowledge sins without attempting to explain anything away than to be playing games with ourselves and not considering real sins and real consequences of our sins.  Thus, to hit on a larger list of mortal sins, I will say more on examining our conscience along with giving word to how regular confession aids us in both confessing and avoiding sin in Part II next week.



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